by Carolyn Heinze
When it comes to technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), gesture recognition technology (acronym optional), and beacons (no acronym necessary), it’s easy to get confused by what they actually are. Depending on the developer, definitions vary, resulting in debates about whether or not Microsoft’s HoloLens technically produces holograms, or if someone’s altered reality is in fact virtual, or just augmented, or maybe mixed. Technological hairsplitting aside, one thing is clear: AV designers and integrators stand to capitalize on this stuff—as long as they understand how it applies to the spaces they’re working with.
. . . How long that’s the case is another question. Dave Van Hoy, president of Advanced Systems Group LLC, a design and integration firm headquartered in Emeryville, CA, points to companies like Google and Facebook, both of which are investing heavily in VR. “Both of those companies are about social experiences in one way or another… and as you get into VR, you’re in these goggles, you’re in this thing, it’s a very solo experience in many ways,” he said. “So I find it interesting that these companies that are really about social media are the ones driving forward this push into virtual reality…I think the biggest challenge that they’re facing isn’t how to be social in a virtual reality experience with a guy’s who’s sitting across the world from you, but how to be social with the person sitting next to you in a virtual reality experience. And that’s where I think that these companies come into play, and where there is much more to this than is obvious.”
According to Van Hoy, ASG has been working with virtual reality in one way or another for the last 15 years. What has changed, he says, is that while traditionally it’s been reserved for niche applications such as simulation, these days VR is starting to move into the mainstream. Even so, he admits that it requires systems designers and integrators to perform a considerable amount of experimentation.
“Most systems integrators today, we’re used to doing research and we’re used to talking to vendors, but not very often do we have to truly prototype technologies before we can sell them to a client,” he said. Because VR is still in its infancy, client expectations are often vague, mandating some kind of prototyping process. “We’re doing more paid proof of concept work than we do on average, where clients obtain us to build proof of concept systems or mock-ups so that they can figure out what they want their experiences to be.” He said that in these cases, straightforward demos don’t cut it because the variables involved are too, well, varied. . .