As part of our role as industry leaders and knowledge sharers, we spent some time each week trawling twitter, technology news sites and other sources for the latest in what's happening. For items of particular interest we will research further, engage in free trials etc. This week has been a life changing week for those of us working in the field of VR, for two reasons.
Firstly, Magic Leap has finally released the details of their new Mixed Reality goggles. This has been majorly anticipated but the release lengthened out so much that some people did begin to wonder if it was a scam. However the faith of investors like Google has paid off in the end, with Magic Leap releasing something so new it may take people a while to get their heads around it. Run by a computer the size of an old CD walkman, with goggles that look like a cross between a sunglasses advert and a Willy Wonker poster, it certainly does not look like the VR and AR we have become familiar with. But the magic is what is inside the technology - the mixed reality. Augmented reality is the ability to overlay something on top of the reality we see. Mixed Reality is when we can put 3d virtual objects in our real world and have them interact with, or more accurately, around it. The sensors on the magic leap headset, Lightwear combined with a controller, identify the objects in your space and use them as part of the environment for their software. In addition it recognises eye direction, head movements and gestures.
Think about that for a second - robots that jump out of your ceiling, waterfalls that run off the edge of your table and butterflies that land on your couch. A virtual tv screen you can put on a real wall, and leave there still playing, while you look elsewhere; multiple computer screens in front of you with your work; your kids sitting at the table eating dinner while a virtual puppy sits at their feet. And all of it able to happen at the same time.
Now move on to consider how this can be used for organisational training: fire drills or firefighter training in a real environment, with flames, smoke and things falling around you; information popping up on any machine you look at in a plant, that you can reach out and touch for more detail; experts being able to pop in and help problem solve; avatars that appear and give you a tour around a facility or museum; role play with virtual customers in a real world retail space or the inside of an airliner. The possibilities are endless. The SDK will be available in 2018 and developers like ourselves will be able to buy the headset, but it won't be easy. Imagine trying to plan a design with no prior knowledge of the space or furniture - it will certainly be a new challenge. But most of all, its different - right now you can create something once in Unity or a VR authoring tool and then publish to multiple headsets, particularly Vive and Oculus. But Magic Leap SDK is proprietary - it will only work with the Magic Leap Lightwear goggles. This may slow down its distribution but the advantages and opportunities may outweigh these negatives in the long run.
Secondly this week Amazon Web Services has, out of the blue, released a VR authoring tool, Sumerian. They are still in the beta process and people have had to apply for the preview but I was lucky enough to get in early thanks to the helpful and responsive CEO Kyle Roche. I was given access after completing multiple tutorials in anticipation of the preview release and tweeting about them. With these helpful guides open on one web browser and Sumerian in the other, I was quickly able to develop my first VR space. I hit a few snags but they had kindly provided a slack channel where I could ask for help. While they are still perfecting it and ironing out the gliches, I would still already recommend this strongly, for ease of use, intuitive interface and ability to customise so many different actions. One note of advice - its easy to move from place to place in your scene, but moving to a totally different scene would require a new window to load, so consider carefully how you could handle your whole training in one 3D environment - that might mean you have to let go reality a little, and have reception that leads to a shop floor that leads to a distribution warehouse.
As someone who uses software all the time and to quite a high level, I have thus far found VR frustrating. I'm a user not a coder - I can't work in Unity myself and I have to give that to someone else to do, which means I can't always make good suggestions on fixes or shortcuts. Now with Sumerian I can import my 3d scene (FBX, or OBJ formats), add obects, enable the learner to teleport around the room, give them the ability to grab or interact with objects, change things when they are touched etc, all without writing one line of code. I simply drag and drop pre written script "drag", "teleport" and assign it to a button on the controller. It also has triggers and conditions similar to Storyline but done in a different way - it takes a bit of getting your head around to switch to their way of thinking, but then it makes perfect sense. And that's where Amazon have really excelled - like Articulate, their learning tutorials are easy to read, step by step instructions plus they are ready to help o their Slack channel. I predict this will be the next wave of digital learning - Virtual Reality training done as easily and affordably as elearning is now, using VR authoring tools. Sumerian right now for true Virtual Reality, and CenarioVR from Trivantis next year for VR using 360 photos and video with xAPI and Lectora options to put in your LMS. It's the new wave and its starting now.