As the days get shorter and colder, there’s no denying that another year is rapidly hurtling toward Christmas. So it seems a nice time to take a look back at what we’ve seen happen in 2019 so far, and take a more informed guess as to what might be in stock for 2020 and beyond in the XR space. This Wednesday and next, we’re going to be highlighting some of the pieces that caught our eye over the past months, taking a wider view to see what trends are emerging across the Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality spaces (hence XR). As always, we would love to hear your feedback on these first five items and your suggestions/guesses about the next ones which will be published on the Sept. 25 edition. Just hit reply to this email, ping me directly on firstname.lastname@example.org or join the conversation on Twitter via @alicebonasio or @inside. - Alice
10. Haptics: Experiences feel more “real” when they engage several – if not all – of our senses. Most of us are already familiar with haptics from playing video games, where rumble and vibration are creatively used to create a connection between the action on the screen and the gamer. Yet XR designers recognize that they need to think beyond visuals and incorporate spatial audio, touch, and even things such as taste and smell to their immersive experiences. The multi-sensory massage experiences created by the Esqapes Immersive Relaxation Center in Los Angeles have proved the commercial appeal of such concepts, and it's the sort of thing that gets people like Jeff Bezos rather excited. Yet XR technologies being developed currently could converge in future to make much more sophisticated interactions possible without the user having to even wear any sort of device such as a glove. As researchers continue to push the boundaries of what is possible and companies like Microsoft prototype new haptic devices, we can probably look forward to a near-future where the virtual world will not only look realistic, but also feel real to all our senses.
Editor's Pick: Researchers at Taipei Tech created a haptic device that makes you feel as if you’re underwater
9. Healthcare: There are a plethora of potential applications of immersive technologies in healthcare. The advances in haptic technology mentioned above have, for example, enabled much better training applications to be developed for dentists and surgeons, and this type of experiential learning could have a significantly positive impact on patient safety. On the other hand, experts such as Jessica Outlaw also highlight that even as we discover new ways in which immersive technologies can be used to great effect in medical diagnosis and treatment – from detecting the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease to easing childbirth pain – we should also be mindful that the data collection involved will unearth new privacy protection issues which should start being addressed by the industry now.
Editor's Pick: Australian researchers have received $520,000 grand to develop VR tools that will help advance cancer research and treatment
8. Democratizing Art: Museums and galleries have been embracing immersive technology as a way to engage new and existing audiences. The Louvre, for example, has been using AR as early as 2015. Yet some of the most exciting possibilities that such tech offers artists is the ability to place their works and reach audiences outside those traditional spaces as well. This is the idea that Apple piloted in its AR[T] walks, where digital works of art were placed around cities such as Tokyo, San Francisco and New York. More than just placing digital objects on random locations like so many Pokemon, however, there is an opportunity to contextualize the cultural significance of place and medium, such as was recently done with the Snapchat filters sponsored by restaurant Chain El Pollo Loco, which celebrate Spanish History Month by bringing erased street murals back to life in the streets of LA. Creativity knows no bounds, and going forward, the possibilities of using XR for creating artistic content that could only be accomplished through this medium are tantalizing indeed.
Editor's Pick: Artist Drew places 15 Augmented Reality installations in the streets of Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Santa Monica
7. Brain-Computer Interfaces: As XR hardware and software continue to advance, the inevitable trend is for the interfaces we use to link the physical and digital worlds to virtually disappear. Companies such as Facebook are investigating ways of making that happen through the development of what is broadly known as Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI). Where now we associate these experiences with bulky headsets, or think nothing of holding a touchscreen in front of us to unlock a digital augmented element, in future such technology will be embedded in our environment, in lightweight wearables or even contact lenses and implants. Devices currently on the market already track our gestures, facial expressions, and gaze, but in the future our very brainwaves could serve as prompts and commands to let AI-driven immersive systems know what we want, perhaps even before we do.
Editor's Pick: A neurofeedback multi-sensory experience could help users relax by visualizing and manipulating their brainwaves in Virtual Reality
6. Immersive Journalism: For journalists, immersive technologies present an opportunity to reach jaded audiences with important stories, getting through the “news fatigue” factor by leveraging the well-documented “empathy machine” factor of the medium. Yet the powerful reactions that experiences in XR elicit also present important questions about ethics in a space where best industry practices are yet to be established. This is made even more evident by the fact that governments in authoritative regimes have already rushed to embrace these new technologies, recognizing their inherent potential as effective propaganda tools.
Editor's Pick: Eduardo Batista looks at the darker side of China's commitment to developing immersive technologies
This newsletter was written and curated by Alice Bonasio, a journalist and consultant obsessed with the immersive technology space, including AR/VR/MR/XR and any other acronyms that fit into the realities spectrum. Over the past 15 years, Alice has advised a wide range of start-ups and corporations on digital transformation and communication strategy and is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Tech Trends. She also regularly contributes to publications such as Quartz, Fast Company, Wired, Playboy, The Next Web, Ars Technica, VRScout and many others. Follow her on Twitter @alicebonasio
Editor: David Stegon (senior editor at Inside, whose reporting experience includes cryptocurrency and technology).