The Oculus Quest was a hit
At this year’s year's E3 conference, Facebook's Vice President of Special Gaming Strategies Jason Rubin told audiences that the Oculus Quest was seeing "console-like" engagement from users, selling $5 million worth of content in first 2 weeks since the device started shipping back in May. In fact, the device sold out at retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and Newegg. Since then, Facebook has continued to roll out new features such as native hand tracking and Oculus Link, which allows users to experience PC VR HMD quality on the standalone headset. By October, it was reported that Oculus Quest sales were responsible for significantly boosting the company’s non-advertising sales, which jumped to $269 million during the third quarter, a 43% year-over-year increase. “Quest is growing and doing quite well. We’re selling them as fast as we can make them, the demand has been strong and the content is starting to pick up,” Mark Zuckerberg said at the time.
HTC Vive Retires
This year said goodbye to the headset which was largely responsible for enthusing people about the possibilities of VR in recent years. The HTC Vive was phased out in October, replaced by the Vive Cosmos, which was priced at $699. But although industry pundits such as Venturebeat’s Dean Takahash called the new HMD an "engineering marvel" it came with a number of difficult trade-offs in terms of cost, visual quality, accessibility, and mobility.
Bumpy Road For Magic Leap
As the year draws to a close, things are looking rather worrisome for what is arguably immersive tech’s most hyped-up company. First came the news that the company had signed control of its patents to JPMorgan Chase as collateral, closely followed by announcement of a new funding round, culminating with key resignations from high-profile executives including CFO Scott Henry and Senior VP of Creative Strategy John Gaeta (a special effects industry veteran who has worked on movies such as The Matrix). Magic Leap then announced it was pivoting towards enterprise customers following damning reports of extremely weak sales. Taken together, this could signal challenging times ahead for the start-up and possibly have a negative knock-on effect on the AR industry as a whole.
Cows Like VR, Too
Dairy farmers in Russia started testing Virtual Reality on their dairy cows. According to Sarah Webber, a Research Fellow in Human-Computer (and Animal-Computer) interaction at the University of Melbourne, there is little evidence that the cows appreciated the content on the same level as we might, but argued that seeing animals interacting with technology could positively impact their lives by changing our perceptions and creating an empathetic bond between people and animals.
Google Ends the Daydream
The key message to come out of Google I/O this year was that the company largely abandoned its plans to push forward the development of headsets and content for VR effectively retiring the Daydream and focusing on Augmented Reality features for the Google Lens instead.
The 'Cyberdelic Incubator' in Melbourne, Australia, is promoting a more conscious approach to technology through immersive media. The group’s lead Carl H Smith told the Guardian that XR’s power to instigate empathy can help us create more meaningful human connections, allowing us to experience what it’s like to be another gender or to have a mental health condition such as schizophrenia. One of the incubator’s projects “Death is Only the Beginning” even went as far as simulating a near-death experience, and was subsequently adapted for use with palliative care patients.
Visitors to the Mauritshuis museum in Holland were able to use AR to step into Rembrandt’s haunting painting “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” which was painstakingly recreated - with actors standing in for each character in full period costume and makeup - and captured with 600 reflex cameras to produce 3D scans. The intention, says Dutch design agency CapitolaVR, was to 'create a portal to the past, to the moment the painting was created."
The words of sexual assault survivor Chanel Miller were brought to life with an AR project undertaken by her fellow students at Stanford following a dispute with the university about how her ordeal should be memorialized. The "Dear Visitor" guided AR exhibit placed her own words, spoken in court, on the spot of the attack she suffered. “It goes beyond what a physical plaque could do,” says Hope Schroeder, a graduate who was part of Stanford’s augmented reality club, 4 AR/VR that developed the project.