The voice of my autonomous car says, “You have 30 seconds to complete the puzzle, or the city will be lost for good.” I see the cityscape in the distance, and suddenly a sphere appears in front of me with puzzle pieces floating around it. I lift my arms, and their 3D renderings, though cut off at the elbow, match my movement. I twist the pieces to fit the sphere, and I complete the puzzle with time to spare. I turn to look at my virtual companion in the seat next to me, who breathes a sigh of relief. The city is saved.

This virtual reality experience, which I encountered at the beginning of January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), was the most involved and best put together I’ve ever seen. Virtual and augmented reality were dominant presences across the board at CES this year, with brands large and small showcasing equipment, and multiple conference tracks dedicated to the topic. The buzz from people who were trying these experiences was one of great excitement.

As impressive as my experience was, though, and as contagious as the hype on the showroom floor felt, CES panelists were quick to point out that virtual reality is still currently in a development stage equivalent to the brick cell phones of the 1980s. In particular, the display quality could stand to be improved – in every headset I wore, the image appeared slightly out of focus. Other hurdles include getting to wider field of view without sacrificing resolution, and creating a truly mobile experience.

There’s also the question of content, which, though substantially improved and ubiquitous compared to a year or two ago, is still very limited. Most content today is designed for hardcore gamers, leaving the average consumer with few opportunities to experience virtual reality. Furthermore, fresh content currently emerges only on an intermittent basis, meaning that you might have to wait months for the next big thing – which you are then only able to experience once.

Fortunately, there is a big push for more and better content from TV stations like ESPN and movie studios like Fox, as well as an increase in hardware and software companies providing tools for designing and editing VR content. VR experiences are being created that encompass everything from taking part in the scenes and action of your favorite movie to experiencing products in a virtual showroom to virtual attendance at major events and locations. Imagine being able to “buy a ticket” and have a virtual seat on the 50-yard line at the next Super Bowl! Such content developments would be game-changing, and will hopefully spur much wider adoption of this exciting technology.

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Louis Lazar

Louis Lazar, PhD, joined Newry Corp in 2013 after completing his doctorate in Biochemistry and a postdoctoral fellowship at Brandeis University. His work at Newry has covered technologies ranging from functional fluids to microreplicated materials to consumer electronics, and several of his recent projects have focused on smartphone design and next-generation telecommunications infrastructure for 5G. Sample outcomes of these…

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