With the release of Oculus Rift, what’s next for virtual reality?

USC experts, who helped develop VR technology, discuss the technical, business and content challenges facing the industry

April 05, 2016 Andrew Good

The release of the Oculus Rift last week signals the beginnings of a consumer market in virtual reality technology. But what are the technical and business challenges facing that market? And what applications for VR can we expect to see in the near future?

USC researchers have been deeply involved in the development of VR technology. Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR, worked at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies and was mentored by researchers there before launching his company. In 2012, ICT developed and distributed a cardboard VR viewer similar to what Google launched two years later.

The business of VR – and its backlash

“I think there will be an inevitable VR backlash this year as the devices make it out into the wild. The ‘gee whiz’ factor will only last so long, and then there will need to be meaningful or truly engaging experiences. I think there will be some backlash not just related to the content and experiences, but also the social/ethical issues, and especially sim sickness.

“With Google Glass, you had ‘Glassholes’ – people didn’t have the social norms worked out. The same will happen for VR and other AR stuff.

“I think the content will evolve quickly, and ‘experiences’ will get pretty good, though 2017 should be closer. Telling stories in VR is still in its very early stages and it will take awhile to sort that out.”

Director of advanced prototype development at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies

VR and health care

“It is probable that in the next few years, a VR device will be like a toaster — although you may not use it every day, every household will have one. This emerging level of market penetration will likely support accelerated uptake in the healthcare domain as the general public has more virtual experiences and comes to see the potential value of the experiences that VR can create, beyond the world of digital games.”

Director of medical virtual reality at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies

Full-bodied VR, Sim-Sickness and the VR Market

“Simulator sickness is significant challenge that must be overcome if virtual reality is to be successful for a mainstream audience. The video game industry has come up with a number of guidelines to avoid making people sick, such as avoiding acceleration. However, these workarounds will limit the usability and interaction possibilities for VR.

“Personally, I tend to get nauseous very quickly when wearing head-mounted displays, often within just a couple minutes. The HTC Vive system was the first VR experience I have been able to use for over 20 minutes without negative symptoms.”

Research assistant professor at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies

VR for education and transportation

“Virtual reality allows us to tap into more of our human sensory and motor bandwidth, which can help us learn and understand complex concepts and situations. Virtual reality can also transport us to locations, distant in place or time, which can help us learn about different cultures, or even work with people who are far away.”

Computer scientist at the Mixed Reality Lab at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies

From cinema to VR, storytelling evolves

“The beauty of a well-told documentary film is that it can make you aware of cultures and places that you might never have the opportunity to be exposed to in your life. With VR documentaries you can be brought to these place in a visceral way, in a way in which your brain believes that it has actually been there.

“Early on in our research into the narrative structure within VR, we saw the potential to foster philanthropy. Whether or not you have agency within an experience can trigger powerful emotions. You may have the impetus to help someone in a virtual experience and if you are constrained by the interactions within the scenario then perhaps you will be motivated to help in the real world. For this reason VR has been called an Empathy Machine.”

Special project manager for the Mixed Reality Lab at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, and an award-winning producer and director