Column: VRLA 2017 was a fast ride to another reality

On April 14 and 15 at the L.A. Convention Center, the VRLA Expo, the largest Virtual and Augmented Reality convention in the world, showcased some of the most exciting advancements in immersive technology.

Hundreds of people came to try out the newest and coolest VR and AR experiences, ranging from holographic egg hunts to virtual race car driving. Exhibitors showcased their latest inventions with sleek headsets like the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, powered by massive, glowing computers. Most exhibits were experienced through “room-scale VR,” where you’re able to walk around and interact with a virtual space, while some used the more traditional standing or seated VR modes. 

(Photo courtesy of Rylan J. Daniels)

One of my favorite experiences was a holographic Easter egg hunt, designed by AfterNow in collaboration with Microsoft. The demo showcased MR (mixed reality), where virtual displays are mapped on top of the real world as you interact with them. As I walked around a physical tree made from Styrofoam, I saw holograms of squirrels, eggs, and even dragons, that were projected before my eyes via a HoloLens headset! As I reached down to touch a holographic egg, a serpent flew out of it. It was magical to be immersed in this fantasy world without ever breaking away from reality.

One thing that could be improved though was that there was only a defined window of space where you could actually view the holograms. But we’re still in the early stages of this technology, and the field of view (FOV) will probably expand with time.

I asked AfterNow’s Phillipe Lewicki how the HoloLens’s tracking capabilities are possible?

He explained, “The tracking works with optical cameras. They have a special processing system just to help the tracking work in real time. There are also depth sensors that map the set in 3-D to create a 3-D version of the set. Then the tracking merges the two.”

(Photo courtesy of Rylan J. Daniels)

After collecting as many virtual eggs as I could, I blasted off to an exhibit of virtual ATV driving. This wasn’t just one of those driving games on your phone. It was remarkable that this exhibit consisted of actual full size ATVs that interact with the headset displays.

Adrenaline rushed through my body as I entered the experience. My hands tightly gripped the steering wheel. All the buttons, pedals and sides of the car were there in real reality, even though I was seeing a virtual reality.

Suddenly, the countdown started, and I realized I was racing against another actual full-size ATV. I immediately put my foot on the pedal and turned the steering wheel, rushing through the complex track. It was just like playing Mario Kart. The ATV I was in shook as I got hit by missiles from the other driver. I was terrified but excited at the same time. The merging of the physical and virtual realities made this experience extremely compelling.

 VRLA has come a long way since last year, both in terms of hardware and software developments. I can’t wait to see what will be coming next in this exciting new technology.

© Rylan J. Daniels
(Photo courtesy of Rylan J. Daniels)
(Photo courtesy of Rylan J. Daniels)

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