Despite the obstacles the tech industry has faced in bringing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to the mainstream, major companies such as Apple, Google and Facebook seem undeterred and are heavily investing in the future of VR and AR.
We are just beginning to explore the potential of VR, according to Google VR chief Clay Bavor, who says that the tech giant plans to rethink “any experience with sight and sound.”
Both Apple CEO Tim Cook and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg predict that in the future, VR and AR will become fully integrated into our daily lives.
“We believe this kind of immersive, augmented reality will become a part of daily life for billions of people,” Zuckerberg declared in 2014, the same year that Facebook bought the VR startup Oculus. He has said that he will invest over $3 billion to improve VR technology and make it accessible to more people.
Cook said last year that, in the future, we will “have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day. It will become that much a part of you.”
The future seems especially bright for AR. In August of last year, Google released ARCore for Android, its counterpart to Apple’s ARKit, which was released a few months earlier. Apple is releasing thousands of AR apps for the new iPhone. Among them: an Ikea app that allows you to superimpose items from the retailer onto your living room, a Walking Dead game that lets you interact with characters from the TV show in your own neighborhood, and a Food Network game where you decorate imaginary pastries.
The VR market, including both hardware and software sales, is expected to be worth $22.4 billion by 2020, compared to $1.9 billion in 2016, according to the Motley Fool. The combined VR and AR market is expected to be worth $121 billion by 2021.
But beyond the economic impact, people can expect to see the VR experience to change for the better. VR and AR equipment today is clunky and uncomfortable, and the controls are limited. Equipment in the future will allow users to more fully participate in VR worlds with better touch controls that will feel like whatever it is the user is touching in the virtual world, and the experience will increasingly go beyond just the visual and audio senses. In the future, VR experiences may be able to incorporate temperature changes or affect the user's sense of smell.
Some even think that VR could save the world, by helping people develop more empathy. Educators are using immersive VR experiences in the classroom to expose students to everything from refugees to war zones and praise the medium’s ability to tap into students’ emotions. Charities such as Amnesty International and the Clinton Foundation are using VR videos to encourage donations and fight “compassion fatigue.”
One startup even thinks that VR will help us colonize Mars. A company called SpaceVR envisions sending millions of remote-controlled robots into space that would be operated by humans on Earth wearing VR headsets and sensor-enabled gloves. The possibilities are endless.