The successful crowdfunding campaign for the Oculus Rift, which led to Oculus VR’s acquisition by Facebook in March (which I have covered here), brought virtual reality back to the media’s spotlight. Suddenly, everybody discovered the immense potential offered by VR, but the discussion has been focused mostly on the devices and not on VR itself. This can easily lead to confusion. In fact, it already has.
Perhaps you were expecting me to write about the recent noisefest that surrounds the confirmation of Linden Lab’s ongoing work for a next-generation virtual world (let’s call it SL 2.0 and be done with it). Truth be told, I was tempted to do so, but decided to resist. After all, Inara Pey has been doing a great job covering the whole issue, and Nalates Urriah pushed out an extremely poignant post on the subject. Today’s topic is different. It has to do with pompously-announced, ambitious virtual reality projects that miss the point and potential of virtual reality completely.
So, you’ve read all about the Oculus Rift (to the point of almost knowing how Palmer Luckey likes his T-bone steak), and both me and Inara Pey have told you about the CastAR, and I’ve also told you about Epson’s Moverio AR glasses… But there seems to be a new kid on the VR block. The name is Altergaze (@altergaze on Twitter) and here’s their Kickstarter campaign.
They’re customisable, 3D-printed VR goggles for smartphones (this is the interesting bit) that will be distributed through crowd manufacturing. To the best of my understanding, they are a frame that holds a pair of lenses and a special holder for a smartphone that will act as your display. And, of course, you strap it on to your head, Oculus-style.
The styling is… As you can see, there’s no styling at all. It reminds me a bit of those trial frames used by opticians, but whatever works…
The main aspects of the design are (as mentioned in the Kickstarter campaign):
- Very affordable price (especially if you own a 3D printer or if you know someone with access to one);
- Truly unlimited level of customisation – a bespoke product for users, a marketing tool for companies;
- Open-source design – encourages designers and 3D printing enthusiasts to experiment with the Altergaze and improve on its design;
- Easy to setup a world-wide distribution and manufacture by using 3D printing facilities around the globe (anyone owning a 3D printer can become an official distributor);
- Facilitate the use of VR for public events such as concerts, museums, theatres, historical sites, travel tours – event organizers would hand them at the entrance, the audience would download the appropriate app, then they would enjoy the show and return them at the end (think of how a silent disco party works)
The Altergaze has received considerable attention from the likes of Mashable, Gizmodo and TechDirt, as mentioned on the campaign’s website.
Now, while it does look interesting, without an application that will provide the VR content for viewing, I don’t know how meaningful it will be and what its hopes of being adopted by the intended market will be.
A lot of pixels have been turned black (sorry, I couldn’t find a better analogy for ink in our domain, which is the internet) for the Oculus Rift’s sake – and much has been made about its integration with Second Life. Personally, as I’ve explained elsewhere, I’m underwhelmed. I see the Rift as a bulky, unwieldy device that will have only limited usefulness – and, honestly, I’d much rather spend that money on having my car serviced or paying my bills than on a product that doesn’t fit in with my usage model of Second Life and, thus, will spend the rest of its life gathering dust on a shelf.
By way of R. Crap Mariner, I was pointed to this lecture by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek (“the most dangerous philosopher in the West”), which begins by smashing to pieces our prevailing notion of virtual reality and proposing an alternative:
“It simply means ‘let us reproduce in an artificial, digital medium our experience of reality. I think that a much more interesting notion, crucial to understand what goes on today, is the opposite: not virtual reality, but the reality of the virtual. That is to say, reality, by this I mean, efficacity, effectiveness, real effects produced, generated by something which does not yet fully exist, which is not yet fully actual.”
Watch it, and tell me what you think. See you all in a bit!