Screens get more and more important in our daily lives. They got up to photo realistic sharpness. They got as flat as paper. Highly energy efficient and even bendable. But the future for the display manufacturers are bleak. Why? Because you will only need 2 displays to replace them all!
Since I first had an Occulus Rift DK1 on my head I tell my friends about this technology. But VR will not be the future of the workplace. VR is just a, very simple, stepping stone. I believe that hyper realistic Augmented Reality will be the future. It needs three technologies to come together to make that happen: High Resolution Ultra Realistic Semitransparent Imaging, Real Time Location Mapping and High Precision Spacial Location Technologies.
High Resolution Ultra Realistic Semitransparent Imaging is the obvious part. Lets unravel that adjective worm. First semitransparent. This is the basic difference between virtual reality and augmented reality. The first one is none transparent and just renders everything. The second one uses a (semi) transparent display and renders „over“ the picture you see through. Thus a augmented reality solution can also be a virtual reality solution by rendering over all the display, blocking out the real world.
High Resolution is the next adjective: Imagine an imaging system that can show you digital pictures that are so finely rasterized, that you can not see any pixels anymore. Sounds complicated? It’s actually not. If you have a display close to your eye, or maybe even in your eye (in form of a contact lens or an implant) you need only to reach the resolution of your eyes retina. With current 2D displays you have the problem, that you can move your eye closer to the display until you see the pixels, or farther away, where you „waste“ the high resolution. With an display in or directly in front of your eye, you can optimize that display to have exactly the needed resolution. The resolution is actually not that high and, sooner or later, will be build.
The next attribute is Ultra Realistic. This means, that the coloring and lighting of the object needs to be perfect. The problem is not the rendering part. The problem to solve here, is to recognize the lighting situation of the real world, so that the object you are rendering looks like it is really there. This ties in nicely with the second technology that is needed:
Real Time Location Mapping describes the capability to „scan“ the surrounding and building a precise digital model of it – in real time. Why is this necessary? Well if you want to put a virtual piece of paper on your desk, you need to know how high the desk is, the slope of the desk etc. Else you piece of paper could „float“ above the desk or sink into it which would destroy the immersive effect you want to create in the first place. Also you need this model to create physical correct behavior. If you drop a ball on a slope it should roll to the physically right direction.
High Precision Spacial Location Technologies are needed to place things in the real world and finding it again at the same place when you come back. It is also necessary for sharing objects between people in the same area. Maybe you want other people to see the same virtual picture on the wall.
This is how the future will look like
Lets imagine you are an IT guy, working on creating software systems. Your powerful IDE gives you lots of helpful views/widgets/windows to work on your code. In the old days you were limited to 1 or 2, rarely more displays (your boss didn’t want to pay for more). Now, you simply create as many virtual displays as you need and you position them around your place. Some could „stand“ on the desk, some less often used ones may float next to you in the air.
You are working together with 7 other people in a small crossfunctional team. You see Bob on his desk in the corner, albeit he works from home today. He just choose to transmit his presence into the office space, so that other people know where he is (and that the boss believes that he is working).
On the far wall of the room the team decided to project the production server logs and the build server status. So both things are always in sight. Basically the team defined that the wall is now a huge 5x3m screen. This information is location dependent and private. Only team members that come into the office will see this information. The calendar with the plan for physical presence in the office on the other hand is publicly shared. So everybody that comes in can see it. It is automatically updated from the database, no manual syncing of information between electronic and physical mediums is needed.
What are the consequences?
Well a very simple consequence is that you will no longer need displays on other gadgets. Phones can be created without display, maybe they become more like an wristband or the „StarTrek“ Communication button. You will neither need a PC/Laptop Monitor, projector nor a TV. This is bad news for display manufacturing companies. Either they jump on the AR train and lead the charge (to survive) or they will try to stop this evolution. History will tell which side they chose.
You also don’t need a dedicated wall/furniture for the now obsolete displays anymore. Architecture and interior design can now focus on other aspects of live, instead of building the living room around the TV.
Another consequence is, that the digital world will be everywhere. You can overlay videos over everything. In newspapers (if dead trees aka paper will still be used) or as commercials in the streets.
Another aspect is that windows and views are also obsolete. You can have jar dropping views in your small town basement apartment just as well as in a skyline loft. This can very well change the real estate market. AR will make anything possible as long as it is visual.
Where are we right now?
For this I would like to share a TED talk from April 2016. It is a showcase for Microsoft HoloLens. It is not yet there, but it is not to far away either.
Do you think I’m right, or where did I go wrong? Let me know in the comments.