May ’19 saw the global Vive X accelerator hold a selection of demo days to help promote a variety of startup companies involved in the fourth batch selection. Days were held in Beijing, Tokyo and London (the one in San Francisco was this week), and VRFocus took a trip to the across the UK capital to see what was on offer.
One of the main reasons VRFocus also wanted to attend was to get some more hands-on time with the HTC Vive Pro Eye – the new flagship device which has just launched – as well as the HTC Vive Focus Plus, the standalone headset which is only going to be made available to enterprise customers – meaning it’s a rare chance to test the sucker out.
There were four companies showcasing their tech with Vive headsets, Kainos, Immersive Factory, Vobling and ZeroLight. Kainos is a British digital solutions company that was using Vive Pro Eye to demonstrate an AI driving tool, which could analyse and collect insights into driver behaviour – essentially a more advanced hazard awareness test. This certainly proved to be one of the more interesting use cases for virtual reality (VR) eye-tracking at the event, as the system could tell with incredible accuracy where a driver was looking at all times and how quickly and when they noticed a road hazard.
The simulator didn’t require any other input from the user – you didn’t need to actually drive the car, for example, it’s not Need for Speed – all that was required was awareness of the surroundings. This also meant the system logged one of the fundamental faults of most drivers, not looking at mirrors. It’s this type of VR use case that could introduce many more people to the technology, as it provides not only a better environment for hazard perception training; the software can offer decent accurate feedback.
Immersive Factory was the only company displaying the HTC Vive Focus Plus for its training software. Reasonably comfy, it’s a far bulkier piece of hardware than Oculus Quest, as well as being unable to offer the same tracking capabilities of the consumer headset (only two front-facing cameras!). Screen quality was good (as far as we could tell) from the one short demo, but highly noticeable was the unergonomic 6DoF controllers which are well below-par when compared to rivals.
As for Immersive Factory’s demo, it was a neat little simulation to teach correct health and safety procedures when operating a cherry picker. The goal was to change a bulb, demonstrating how not following safety procedures can lead to accidents while working at heights. Needless to say, VRFocus managed to get to the required height by operating the pickers levers but forgot to attach a safety harness. So when leaning towards the bulb the obvious happened, VRFocus went tumbling to the concrete floor.
Vobling was another company in the training realm, showcasing a VR simulator the firm had built for Scandinavian train operator SJ. This combined both the eye-tracking and controllers to help close a door that was stuck. Not a simple process (there was no giving it a boot), the software provided a highly detailed environment where certain locations had to be inspected and a procedure followed to release the door properly.
Testing these sorts of simulators out certainly helps to demonstrate how useful VR really can be for the workplace (it doesn’t solely need to be about zombie headshots) particularly when offered the visual detail the HTC Vive Pro Eye can offer. And it now means VRFocus can unstick an SJ train door when travelling across Sweden if needs be.
As for ZeroLight, this is a company well versed in VR, having worked with cars makers like BMW on a range of projects. The one at Vive X was an oldie but a goldie, highlighting how purchasing a new BMW in the future could be done entirely in VR. The demo is a couple of years old now but it looks great on the Vive Pro Eye, being able to swap alloys around, change the paint colour and more. There was even a physical racing seat provided so that at the right moment you could step inside the car to examine the interior and alter its design as well.
VRFocus is positive regarding the future of consumer VR and only expects it to get better. However, should it all implode and the general public gets bored with strapping high-end tech to their faces, there will always be a place for VR when it comes to enterprise solutions. It’s just way too useful, with too many applications across a number of industries proving that when taken seriously, VR can produce excellent results.
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