LAS VEGAS (AP) — Is the metaversion closer than we think?
It depends on who you ask at CES, where companies are showing off innovations that could immerse us deeper into virtual reality, otherwise known as VR.
Metaversion — basically a buzzword for three-dimensional virtual communities where people can meet, work and play — was a key theme at the four-day Las Vegas tech gathering, which ends Sunday.
Taiwanese tech giant HTC unveiled a high-end VR headset that aims to compete with market leader Meta, and plenty of other companies and startups have offered augmented reality glasses and sensory technologies that can help users feel — and even feel — in a virtual environment.
Among them, Vermont-based OVR Technology demonstrated a headset containing a cartridge with eight primary aromas that can be combined to create different scents. It is scheduled for release at the end of this year.
An earlier business-focused version used primarily for marketing fragrances and beauty products is integrated into VR goggles, allowing users to smell anything from a romantic bed of roses to marshmallows roasting over a campfire.
The company says its goal is to help consumers relax, and is marketing the product that comes with the app as a kind of digital spa mixed with Instagram.
“We are entering an era in which augmented reality will drive commerce, entertainment, education, social connection and well-being,” CEO and co-founder Aaron Wisniewski said in a statement. “The quality of these experiences will be measured by how immersive and emotionally engaging they are. The scent gives them incomparable power.”
But more robust and immersive uses of smell—and its close relative, taste—are even further along the innovation spectrum. Even the more affordable VR technologies are in their early days and too expensive for many consumers to buy, experts say.
The numbers show that interest is declining. Sales of VR headsets, which have found popular use in gaming, fell 2% last year, according to research firm NPD Group, a sour note for companies betting on greater adoption.
Still, big companies like Microsoft and Meta are investing billions. And many others are joining the race for a share of the assistive technology market, including wearables that replicate touch.
However, customers are not always impressed with what they find. Ozan Ozaskinli, a tech consultant who traveled more than 29 hours from Istanbul to attend CES, donned yellow gloves and a black vest to try out a so-called haptic product that transmits sensations through hums and vibrations, stimulating our sense of touch. .
Ozaskinli was trying to type in a code on the keyboard that would allow him to pull the lever and unlock the box containing the shiny gem. But the experience was mostly disappointing.
“I think that’s far from reality right now,” Ozaskinli said. “But when I thought about it replacing Zoom meetings, why not? At least you feel something.”
Proponents say that the widespread adoption of virtual reality will ultimately benefit different parts of society because it essentially unlocks the ability to be with anyone, anytime. While it’s too early to know what these technologies will be able to do once they fully mature, companies that want to achieve the most immersive experiences for users are welcoming them with open arms.
Aurora Townsend, chief marketing officer of Flare, which is set to launch a virtual reality dating app called Planet Theta next month, said her team is building its app to include more sensations, such as touch, once the technology is widely available in the consumer market available.
“Being able to feel the ground when you’re walking with your partner, or hold their hands while you’re doing it… the subtle ways we engage people will change once haptic technology is fully immersed in VR,” Townsend said.
Still, many of these products are unlikely to see widespread use in the next few years, including in gaming, said Matthew Ball, a metaverse expert. Instead, he said, fields with bigger budgets and more precise needs, such as bomb squads using haptics and virtual reality to aid in their work, and others in the medical field, are likely to pioneer adoption.
In 2021, Johns Hopkins neurosurgeons reported using augmented reality to perform spinal fusion surgery and remove a cancerous tumor from a patient’s spine.
And optical technology from Lumus, an Israeli company that makes AR glasses, is already being used by underwater welders, fighter pilots and surgeons who want to monitor a patient’s vital signs or MRI scans during a procedure without looking at multiple screens. David Goldman, the company’s vice president of marketing.
Meanwhile, Xander, a Boston startup that makes smart glasses that display real-time captions of face-to-face conversations for people with hearing loss, will begin a pilot program with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs next month to test some of its technology, said Alex Westner, co-founder and CEO of the company. He said the agency will allow veterans who have appointments for hearing loss or other sound issues to try on the glasses at some of their clinics. And if things go well, the agency would likely become a customer, Westner said.
Elsewhere, major companies from Walmart to Nike are launching various virtual reality initiatives. However, it is not clear how much they can mine during the early stages of the technology. Consulting firm McKinsey says the metaverse could generate up to $5 trillion by 2030. But outside of gaming, much of today’s use of VR remains somewhat fringe entertainment, said Michael Kleeman, a technology strategist and visiting scholar at the University of California, San Diego. .
“When people promote it, they have to answer — where’s the value in that? Where is the profit? Not what’s fun, what’s cute, and what’s interesting.’
For more information on CES, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/technology