🦄 vol. 32
matt chats about ar and vr
it’s week 2 of the new format… and we’d still appreciate your anonymous feedback! 🤝
vr-y promising tech 🥽
With all that’s going on with the metaverse, one could have guessed that augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) would be on a major come-up. With the earliest versions of AR/VR having been around since the early 19th century, most thought that by now we’d be walking around with massive goggles and remotes escaping the real world for a virtual version of it. As we often do, we overestimated its short term impact, but that doesn’t mean it's far off.
Virtual and augmented reality… 👀
...have actually been around for quite a while. The first form of AR/VR with head-mounted display (HMD) came out of the University of Utah in 1968, where a computer scientist created a primitive version of VR with a clunky piece of hardware that hung from the ceiling and allowed you to explore simple wireframe rooms. Thankfully, the iterations that have followed allowed for improvements in the immersive experience and greater latitude for use cases.
It’s been a long(ish) road… 🛣
As with most emerging tech, it’s often the early adopters, the curious tinkerers, that play with it at first. Slow to get moving, immersive AR and VR entered what seemed to be a “cold winter”, before Facebook’s 2014 $2bn acquisition of Oculus Rift signalled its revived promise.
For the most part… 🏥
... we’ve largely seen its use in gaming, with a few edge cases along the way. And while gaming and retail use cases are cool, I feel like its application in the healthcare space may have a more outsized impact in terms of societal progress. Here’s a (non-exhaustive) outline:
Perhaps less exciting than Pokémon Go, we’ve seen AR/VR increasingly deployed in medical education and training (remember Osso VR and HoloLens from vol. 6? 🦄). After some more digging, I read about a UK surgeon who live streamed a hernia repair via a pair of Snap Spectacles (the YouTube link 📺). While tuning into a surgery from your living room seems cool and all, its impact is far more weightier; it improves training experiences and increases learning opportunities (leading to better doctors), and may also remove financial barriers to access (quality medical education is costly, and Snap Spectacles can retail for as little as ~R2500).
Beyond skill-transfer and education use cases, we’re increasingly experimenting with AR and VR as a means of therapy. Tripp, a VR meditation startup who closed an $11 million Series A last year, has been shown to have beneficial effects when used to treat patients suffering from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. In a similar use case, the effect of visuals and sounds in an immersive experience may come to be an adjunct in pain management in the future. A headset with a VR game onboarded was used at Shriners Hospital for Children in Texas to treat burn victims pain, reducing pain by 35-50%. In a similar study that used VR as a means of treating chronic pain, patients saw a 60-75% reduction in pain with the therapy. For comparison, morphine usually provides around a 30% reduction in pain 🤯.
Going forward… ⏩
We’re already seeing a divergence in the outlooks from tech’s leading players. It seems Zuck wants us to live in the metaverse, whereas Tim Cook has made it clear that the technology should augment our real-world lives rather than replace them. Microsoft’s HoloLens, and subsequent HoloLens 2, saw the company gain a $22 billion contract with the US military to deploy 120,000 AR headsets; more recently, they debuted their AR/VR meetings platform, Mesh (because metaverse). And yes, Google is also planning on joining the party, with Project Iris set to deliver headsets by 2024; let’s hope it’s more successful than their last foray into wearables (remember Google Glass?)
If buy-in from FAANG isn’t enough, there is a strong signal from the world of venture capital. The fourth quarter of 2021 saw $1.9 billion thrown into the AR/VR space, the biggest influx into the space in ages. With greater attention to and growing investment in the space, the devices that enable AR and VR will likely become sleeker, cheaper and more easily accessible.
sash was impressed to learn that a south african was named as the new leader at sequoia capital
if you’re intrigued by the potential impact of technology and automation on work, matt recommends grabbing a world without work