#Virtual Reality

Innovative housebuilder takes virtual reality to the next level

SME developer Kingswood Homes is revolutionising the way people buy new homes by enabling viewers to create their own internal floorplans using virtual reality technology while standing in their potential new property.

Animmersion’s VR technology allows customers to walk through an actual property and see how the different layout options would suit them

Buyers at Kingswood Homes’ developments in Lancashire and Devon can don a VR headset and see walls shift and rooms appear and disappear as they walk through the completed shell of a property, as part of the company’s ground-breaking ‘Shape Your Home’ concept.

It allows buyers to customise the interior layout of a property to match their own lifestyle and ‘see’ in real time how the home would look with various floorplan configurations.

Kingswood Homes managing director Paul Jones, said: “We launched Shape Your Home during lockdown, recognising that not everyone wants the same interior layout. The layout of a home is hugely personal yet is currently determined largely for the convenience of the developer not the customer.

“We have reversed that and the VR technology allows customers to walk through an actual property and see how the different layout options would suit them. Rather than trying to make an existing floorplan meet their needs, our customers can now specify a design they have experienced which perfectly suits them from day one.

“For example, one option is to turn a four-bedroom property into one with three en-suite bedrooms. Another would be to open up the ground floor to create vast open-plan living space. It’s hard to visualise from a floor plan, but we can now let customers stand in the shell of a house and see it transform in front of their eyes.

“It is remarkable technology but the point of it all is to give customers the best possible experience and help them create the home of their dreams.”

Kingswood linked with established digital technology and VR specialists Animmersion UK to create the bespoke real time viewing technology.

Utilising gaming engine technology most commonly found powering the latest PC and console games, Animmersion UK’s solution delivers experiences across multiple digital channels including VR, interactive touchscreens and online virtual tours.

The VR option links to an external tablet device to enable agents to support customer wearing the headset, guiding them and sharing the experience from outside the virtual environment.

It also aligns the VR space with the real world allowing the user to walk around the physical space safely, overseen by the agent, while experiencing the enhanced virtual presentation of their potential new home.

Samuel Harrison, Managing Director of Teesside-based Animmersion UK, said: “Virtual Reality and VR headsets are becoming increasingly popular for leisure and business purposes and the technology is evolving at a rapid rate. This is enabling us to develop specialist immersive content for new applications like this project for Kingswood Homes that give users a very unique experience adapted to their specific use case.

“Working closely with Kingswood Homes we have been able to push the boundaries to build a solution that combines technologies with a simple, easy to use and engaging experience for their customers. It also enables their agents to manage the experience with their customers from outside the VR to make it both an immersive and collaborative approach for choosing a bespoke new home.”

Tech predictions for 2019.

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

The big news is that 2019 will bring smartphones equipped with 5G modems and foldable displays – though not necessarily in devices that incorporate both. To be fair, most smartphones sold in 2019 will have neither as the cost early on will be prohibitive and we still have limited initial 5G coverage. But they’re on their way, and certainly the idea of a foldable phone will be very tempting for many consumers.

Next up is game streaming. This should enable gamers to play top-end, popular games across a wide range of devices from smartphones to PCs with high-quality visuals and lag-free responsiveness. But, to take off properly, it’s got to be easy to use and perceived to be worth the money. Not an easy task, but improvements in overall WiFi, connectivity, wide area networks and the widespread adoption and optimisation of GPUs in cloud-based servers should help. Besides this, advancements in software like split or collaborative rendering (where some activity is on the cloud and some on the local device), as well as AI-based predictions of necessary actions, and preloaded content, appear to have brought us to the brink of a new era of gaming services.

Undoubtedly, cloud computing has changed expectations about performance, reliability, and security. The DevOps (a set of practices automating the processes between software development and IT teams to release software more quickly and more reliably) environment has reconfigured how software is built, tested and deployed. Consequently, companies are shifting their focus away from the public infrastructure-based aspects of cloud computing and towards the flexible software environments it enables. The public and private multi-cloud platform is likely to become standard.

Data privacy is a hot topic and as a result, so are tech companies’ data handling practices. Consumers have high expectations of technology’s ability to personalise services and apps to meet their specific interests. They expect technology to make devices and services faster, more efficient, and more compelling. But to provide high levels of personal customisation, there has to be some access to an individual’s personal data and patterns of use. This has usually meant that they have shared information with many different companies to receive a customised or personalised experience. Now, thanks to the AI-based software and hardware capabilities becoming available on our personal devices, more of the data analysis work could start being done directly on devices, without external sharing. On-device AI inferencing is now becoming a reality.

It seems that science fiction might get real this year with personal robotics devices becoming available. Movement, motion, and environmental awareness capabilities have advanced significantly in the robotics world. Together with increasingly empathetic AI capabilities being brought to voice-based digital assistants, this points to commercial and consumer applications of robots in 2019.

It also looks as if cloud-based services are reducing the relevance of the usual platforms as what we do on our devices is becoming increasingly separated from operating system user interfaces. And, as it’s becoming much simpler to run critical applications on any device, we may end up in a situation where the most relevant platform is the cloud for both consumers and businesses.

The future’s on its way.

The Augmented Reality Mirrorworld.

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

The term “mirrorworld” when used in relation to digital media was first coined by David Gelernter in 1991, and whilst many of us don’t know what it is, we have all glimpsed into it at one point or another. The Mirrorworld is basically a digital representation of the real world – a 1:1 scale map. And every time you have used Google Street View, you have glimpsed a limited portion of it. In that case, you only see flat images, stitched together, but the onset of VR is unstoppable. Soon enough, every single place in the real world will have been documented digitally.

Think about it, how many places have already been scanned with Pokémon GO? How much of the real world has been mapped by Google? By fusing all these pieces of data together, we will be able to create a digital landscape, the scale of which has never been seen before. And because it is digital, we will be able to interact with it. Because in effect, we are interacting with the digital clone of the real world. This, incidentally, is what differentiates the Mirrorworld from a virtual world. A virtual world is a completely artificial construct. It has no grounding in reality. Whereas the mirror world is based exclusively on the real world, which is what makes it so useful.

Initial, what we will be able to do will be limited. We will be able to see pop ups giving us helpful annotations and pieces of information that may be useful. Then we will be to visit places in the mirrorworld we’ve never been to before in the real. How, because someone has been there. Because someone has caught a Pokémon there, or scanned it with a piece of wearable tech. We will be able to jump from place to place, like Nightcrawler from the X-Men, all from our living room, just as we might jump from website to website. And in terms of video games, the possibilities are unbelievable. Imagine being able to create a tangible 3-D map for your free-roaming video game, which spans the entire world. Where the main character can interact with a map vaster than anything previously conceived.

When the mirrorworld become a fully-fledged technological reality, these are just a few, limited idea about what it will be capable of. And the companies that thrive in this new world will be some of the most successful in history. What will hinder development, however, is what holds back AR today, price and usability. Until headsets become cheaper, they’ll be rarely used. And if they are rarely used, cloning the entire world into a digital map is going to be a slow process. The same problem arises when we think about the practicalities of current AR technology. Even if the mirrorworld was fully completed, to interact with it, we would have to use the current crop of bulky, unwieldy headsets. This might be acceptable in a home environment, but eventually we would hope that we can access it on the move, a la Pokémon GO. For this to ever be a reality, the technology would have to advance to a point where we can access the mirrorworld from something more comfortable and practical, like a pair of normal glasses.

Another thing to bear in mind is the potential psychological effects of the mirrorworld. We are already aware of how our lives are affected by other digital landscapes i.e the internet. For something as vast and immersive as the mirrorworld, its almost completely unpredictable as to how it will affect us. And security is going to be an issue, especially with a digital interface which literally everyone can interact with. But these potential difficulties should dissuade us from developing what could be the next great tech platform.

This isn’t to say that headsets will be replaced, but technology like this does open the door to VR technologies that can include seeing and talking to other people.

Spherical displays may end up being the future of VR.

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

Virtual reality is here, and with it comes massive potential to shape society for the better. However, an issue for some people is that they think it also has the potential to be quite an isolating experience, especially when compared with other more sociable forms of entertainment.

When you use VR, you strap on a pair of headphones and completely immerse yourself in the experience. Whilst the benefits of this are likely to have an impact on many other sectors besides gaming, such as education or even the housing market, a perceived drawback of such immersion is that you are, for the length of time you are interacting with it, incapable of interacting with anyone else. This can be an issue for some, especially when they have the option of playing a traditional video game or watching a movie together.

However, this could be about to change. A company has developed a mixed reality globe which overlays virtual content onto the real world – just like many other VR devices. The difference is that this device allows two people to view the exact same piece of VR content, with each person getting a perspective-corrected view of the same thing.

The device uses a motion-tracking headset first in order to see how the image on the globe looks from a variety of different perspectives. This means that from no matter where you look at the globe, you will see the same distortion-free, high-quality image. This is combined with advanced calibration and rendering techniques which optimise the depth information and display of the images, as well as translucent projection paint.

Theoretically, this means that two people could play the same VR game – but it also has implications outside the gaming sphere. So, for example, two people could collaborate with each other in the workplace. Perhaps one person could be present at a meeting hundreds of miles away, appearing on the globe which incidentally has a camera installed. This way, it would be as if the person was actually in the room. In terms of Computer Aided Design, the tech could be useful as well. A 3D model of the design could be created, and more than just one person would be able to view it.

At the moment, the technology is in its early stages, but a four-way version of this globe is currently in development which would open a lot of doors for use in real world scenarios – for example, VR surgery. Certainly, without the cumbersome headsets, virtual and augmented reality will be easier to use. And the easier to use they are, the more likely the technology is to be implemented on a large scale.

This isn’t to say that headsets will be replaced, but technology like this does open the door to VR technologies that can include seeing and talking to other people.

How virtual reality rehabilitation may help in the motor performances of children with cerebral palsy.

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

A recent study has suggested that VR based rehabilitation may be helpful for children and teenagers suffering from cerebral palsy. CP, and other motor diseases can have the effect of impairing the functional performance of the sufferer, with symptoms including, but not limited to, musculoskeletal disorders.

Because having these difficulties in motor function have a dramatic impact on a person’s ability to perform certain daily tasks, it is important for patients to undergo a tailored rehabilitation program. To that end, the news that incorporating VR into rehab can have a positive effect, is exciting.

A research team in Brazil conducted the study, which analysed the differences in performance for two tests. The tests were designed so that the better one’s timing when performing the actions, the better their overall performance. The first one involved the participants moving their limbs in front of a webcam to interact with, and intercept, falling virtual spheres on the screen. Because it was done in VR, this test did not require the patient to ever physically interact with the computer.

The second test required participants to press a spacebar on the computer to intercept the spheres as and when they fell. To do the test successfully, they had to time the pressing of the spacebar correctly. This was called a coincident timing task, because the timing required to perform both tasks successfully was the same. So, the only difference between the tasks is that one required physical contact with the computer, and one didn’t.

All the people in the study were between the ages of 6 and 19. Half had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and half had not. In the coincident timing task, where physical interaction was required, those diagnosed with CP performed worse, and required more time. In the virtual reality task, both groups performed the same.

Now this was just a preliminary study, and more research is required before any concrete conclusions can be drawn. But the results do suggest that people diagnosed with cerebral palsy perform better when doing task in virtual reality perform better than when they do similar tasks in real life, which could, in the future, lead to its implementation in rehabilitation programs.

The importance of 5G for virtual and augmented reality.

Animmersion UK | User Interface Development | Virtual reality logo

The continuing investment in VR and AR means that it is a near inevitability that eventually, they will have a dramatic impact on our lives. But there are significant challenges to the industry which prevent its wider uptake. To construct a high quality, top-of-the-line VR system, you need a headset wired to a computer with a pricey graphics card and strategically placed sensors.

Now, you can buy a headset with inside-out tracking, which removes the need for these sensors, but the problem is that these are only applicable on headsets that don’t need to be plugged into a computer. And any headset that isn’t plugged into a computer must make do with a far smaller and less powerful graphics card than you would want or expect on a top-of-the-line system.

So, how best to overcome this problem? If we want to keep inside-out tracking, and get rid of big external sensors, we need to find a way to outsource the need for in-house graphics cards. In other words, we need to connect our headsets wirelessly to a computer with the required processing power. The way to do this is to exploit the potential that 5G offers.

New 5G networks will provide the speed that cloud-based VR needs in order to be a success, and several companies have already begun to develop the technology required to make the most of it. This includes an example of a hub that allows numerous devices to be connected to it – opening up the possibility of a co-operative VR experience.

As 5G becomes accepted into the VR industry, it will allow more and more manufacturers to enter the market and, inevitably, this increase in investment will lead to the technology becoming more affordable. Companies that already have their own cloud systems will be able to integrate quickly. We should, in the near future, be able to connect to high-quality content without having to invest in a very expensive setup.