Tag Archives: VR

CeBIT 2017 Points the Way to VR and Smart Device Growth

With 200,000 participants flocking to Hanover this year, the week-long CeBIT show can be an intimidating prospect. Over 3,000 exhibitors set up shop at the world’s biggest technology expo. And while this is not a show for big name product launches, it still provides a very useful snapshot of what’s hot in the tech industry from one year to the next.

This year, as we predicted, there was plenty of buzz around smart devices, the Internet of Things and Virtual Reality (VR)/ Augmented Reality (AR). These, after all, will be the technologies that in years to come delight consumers and power the next generation of European businesses.

VR/AR catches the eye
CeBIT 2017 had a bigger focus on VR/AR than ever before, highlighting the growing maturity of this burgeoning technology. If you were in any doubt of the scale of interest in this space, half of Hall 17 – one of the show’s aircraft hangar-sized expo spaces – was devoted entirely to firms exhibiting VR-related tech. As we predicted at the end of 2016, gaming will continue to drive forward interest in VR on the consumer side. But, as evidenced by its exposure at the business-centric CeBIT show, more and more companies are exploring corporate applications.

Examples included the “Virtofy” VR presentation system, which offers companies an opportunity to demo products and showcase projects to prospective clients/customers. Another interesting use case developed by engineers at the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences incorporates integrated data goggles into the helmets worn by steel workers – designed to flash up safety warnings and the like.

In Hall 2 Intel, in cooperation with Microsoft, presented the dataflow the companies expect in the near future. Based on the BMW i8, Intel presented with the Microsoft AR Hololens how cameras and sensors scan the environment of a future car in order to drive autonomously. Intel predicts that approximately 4000 GB of data will be tracked, processed and uploaded from cars in the future, which creates brand new business scenarios in this market.

IoT everywhere
As we mentioned in December, the Smart Home market is really heating up, with Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung and Microsoft set to battle it out for hearts and minds in 2017 and beyond. True to form, the Internet of Things formed a major part of CeBIT 2017, with over 270 exhibitors from 29 countries participating. The IoT also had its own spin-off summit at the conference – a first for the organisers and again illustrative of the growing interest in smart products.

The IoT, of course, extends far beyond the smart home. In fact, attendees were treated to demos of everything from smart shirts and dog collars from Telefonica Deutschland, to Toshiba’s industrial applications for the energy sector.

Drones are taking off
The smart device revolution also increasingly extends up into the sky. As evidenced by the buzz at CeBIT, drones are fast carving out an IoT niche of their own. A large outdoor area sponsored by Intel drew many of the crowds, with much attention drawn to the bright orange H520 hexacopter from Chinese firm Yuneec. When combined with an on-board camera and Intel RealSense tech, it’s able to detect movements and distances like the human eye – enabling it to avoid obstacles in flight.

The Drone Park even drew the interest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

by AD

 

 

 

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Filed under Connectivity, gaming, Home automation, IoT, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home, Smart Technology, virtual reality, Wearables

How PC Gaming Is Driving AI, Cars, and the UK Treasury’s Technology Policy

At CES 2017 back in January, Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of Nvidia announced that “GPU-powered deep learning is driving the ability for computers to perceive the world… But one day, AI researchers met the GPU and the big bang of AI occurred.” Up until more recently, when most ICT analysts thought of Nvidia, the first thing to come to mind would have been gaming, and for a good reason. The core of Nvidia’s business is still PC Gaming where they continue to dominate the GFX hardware market. Jen-Hsun went on to explain that the “GPU had the benefit of being fuelled by the largest entertainment industry in the world, video games.” Indeed, PC gaming is one of the most processing-intensive activities a PC can be asked to perform, and that industry has gone from strength to strength over the past few years. Jen-Hsun was right to tout the success of PC gaming: CONTEXT’s data shows that sales of high-end VR-ready PCs shot up 1057% in terms of revenue y/y for the top 6 EU economies in Q4 2016, and figures from the Entertainment Retailers Association put gaming as contributing more to the UK economy in 2016 than either music or video sales at £2.96bn.

Several thousand miles away from Sin City, the importance of AI and driverless cars was being carefully noted by strategists and civil servants in Whitehall, culminating in the most recent budget announcement. The British government has promised £270m in funding for disruptive technologies such as driverless cars, AI, and robotics. Given the current hard-Brexit policies being pursued by Teresa May’s administration they are wise to support such green shoots; CONTEXT’s figures for professional GPUs back both this decision and Jen-Hsun’s assertion. Screen Shot 2017-03-16 at 13.21.25Sales of professional GPUs in the UK reversed a previous decline in Q3 2016, with Nvidia’s own Quadro series of GFX cards enjoying +25% y/y growth in revenue. More and more GPUs are being purchased to power deep learning and AI for large datacentres, rather than in their more traditional roles for 3D modelling and computer aided design.

It’s not uncommon for devices to be developed with one purpose in mind then being very successfully appropriated for another. Even Atari’s failed Jaguar gaming console ended up being cannibalised and used in dental equipment. The GPU is also the critical lynchpin of another emerging technology: Virtual Reality. In one profound statement, Jen-Hsun declared that “…all gaming was Virtual Reality,” and in many cases this rings true where a player inhabits a virtual world. It might not seem immediately obvious, but components built for PC gaming now power both AI and VR. As a result Nvidia’s share price has soared in recent months, finishing 2016 +224% up from the previous year, and promising to continue to rise as their partnerships and new ventures bear fruit, with professional visualization growing +11%, datacentre at +144% and automotive up +52% for Q4 2016.

This success eventually caused Nvidia’s shares to drop in February when the Q4 results were released as investors weighed up the risks of long-term returns (as driverless cars are still many years away from being commonplace), versus selling stock at an apex. To some extent, the UK government is taking a gamble on driverless cars becoming the norm, and this might reflect the modest £270 sum compared with much higher investment promised by other governments. Academic commentators have also welcomed this news due to the environmental benefits promised by AI-driven vehicles. The immediate future of AI and its importance to the UK economy is very encouraging, but much like Brexit, the longer-term outlook is beyond the most complex algorithm to accurately portend.

by JW

 

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Filed under Big data, Connectivity, gaming, IoT, Mobile technology, Smart Technology

Reflections on DISTREE EMEA 2017

When the IT channel gathers in Monaco for DISTREE in February it is always good to get some winter sunshine, not just from the balmy Cote d’Azur weather, but also the opportunity to meet up with panellists, clients and new tech companies.

This year there was a strong distributor focus, and the keynote, delivered by Chris Petersen , our strategic partner, was a look at what distributors need to do to benefit from the omnichannel revolution. Chris challenged the audience provocatively with a tombstone showing that on 14th February 2017, traditional retail died. What is the significance of this date? It was on this day that Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, sold almost all of his WalMart stocks. The WalMart stock has been languishing for years now, as the company is incapable of catching up with Amazon on ecommerce. Their total of $13bn online sales is equivalent to the growth which Amazon puts on every year.

Chris elaborated on 5 areas where distributors can contribute. Here are two key ones:

  • The last mile represents 40% of costs – how can distributors help with logistics support such as drop shipment, and inventory management.
  • The long tail is the chosen strategy of ecommerce and particularly online marketplaces, which are big competition for distributors. What can distributors do to help retailers increase the breadth and depth of categories which they hold.

In addition, CONTEXT had a workshop slot, and presented a deep dive on three emerging technology areas – Smart Home, VR and PC Gaming. There is a thirst for understanding all these areas, as evidenced by the full house of those attending the talk. Of all of them, the theme which cropped up throughout the three days was PC Gaming. In the CONTEXT presentation there was a very visual presentation of the need for deep analysis in this area, with a slide showing two Asus models. One was a Republic of Gaming model, evidently a gaming machine.

adamdistree

Adam Simon, Global MD – Retail, CONTEXT

The other was a “business” laptop, but when you dig into the specifications you can see that it is also gaming capable. The channel needs to understand the total market if it is to develop the gaming category, and that is where the CONTEXT categorisation is very useful.

Finally, we were asked to take part in a panel on Brexit. All 4 UK participants had been pro-Remain and are all now pragmatic if concerned about the future. We are delighted to see additional investments recently announced by tech companies in the UK, and look for an interesting competition between the hardware strong France and the software strong UK.

by AS

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, omnichannel, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology

2016 was always going to be the year of democratised VR, not mass adoption

Estimating shipments of products in new areas of IT is a bit like being the only lighthouse in view above banks of thick fog. It’s the only light you can see, so you’ve nothing to lose heading for it. We’ve been there with pocket PCs, Smartphones and Tablets. And while the fog has cleared for these products, the true state of the market for the much anticipated Virtual Reality headsets is still shrouded in mist.

At CONTEXT, as part of the work with our VR Research Group made up of major PC, HMD, and software vendors, our first predictions estimating the total number of VR headsets shipped in 2016 are conservative compared to some estimations from this time last year. If the basic HMDs are included, the lowest possible total global shipped units start at 8.5m, with true figures probably being closer to 12m+ once the plethora of minor Chinese brands are included. Theo Valich of global consortium VR First commented: “While we are seeing that the adoption of VR is waiting on content, the growth of VR in the emerging markets in Asia-Pacific is not being properly covered. The number of VR start-ups on both the hardware and software side is almost exponential.” The shipped units for the high-end headsets such as the HTC Vive, PSVR, and Oculus Rift CV1 are <15% of the total market, but to get a true picture of what has happened in 2016 and will develop in 2017, it is important that all types of headsets are included.

There are many factors to be considered when attempting to get a handle on the true state of the VR headset market. For a start, 2016 was never going to be about mass adoption for companies such as HTC and Oculus and here are several reasons why: in terms of the headsets designed for use with a PC, a very powerful machine is required and that rules out all but the most dedicated gamers and developers. Awareness of the category is only just starting to become widespread, and even for those with the required hardware, there is a lack of major hit AAA titles to drive sales.

In a recent survey, CONTEXT showed that only 10.5% of members of the general public in the EU had heard anything significant about VR, compared to 79.9% of gamers, with 26.5% of people having not heard anything at all. The issue facing the VR industry right now is that there is a transformative effect of trying it out that needs to happen; simply describing the experience is akin to attempting to explain the taste of Cola to a Martian. As a result, even the cheaper headsets – and yes, we are including the Google Cardboard – can make a profound impact on consumers. In 2016 anyone with a Smart Phone was able to experience VR for the first time, and thanks to Google and others there is a wealth of apps to demonstrate what VR can do. In the early stages of VR, such products are vital to raise awareness. Taking the analogy to the extreme, why would anyone spend $1000 on a sound system when they’ve never heard music on a transistor radio?

In summary, CONTEXT expect VR headset shipments to increase in 2017 for all types of VR headsets, with new industry verticals opening up. We’re seeing more and more VR technologies going through the ICT sales channels into a huge variety of sectors, including healthcare, education, elderly care, military, as well as major public entertainments. With current VR price points, the democratisation – and therefore unit shipments – can only increase, and all types of headsets will continue play a significant role, not just premium products.

by JW

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Virtual Rome wasn’t built in a day

Guest blog by Dr Matthew Nicholls, University of Reading

I was delighted to present with CONTEXT at the Berlin IFA+ Summit. My own work with digital visualisation and 3D modelling in higher education sits very well alongside CONTEXT’s work surveying the amazing possibilities that Virtual Reality is now opening up. I work at the University of Reading, where I have built a large detailed 3D model of ancient Rome. I use this to generate still and animated images of the city, and also teach my students how to make their own digital reconstructions. Recently I have started using VR in my teaching and public work, turning my digital models into immersive, walk-around experiences. Stepping into these spaces in VR, no matter how well I think I know them, is a truly transformative, engaging experience.

romevirtual

Having to peer around physically, viewing the buildings in proper 3D, makes their scale and splendour much more intuitively visible than viewing them in more traditional 2D illustrations, and opens up the possibility of ‘stepping back into the past’. The potential for engaging students, as both users and creators of this sort of content, is terrific. It seems that the public agrees: I was very interested to see that the recreation of historical events scored highly in CONTEXT’s survey of what sorts of VR experiences are particularly appealing to potential users.

When not presenting, I explored the enormous IFA fair. The VR displays, naturally, were particularly interesting. Here the global market for gaming is the big driving force, enabling huge investments in hardware and software that will also benefit educational users like me. Oculus’ tour bus offered a sample of games and experiences in their Rift headset, including being chased by a T-Rex in a deserted museum, and playing a vertigo-inducing realistic rock-climbing game. Samsung’s lavish exhibit combined headset displays (using their Gear) with motion experiences, including a roller coaster and kayak ride (both using hydraulically-actuated seats), and a bungee jump into a virtual volcano.

Combining real-world motion with virtual graphics has potential for gaming, and also for fairground-style rides like these. It helps overcome two problems long associated with VR – that moving around in a virtual world without real-world physical movement can be disorientating or uncomfortable, and that VR can be perceived as an anti-social sort of activity. I enjoyed all of these ‘rides’; although the amount of physical movement involved was naturally smaller than the huge rollercoaster or bungee arcs suggested by the VR graphics, it seemed to be just enough to fool the body into accepting what the headset was showing.

ride

And of course it had a very high novelty fun factor; as these things become more common, it will be interesting to see what seasoned gamers come to expect in a genuinely thrilling experience. I wonder whether augmented reality, blending digital and real world elements (including other players), will eventually open up more convincing or exciting realms of experience than pure VR.

Elsewhere in the fair VR really seemed to have come of age, and was incorporated into various CONTEXTs – in gaming, naturally, and also in (for example) headsets for drones. Drones are now cheap enough, and easy enough to fly, that they are becoming accessible to non-specialists. I can foresee archaeological uses, for example; drones are already being used in some digs for aerial exploration and also the harvesting of images for photogrammetric site surveying and reconstruction. Feeding real time stereoscopic imagery from a drone into a VR headset would provide a really immersive, exciting vista to the pilot (who would need somewhere safe and secluded to stand while flying it!).

As a university academic in ancient history, this was a very different conference to the sort I usually attend, and very enriching. It’s clear that as the accessibility of VR and 3D continues to increase, both in terms of falling prices and ease of use by non-specialists, the potential for educational uses in many subjects is going to be enormous; it’s exciting to be part of it at the outset.

 

 

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AR GO! Augmented Realities and Retail

On 12th July 2016 the share price of a tech company leapt up by $7bn – 25% in a single day – on the back of a free-to-download mobile phone app which is now installed on more phones in the US than Twitter or Tinder. The same app has resulted in multiple accidents, robberies from players lured to secluded locations, and unintentionally steered an unsuspecting woman to a fresh corpse. For those of you who have not yet heard of Pokémon GO, you almost certainly will very soon. Using a smart phone with a built-in camera, players can look at an area to spot and interact with the eponymous Pokémon which are superimposed over the environment on the screen. These creatures can then be used for trading or battles with other players. App users can also visit real locations which have been tagged on the in-game map as places of interest for trading and virtual activities.

The app is reported to have been created as an April Fool’s joke by creators Niantic, previously owned by Google. Indeed, Niantic’s CEO, John Hanke and many of his team are veterans of Google Maps and Google Earth. Much of the magic which allows for GO’s functionality is based both on this experience and a vault of user data collected from Niantic’s last game, Ingress, where players marked interesting places for use in the game. Niantic have also used geographical environmental data such as bodies of water to determine which Pokémon creatures should appear in that area. Hanke has more recently suggested that augmented reality (AR) headsets could also be used with the game, and wearable devices which vibrate when a player is near a Pokémon are already being marketed.

Context Pokemon

Pokémon in my office

Nintendo, who last year invested $30m in Niantic and now enjoying the equity fruits mentioned above, are generating revenue through in-app purchases – a common feature for free-to-play apps – but also in new ways which have great significance for high-street retailers. With their previous title, Ingress, businesses could pay for places of interest to be located inside their retail stores, drawing in players with promises of in-game goodies. The beauty of this system is that players do not have to give permission to be shown advertisements, and are inadvertently and willingly pulled into a retail space. Several US retailers are already looking into virtual awards for players who enter their location tied to a geomarketing deals with Niantic.

Hype aside, the mapping and tagging functions are by no means perfect and have already caused controversy. Criminals in the US have been using the app to target unsuspecting players heading to game locations, and Baltimore prison was recently discovered to be an in-game gym. As the Pokémon catchphrase goes: Gotta catch ‘em all!

AR combined with GPS and digital mapping is already being exploited in other sectors such as healthcare. Sweden’s Brighter have created a virtual bicycle experience, jDome, which allows dementia sufferers to pedal through their early neighbourhoods and has recently been adopted by care homes all across Scandinavia. The potential of these technologies for a gamut of industries was espoused at CONTEXT’s VR Summit last week by a number of leading experts including the University of Reading’s Dr Matthew Nicholls who over the last seven years has constructed a virtual model of ancient Rome: “VR allows people without a £250,000 research budget to pick it up and use it. Visitors to the department find it extremely compelling and it’s a great way of bringing an ancient space back to life”.

For Nintendo, the blurring of physical and virtual reality for gaming is nothing new; following the success of the Wii, and by combining this with their highly profitable franchises and the ubiquity of smart phone devices they have created a Pokémonster (sorry for the pun, but share prices speak for themselves), and one which could play into the hands of the brick-and-mortar retailers wanting feet through the door.

by JW

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The Democratization of Virtual Reality

Once as a pupil at my all-male state-school I was mocked during a history lesson on the ancient world for pointing out that the word “democracy” had its etymological roots in the ancient Greek word dêmos “people” and krátos “power”. In this instance I make no apology for such esoteric knowledge, as I cannot find a better word to describe what is happening this year to Virtual Reality. As with many gadgets we now take for granted, a substantial number were foreseen in works of speculative fiction, and even if they did exist, the cost of the technology made it accessible only to institutions or companies with large research budgets, or private individuals of considerable wealth with a penchant for the cutting edge, à la Richard Branson. What has driven down the prohibitive costs of producing head-mounted displays (HMDs) in recent years – and what has allowed for the first generation of powerful consumer HMDs – has largely been components developed for smart phones and tablets, allowing for cheaper and more lightweight high-density displays.

It is the increasing affordability of VR which is causing its democratization. Whereas in the past only certain laboratories and universities had a VR offering, this is all likely to change, with headsets which might have previously cost $50,000 now available for $500. Dr Andrew Glennerster at the University of Reading writes: “Recent developments in VR raise the prospect that high quality VR will soon be within the reach of most researchers in the field[1].”

What could be the biggest mass-market for VR is education. In his critically acclaimed novel Ready Player One, Ernest Cline writes of a dystopian future where students can learn in a virtual classroom to save them from a dangerous physical journey through a hazardous wasteland. Moreover, it gives teachers the added bonus of being able to silence students at the touch of a button, making behavioural issues a thing of the past, and giving students the ability to mute bullies – something I wish I could have done back in that history lesson. Herein lies the importance of VR in its current state and how it is starkly differentiated from other forms of media: the individual no longer sees something, they experience it. Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired magazine recently wrote: “With virtual reality and AI, what we’re going to get is an era of experiences, where we can not just know something, but feel it.[2]

When the system requirements for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were announced, many commentators demurred that the required PC hardware specs were prohibitively expensive for the majority of gamers, requiring many to upgrade to a $500 GFX card or completely replace their system. AMD recently announced a GFX card – the RX480 – which is VR-ready at the fraction of the cost of existing top-end hardware.

Next week, CONTEXT will be holding a VR summit at the British Museum in cooperation with Oculus, Dell, AMD, and others, to mark the beginning of what we consider to be a new epoch, an epoch of democratized VR, which will empower the young, old, students, researchers, and even those of modest income. What more fitting a venue than the British Museum which holds the treasures of the world’s first great democracies, to mark the arrival of revolutionary alternative and virtual realities available to far more than ever before.

 The CONTEXT VR Research Group which includes The University of Reading, Oculus, AMD, Dell and others mentioned in this article will be presenting demonstration technology and results from a major VR consumer study at The British Museum at 8am on 5th July 2016. If you are interested in attending please contact Charlotte Cornwell – ccornwell@contextworld.com.

[1] Peter Scarfe & Andrew Glennerster. “Using high-fidelity virtual reality to study perception in freely moving observers.” Journal of Vision (2015) 15(9):3, 1–11

[2] Carole Cadwalladr. “Digital Prophet Kevin Kelly: I’ve learned a lot from Spielberg”, The Observer, Sunday 12th June 2016

by JW

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