This is the third in a series of stories about virtual reality innovation and the North Carolina company with groundbreaking technology that some believe could transform, and take mainstream, the VR industry. Here are parts one and two.
Virtual reality is undoubtedly an interesting space to be in right now. Once reserved solely for computer nerds with clunky devices wrapped around their heads, VR has begun to percolate into the 21st century world of smartphones and ubiquitous online apps, where anyone and everyone has a phone in their pocket with more memory and computing power than entire computers did only a few years ago.
Technology’s huge leap in the last decade has allowed widespread virtual reality to become an actual reality. But many tech leaders see a bigger picture—where virtual reality not only becomes common place, but begins to take technology as a whole to another level, one where humans can fully integrate into the digital world.
David Smith wants to be at the forefront of this groundbreaking movement, and his Cary-based company, Wearality—profiled in ExitEvent this month—is certainly making the case that it could be a leader in the industry. Smith’s “SKY” headset design has been engineered with world-class optics at Lockheed Martin, and showcases the widest field-of-view of any current VR headset at 150 degrees, while remaining an affordable ~$69.
Smith thinks his SKY product will revolutionize the industry when it hits the market later this year, while also elevating VR and 3D not just into everyday usage, but into the aforementioned new digital world.
These are big-time promises, but when you have a background like Smith’s, people listen. Smith built his first head-mounted displays decades ago, and even developed the first 3D video gameThe Colony in 1989. He’s worked with Lockheed Martin to develop flight simulators (where he is currently employed as a senior engineer) and has even had run ins with celebrities like Tom Clancy and James Cameron—developing video games and camera systems for the famed writer and film producer.
But for all the advancements in the field throughout Smith’s career, he says it’s only within the last few years that his goal of widespread VR could be realized.
“This wouldn’t have been impossible 10 years ago,” he says. “Even a few years ago smartphones weren’t very good, but now everyone has a small computer in their pocket with two gigs of memory—there are desktops without that kind of power.”
Smith and his team are quick to admit that their Wearality company has come together at just the right time. Smartphones are plentiful, apps like Google Cardboard allow for cheap software to be designed en masse, and lens technology has allowed them to produce a product that barely weighs an ounce and can also fit into anyone’s pocket.
In fact, it’s the physical properties of the SKY which have Smith believing that Wearality will redefine the entire VR industry over the next few years. Whereas there’s always been a “hardcore gamer bottleneck” in the space, as he puts it, Smith says the fact that his headset is ‘shareable’ separates it from the competition like Facebook's forthcoming Oculus Rift. SKY requires no power of its own—it can travel almost anywhere—and it’s so simple it needs no adjustments of any kind, just a smartphone.
“Now that it’s cheap, VR as a whole can move into the bigger picture,” Smith says.
Advanced VR could reform and remake all sorts of human endeavors, be it 3D movies (imagine an IMAX on your face) or flight training simulators for pilots. But even this is small potatoes to Smith, and other big time names in the tech industry agree.
Names like Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. The social media giant famously acquired Oculus Rift for about $2 billion in 2014, and it’s safe to say that Zuckerberg, who famously wants to connect the entire world, isn’t simply betting on a video game.
Zuckerberg elaborated in a Facebook post why he’s so interested in virtual reality:
Our mission is to make the world more open and connected...When you put [Oculus] on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away...But this is just the start...we're going to make Oculus a platform for many other experiences. Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face -- just by putting on goggles in your home.
This is really a new communication platform. By feeling truly present, you can share unbounded spaces and experiences with the people in your life. Imagine sharing not just moments with your friends online, but entire experiences and adventures.
Zuckerberg’s comments and plans offer a glimpse of what Smith is hoping to achieve with SKY, and he isn’t shy about saying he's creating “a whole new digital world” in which to interact, one that is completely different from the world we experience day-to-day.
Think The Matrix, where an entire new world can be created, reshaped and interacted with.
These are big-time ideas, and maybe even a little scary. But with technology advancing the way it is, these ideas are possible, even viable, with no sign that progress is slowing down anytime soon. And if Smith has his way—his product should hit markets this summer or fall—the VR revolution could be right around the corner.