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Get ready for virtual reality

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Tech Talk by Peter Mate
Peter Mate is co-owner and president of Planit Canada, a software and services company devoted to servicing the manufacturing industry. For more info email peterm@planitcanada.ca

So what’s the real deal with all these VR headsets and stuff we see more and more of in the news?
Well, let’s take a look at what’s going on here. I’ll discuss some of the terminology, some of the common hardware and some of the recent major events that relate to this technology.
Firstly, let’s go over the difference between virtual and augmented reality. These terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Virtual reality is like a video game on steroids. It’s a virtual view that is trying to be as realistic as possible. The intent is to trick your mind and body into thinking you are actually in a space or seeing something that looks incredibly real, but it’s entirely made up. Imagine getting the same sensation of a roller coaster ride while sitting still in your chair? It’s crazy to think that technology can trick you into physically feeling similar sensations to the real thing.
Augmented reality is different. It takes a real environment and adds an imaginary component to it. Think of a hologram like most of us perceive it. You have something digital projected in front of you in a real space. This is augmented reality. You take the real and add the virtual to it.
VR (Virtual Reality) headsets are devices that are designed to showcase virtual reality scenes. Because they block out the real world and can display images to both our eyes separately, they are a good vessel to showcase a virtual scene while blocking out the real world. In 2014 we’ve seen Facebook acquire Oculus Rift, a leading VR headset company. Facebook has major plans for the headset including gaming for a start, but more importantly consumer solutions. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, posted some pretty amazing visions of this technology. He says “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.” Facebook is not the only leading tech company taking on VR headsets; Google released Google Cardboard at a developer conference in 2014. These two tech giants are not acting on a whim. They clearly see that VR headsets will become part of everyday life for all of us just as the cell phone did.
YouTube and Facebook are now supporting 360-degree videos. These videos are shot in 360 degrees. This means as the video is navigating you through a scene, you can look up/down, side to side, behind you, etc. Try it by searching online for 360-degree video and you’ll find some Facebook and YouTube examples.
Taking this entire one step further, immersive CAVE type environments are no longer only for space museums. The hardware has made its way into mainstream applications. In our industry, this means creating a virtual environment where the consumer thinks and feels like they are in their new kitchen or space. One particular setup I’ve seen uses a cube-like room with projectors displaying a scene on every side of the cube. It takes some blank walls and turns them into any environment you choose. You can visit the desert, the Alps and the Great Barrier Reef, all in the same hour.
Trends change so fast these days and real samples and showrooms cost a lot of money. The future is virtual and digital. There will be a day in the not-so-distant future, where laminate sample boards will be a thing of the past. No more investing in them, no more ordering missing chips and no more maintaining them to be current. Showrooms are changing. Door styles, wood species, counter top materials are all things that can be digitized and shown to customers in a more realistic way than ever before.
One day the concept of ripping out a display kitchen and replacing it with a new one will be as foreign as buying a set of encyclopedia books every couple years. One day in the not too distant future, we’ll gather and reminisce about the waste, the costs, the limits and the ongoing upkeep of our physical showrooms. 

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