The Future of Immersive Technology With Matt Witkamp

Matt Witkamp, founder and CEO of Kampfire Studios recently joined FS Insider to give listeners an update on all things virtual, augmented and mixed reality. He shared new technology developments and how they’re being implemented in a wide range of fields and discussed where he sees the industry going.

For audio, see COVID-19 Has Accelerated the Next Era of Computation.

From telemedicine to distance learning, people are starting to have a renewed interest in this immersive technology space, especially given our current circumstances. What are some of the latest developments you’re seeing here?

Well, from a technology perspective, since we last spoke, we have the Microsoft HoloLens 2 which is currently being rolled out. Not everyone has their orders yet, but Microsoft is addressing those as quickly as possible.

Since we last spoke, we also had Magic Leap coming out with their own device. We still have Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Both of those companies are iterating on their devices. Oculus released the Oculus Quest, which is also interesting as it’s a virtual reality (VR) headset that is self-contained. It's very easy to get in and out of and you don't have to set up sensors, you put it on and you're ready to go.

Of course, Microsoft has their VR headsets as well. They've labeled them Microsoft Windows, MR for mixed reality. But it's a VR headset. Microsoft’s two primary categories of devices are the VR headsets and then the HoloLens.

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When we last spoke, our discussion focused on HoloLens, and interestingly now, with the HoloLens 2, Microsoft has been really focused on addressing a lot of the pain points with the first device. These are things such as the field of view, you'll probably remember last time, the field of view was a little bit limited. They doubled the field of view for HoloLens 2.

Other things that were frustrating for users were the interaction models. Things like, how do you click on things? How do you interact with objects? How do you interact with these virtual things? They've now introduced a lot of natural hand gestures. There's fully articulated hand tracking, there's eye tracking now, which really adds a new element from the interaction perspective for bringing in that human to human interaction in virtual space. That one's particularly interesting.

In the last four years, we've seen some great strides. We've also seen some companies that didn't quite make it. Meta is no longer in play, and we still have one player that has yet to play their cards. Apple has still yet to release details on their augmented reality (AR) glasses.

It’s hard not to think about what kind of major implication this could have in so many areas from helping the blind “see” to education and soon, taking students on virtual trips to Rome where it's almost indistinguishable from reality.

Absolutely. The way I think about it and approach it is we are all three-dimensional creatures; our most natural form of interaction is in 3D. We've just trained ourselves to think and to act to work in 2D. So now we just have a technology that's allowing us to come back to more of our natural form. This is one of the reasons why immersive technology just has a tendency to resonate with people. It's beautiful, it will grab people's attention.

Now, of course, there’s the newness factor. You know, of course, I'll acknowledge that as well. Any new technology, you know, you have the hype cycle where, oh, we can do everything with this and then everyone realizes, well, actually, no, we can't do everything. There's a lot of stuff we can't do. But, you know, with immersive technology, there are certain aspects, particularly in education and training where being able to immerse people into an environment, even just learning history and being able to go to some of these sites where the things happened, it just brings added levels of understanding that are not possible in 2D.

There's an application currently in development, at Kampfire in the medical space where we're adding gamification to the physical therapy. So being able to provide these added levels of interaction allow you to engage your senses. And because you're accessing that 3D nature of all of us as three-dimensional creatures and beings, it just it resonates.

Another thing I love about the immersive spaces, you see a lot of technologies coming together to create these unique experiences. So, for example, giving ESP, extrasensory perception, to people that have vision challenges, you have the scanning technology of the HoloLens scanning the environment, doing the spatial mapping of the world around you. You have computer vision coming into play in order to be able to recognize faces. That same computer vision can also be used to recognize objects as well. You know, they have a lot of that capability built into the Azure platform. So, it's a great time to be involved in this stuff.

There are also a lot of opportunities for this kind of technology in the corporate and business world as well. Where do you see things heading five or 10 years from now?

In the strategic work that I do, I like to take a look at where things were to understand where things are headed. And it's interesting to think about the social acceptance of having these devices, even just wearing them. If we go back to Google Glass, Google's first AR experiment, the social backlash on that was really interesting. We have the term ‘glass hole’ for people to people that were wearing these devices in bars and movie theaters. In these big tech cities like Silicon Valley and Seattle, there were locations and signs banning these devices because they were just not understood.

Since that time, and even over the last four years, we really have a lot of people starting to understand what these devices are. Not only what they are, what they're capable of and what those risks are associated with that. Also understanding where the devices make sense to be used.

I also see a lot of progression over the next five to 10 years with taking a forward look at where this technology is headed. The areas in which the technologies can be applied is starting to have a good, solid foundation of understanding. For example, HoloLens and Magic Leap, given the cost of the device, combined with what they are good at, we're finding that category of devices really lends themselves to actual working tasks.

A great example of this is in areas we call dirty tech or dirty industries, you know, service industries, where people get their hands dirty. Those technologies allowed some companies to kind of leapfrog from a technical perspective. For example, an elevator or air conditioning company, you know, anytime you have someone going on site, they need to be working on something yet referencing materials in order to perform the procedures correctly. That’s a great opportunity to have a hands-free device that sits on your head that's able to augment what you see, understand what you see. And then provide you with all of the safety checklists and models and diagrams and instructions that you need to perform your job well, but also more quickly.

A lot of these companies are seeing significant reductions in call time, just by having a device that’s hands free rather than having a technician who has an iPad in one hand, and then they're trying to do something or use a tool with their other hand to perform a service.

So now that can be completely hands free. You can have a remote expert that's able to see what they're seeing. There have been some really cool advancements in that area. So, thinking about the next few steps for the technology, what I see, as far as the advancements go, is, of course, technology is going to become faster, it's going to become lighter, the batteries will be better so that they can last longer. Power usage will be more efficient. But a lot of the stuff that I find interesting is how the interaction models are advancing to make the technology more approachable to the population at large.

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