Please join me on Monday, July 20th and Tuesday, July 21st for the second annual XR Access Symposium. This year we are holding the entire symposium online in light of the COVID-19 pandemic instead of in New York City where we congregated for last year’s inaugural event.
I will be speaking on Monday, July 20th during one of the keynote conversations with Devin Boyle at 12:30pm Eastern time. I will also be co-facilitating the Hardware Devices breakout sessions on Tuesday, July 21st.
My son loves elevators. I call him Elevator Jones. Before COVID we’d go to the malls, office buildings, hotels, Metro, and anywhere else that elevators existed and take dozens of rides. We would record the outing with my phone, a video camera, or my trusty Samsung Gear 360.
We cannot go anywhere during this pandemic. He does not quite understand what this means, though he accepts it…to a point. He keeps asking when we can go back to visit the mall, ride the elevators at the office building, and stay at hotels again. I do not have an answer for him.
In my earlier post Escaping with Virtual Reality I wrote about using XR—Virtual Reality (VR) specifically—for social and entertainment. An extension of that is getting away. For my son that has a therapeutic effect.
If you have videos, use ‘em
We had taken quite a few videos before the pandemic happened, both regular style and 360-degree videos. He already loved reviewing those videos at home on his iPad and in our Oculus Quest VR headset. Now they are critical.
You may already have some photos and videos you’ve taken in the past. If you’re lucky you have some 360 videos too. Either way, you can pop them into your VR headset and immerse yourself in another world. A pre-COVID world.
He loves watching videos we took together of elevators, my office, and the amusement park. While he would prefer to go there in person, this is an effective stand in for the real thing. At least for now.
The Internet of Content
If you do not happen to have photos and videos you can use there is plenty to find on the internet, including videos of the 360-degree variety.
In fact, if you are an elevator buff like my son there are literally thousands if not millions of elevator videos on YouTube to enjoy. YouTubers such as Diesel Ducy, JimLiElevators, and Floridian Elevators have been posting videos for years. There are hundreds if not thousands more. They have massive followings online. It’s a beautiful community. I started the Elevator Jones channel on YouTube to add to the pile. Maybe one day I’ll be able to add more.
My son also loves malls. There are videos from folks such as Dan Bell and Sal that document the rise and decline of malls. This is a topic that fascinates me too. I grew up in the mall era. I love watching videos of dying malls, abandoned malls, closed malls. Another great escape are videos of abandoned places by the likes of Mobile Instinct and Bright Sun Films.
Getting into the 360-degree and VR side of things, check out the YouTube VR site. NextVR also looks promising, but we may have to wait and see what Apple does with them. Check out AFS-USA Explore. Companies like Ascape are making VR videos for the travel industry and many of these are on YouTube VR.
Give it a try
Just because you are stuck at home and not able to go to your favorite destinations does not mean you cannot visit those places. Pull out the photos and videos you took. Put them on your VR headset. Find some new content online. Try out a new VR travel app.
The world is still out there. You just need to look.
With the arrival of COVID-19 in the United States, we
have hunkered down at home, the kids are out of school, and we are not going
anywhere for a while. We hope this pandemic ends sooner than later. But at this
point nothing is guaranteed. Do what you need to do to be safe, keep your
family safe, and help quell this global threat to our health.
This unexpected turn of recent events has given me a little
extra time to tinker with the tech toys around the house. Much to the chagrin
of my wife, I collect a lot of stuff. I am also lucky to have access to various
devices for my job. Typically, I do not always have (or make) enough time to
test everything out as much as I’d like. The lack of commute and cabin fever this
past week have changed things a bit.
While I work with XR (eXtended Reality) at work, in
particular Augmented Reality (AR) and the Microsoft HoloLens 2, I have let my
use of the consumer side of Virtual Reality (VR) lapse a bit. Now that I have extra
time—and motivation—to tinker and get distracted, I am getting back to using
some of the apps I’ve setup for work and the kids. This reminded me how much
this technology can enable engagement and escape to aid psychological and
Virtual Reality can be a Great Escape
I fired up my Oculus Quest and attached it to a gaming laptop to test out the Oculus Link feature. Browsing around the apps in the library, I found Google Earth VR. What a great way to get out of the house without leaving the house. I’m hooked. Again.
These sorts of apps are great for escape: you can visit anywhere in the world, watch videos on YouTube of events and places back in time, and even participate in live events in virtual spaces like AltSpaceVR, Wave, and NextVR. You can even catch up with your friends to watch a movie in the Oculus Quest or have a social hour in one of the many meetup apps like Bigscreen.
You can also watch VR and 360 videos in YouTube or upload your own photos and videos to the VR headset. I have a Samsung Gear 360 camera to take videos and photos and upload them to the Oculus Quest. My son loves revisiting our adventures.
I have planned to write about virtual collaboration apps like Spatial, Doghead Rumii, HTC’s Engage, and Glue. That’s not what I am talking about here. I mean entertainment and socializing. Think travel, concerts, and meetups with friends. You do not need to go anywhere but can get some semblance of escape.
Then there is the whole game genre. That is what most people
think of when they think of VR. We downplay that at work to talk about
training, design, and collaboration because those uses are more appropriate in
the professional setting. But we also talk about therapy and medical uses. You
know what is therapeutic? Playing games. Connecting with people. Getting out of
your head and out of your house and going somewhere else. VR can do all of
Virtual Reality is more available than ever…if you can get a headset
VR once was relegated to those in the know and those with
the means. Nowadays, the Oculus Quest and Go make it amazingly simple to get
yourself into VR. Even the newer HTC, Oculus, and Windows Mixed Reality
headsets are easier to setup and use than the original HTC Vive and Oculus.
The only problem of late is supply and demand. The demand was high for headsets like the Oculus Quest for holidays 2019. When the coronavirus started, production that was already delayed was affected and devices went out of stock. They have come back periodically. For example, on Friday 3/13 Oculus.com had some in stock but they ran out quickly. You can currently find devices for a 50% premium on Amazon and eBay. Most people are out of luck though.
If you are lucky enough to have your own device, or have
access to one to borrow, pull it out again to investigate what it can do for
Right now my go to recommendation is the Oculus Quest, if you can get one. They are $399 list for a 64GB model and $499 list for a 128GB model. Anything higher means stock is restricted so people are taking advantage. It may still be worth the cost if you want something sooner than later.
If you already have a gaming PC or laptop with a good graphics card, or want get one and have a higher budget, you should look at the Oculus Rift S and Windows Mixed Reality headsets like the Samsung Odyssey+ and HP Reverb. If you really want high quality graphics, the HTC Vive Pro Eye or Valve Index are for you, if you have the right graphics card.
Put me in VR, I’m ready to play
Besides the fact that there are plenty of other ways to play
games, interact with people, and engage with content, why do we need VR?
Well, we don’t. But it is a worthwhile addition to the list.
I am willing and ready to re-engage with VR as a consumer, not just as a
professional. For the next four weeks or more my whole family will be home.
This may keep us from driving each other crazy. Maybe we’ll learn something
I am not ignoring Augmented Reality. There are plenty of AR
apps for your phone and tablet, including games and learning apps. Soon enough
we’ll have AR headsets that will be even more engaging. Right now, though, VR
is where the real engagement is at. Especially if you want to get away from the
real world for a while.
Get some VR now
Most = aka most popular headsets, the Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, PC-VR
Most + more = Popular headsets plus others like the Oculus Go and/or Playstation VR
PC-VR generally includes the HTC Vive, Valve Index, and Windows Mixed Reality support
Almost exactly four years ago, the first HoloLens rolled off the assembly line and was delivered to its first customer. It was a revolution in wearable technology: not only was it a full computer that you wore on your head, it also had “mixed reality” holographic display, depth-sensing sensors that descended from the Xbox Kinect, and special gesture tracking so you could use your hands to control it.
At the time, the world of augmented reality consisted of phone and tablet-based camera pass-through apps and simple two-dimensional AR heads up displays like the Google Glass. Android’s ARcore and Apple’s ARkit had not been released yet for mobile devices, so the world of 3D holographic and spatial AR computing was almost exclusively in Microsoft’s hands.
The first-generation HoloLens was
considered a “Developers Edition” at the time until Microsoft released an
Enterprise edition by early 2017.
Mixed Reality is the future
I was lucky to use the original HoloLens during its first
year in 2016. We got one for my company’s Innovation Center and we built a
medical imaging app that we demonstrated to visitors. Over the next few years,
more applications popped up in the Microsoft Store and through partners.
At first, it seemed there might be more of a consumer focus
with the headset. Games like Roboraid
were made to show off the gaming ability of the platform. Quickly though, the market
turned towards enterprise.
I like using the HoloLens for collaboration apps like Spatial, Object Theory’s Prism, and Holo-One, which allow people to work together
in 3D rooms both co-located in-person and remote. I also like working with
companies such as Taqtile for maintenance and job aid applications like their Manifest platform.
I also like using the Windows Mail, Calendar, and Web browser applications to place an almost infinite desktop around my workspace and house.
As we look to the future, we are building applications for
the HoloLens 2 that bring map and sensor data into spatial computing, bridge
training from virtual reality to augmented reality, and move from phone based interfaces
to head mounted displays.
HoloLens 1 was definitely version 1.0
The HoloLens 1 was a revolutionary device that came out in
2016. We had never seen anything like it before and it has affected product
development across the entire XR industry.
It was a great device.
Once devices got out, we gathered our ideas for how to
improve the platform. These are not gripes with the first generation HoloLens,
rather a set of ideas that were collected over the next three years as
Microsoft designed HoloLens 2.
The limited field of view was the most noticeable. Technical
limitations of these sort of holographic waveguide displays limited the
horizontal field of view (FOV) to 30 degrees—whereas VR is typically over 100
degrees and ideal FOV for any headset is upwards of 200 degrees or more. No AR
headset can reach 100 degrees right now, but we may see that change over the
next few years.
Besides FOV, the form factor of the HoloLens 1 was also a
concern. Fitting all the electronics and battery in the headset was quite a
feat, but all that weight was placed over the face—and on the nose. A HoloLens
1 could be worn for maybe 30-60 minutes before it became quite uncomfortable. There
were adjustments to the headwear that could improve this, but it did not
eliminate the fact that there was a mass of weight on your forehead.
Lastly, while the hand gestures—what was call the “air tap”
and “bloom”—were easy to learn, they were not as intuitive as we would like.
HoloLens 2 is a big incremental improvement
All of the comments about the HoloLens 1 were addressed in
the HoloLens 2 and more.
Wider field of view: 52 degrees diagonal/43 degrees
Better fit and comfort: the electronics were
split between the forehead and back of the head, balancing the weight and also
enabling a more hat-like fit to the headset
Full hand gestures and hand tracking were added,
so you can now grab and stretch holographic objects more naturally
In addition, new features were added:
Iris login for security
Eye tracking for control and analysis
USB-C power and accessory port
New Qualcomm Snapdragon 850 processing power,
Holographic Processing Unit, and an AI
Slow and steady wins the race
HoloLens 2 is more of an evolution than a revolution this
time around. However, Microsoft is likely aiming for HoloLens 3 or 4 to be
plain old glasses. Maybe that will not be until HoloLens 5. We are 5-10 years
out for a truly revolutionary headset. Everything between now and then will be
incremental improvements until we get smaller size, greater power, and more
seamless and full-view optics.
In the meantime, the likes of Magic Leap, Facebook, or Apple would like to get there first. We will probably see consumer devices from some of these players with less features but more compact form factors. Microsoft is focusing on enterprise first, focusing on higher end features and support that is required for companies and the government. That should lead to consumer editions at some point.
Way back in early 2019 it was looking like 2020 would see a surge in augmented reality headsets and adoption across both the consumer and enterprise space. There were rumors of Apple announcing an AR headset in early 2020. Microsoft was releasing its long-awaited HoloLens 2 by the end of 2019. North Focals, nReal, Magic Leap, and others had devices out or coming soon. The excitement was strong.
The Reality of AR
Once the end of 2019 came around, we realized that we would instead be seeing important yet incremental progress in AR devices. Consumers will be getting more options like an updated North Focals, nReal Light, and the promise of AR contacts in a few years. Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 rolled out, albeit to production constraints. The Apple AR glasses ended up being a 2022-2023 thing instead of a 2020 thing. We just have to wait a little bit longer.
The limitations on technology are a major factor. We want smaller,
lighter glasses with a wide field of view (FOV), 3D optics, ease of use, and
low cost. Right now, we can have one or maybe two of those features in a single
headset. You could have small and relatively inexpensive North Focals. You can
have the Varjo XR-1 with a wide field of view for $10,000. You can have the HoloLens
or Magic Leap that are self-contained and easier to use, but lacking an ideal
The other issue is cost. Anything with true spatial 3D computing
is upwards of $1000 or more. Headsets like the North Focals come in under
$1000, but only offer 2D optics for notifications and do not include enhanced
input methods. nReal Light consumer glasses are supposed to start at $500 and
include 3D optics but are not available quite yet.
This year promises to bring down the cost of the entry level
AR glasses, but we are not quite there yet.
What AR will we get in 2020?
For the most part, we may already know what AR is coming in
2020. Most of the AR devices are already here or already announced:
There are likely more devices in the works, but I do not
expect to see major new production devices before 2021. Facebook/Oculus,
Google, Apple, and others are likely working on their own new products.
Microsoft and Magic Leap are working on their next generation headsets. Smaller
companies like nReal and North Focals are progressing their tech as well. Right
now, we have what we have. We may get announcements of new products this year,
but I would be surprised if we get anything tangible to try before 2021.
For enterprise, 2020 and 2021 will have a lot of adoption of
AR. With fieldable headsets from the Microsoft, Vuzix, and Magic Leap, some enterprise
and government agencies will be able to afford piloting and deploying these
devices in greater numbers.
For consumers, we will likely need to wait until 2021, 2022, or 2023 for substantial adoption. North Focals and similar devices may see some uptick before then, but we may need a Facebook/Oculus, Google, or Apple to make a pair of AR glasses that are attractive to the mass market. I would love to see a smaller company come in and be competitive, but experience points to a large company with big pockets as the winner.
XR – eXtended Reality – has been around for decades. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality (MR) allow for much more three-dimensional and realistic interaction with computing systems. As with most technologies, they have not been designed for accessibility from the start. But can they be used to enable interaction with people of all abilities?
Why should XR be accessible?
The better question is: why shouldn’t XR be accessible? Accessibility is a human right. It is also the law in many countries, including the United States, with laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Telecommunications Act.
XR, including AR and VR, came out of varying needs for 2D
and 3D spatial computing over the years. Simulation, training, operations, and
maintenance are a few of the common uses of XR. Gaming is also a common use of
VR in the consumer space, dating back to systems like Nintendo Virtual Boy in
the 1990s and made more mainstream by the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift in the
AR started with the Virtual Fixtures system for the US Air
Force, and earlier “heads up displays” (HUDs) are also predecessors to the modern
AR headset. AR has evolved into both 2D and 3D with HUDs such as Google Glass,
Microsoft HoloLens, and Magic Leap One. Phones and tablets can also run AR
using cameras to detect and overlay imagery over the world.
Evaluating this holistically, XR is a perfect fit for making
the world more accessible to everyone. Uses such as communication, training,
navigation, remote access, and content creation can provide enhanced and alternative
ways for anyone to participate.
We also need to make sure XR experiences areaccessible
for everyone. VR games should be accessible. AR navigation apps should be accessible.
MR remote 3D design platforms should be accessible. It should not be an
The XR Access Symposium
In July 2019, I attended the XR Access Symposium in New York City. This group of about 100 people across academia, industry, and government got together at the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island for a day of presentations, demos, and breakout groups.
The plenary sessions got everyone thinking and the ten breakout
groups allowed us to brainstorm the initial set of goals that the XR Access initiative
would consider. There were demonstrations of current XR tech which was new to a
lot of the audience. The mix of content, devices, and people enabled unique conversations
that led to the next steps for XR Access.
How we make XR accessible
The goal for XR Access is to engage with the community, create guidelines, and influence policy for accessibility in XR. The focus is to support software, hardware, and content so that this technology is built from the ground up for all, not application by application.
To achieve this goal, we have organized the XR Access
initiative into six working groups:
Guidelines & Policies
Content & Authoring
We have about 150 participants across the groups and an
executive team of about a dozen leaders. I am the Lead for the Hardware Devices
working group and excited to engage with our community partners on this effort.
I am also looking forward to working across all the groups to meet the
There are some efforts in progress, including W3C’s XAUR and WebXR, along with Open XR and the XR Association that will feed into our work. We are not starting from scratch but acknowledge that a more coordinate and public effort needs to be made.
Our next symposium is slated for sometime this summer. Please visit www.xraccess.org and join a working group or attend a community gathering to get involved.
In September 2018, Microsoft released its Xbox Adaptive Controller to the world. This new controller provides alternative ways for gamers to interact with both the Xbox and Windows games. The controller has its own built in controls for some of the main buttons and inputs for up to 19 switches that use the 3.5mm standard and three USB ports.
Microsoft started development of the Xbox
Adaptive Controller way back in 2015, and it took three years of iterations and
collaboration to get to production. The company worked with gamers to develop
and tweak the design, and it ended up being compatible with a wide array of switches,
joysticks, and mounts and is massively customizable.
Both of my boys love gaming. We got an Xbox
One S last year and while my older son was quick to adapt to the new system, my
younger son had challenges. He has cerebral palsy and had trouble using the
standard Xbox controller for more complex games like NHL ’18. He loves
hockey and really wants to play with his brother. So we got the Xbox Adaptive
controller for Christmas along with the brand new Logitech
Adaptive Gaming Kit.
The whole point of devices like this is to give
people the choice of modifying input methods to fit their needs. You can use the
base controller and a few 3.5mm switches, or a whole array of switches along
with USB joysticks. There are switches for wheelchairs, hand mounts, foot
controls, mouth controls, and more. You can remap the inputs any way you like. This
is what true accessibility is about.
The Xbox Adaptive Controller gives my son the
ability to interact with the games in his own way. The larger buttons of the Adaptive
Controller are easier for him to push. The customizable switches allow us to
space out additional button controls in a more accessible layout. The last step
is to add some USB joysticks—this will allow complete control in NHL ’18, for
Microsoft is the only major game system maker
that has done this in a comprehensive way, though adaptive controllers have
been around in various forms for decades. My hope is that the success of
Microsoft’s effort will trickle over to the other companies. I am looking at
you Sony, Nintendo, and Apple.
One great effect of these new adaptive devices is their eventually adaptation (*ahem*) for other uses, including PC control and an area I am currently working in, XR Access: accessibility for virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality systems, aka eXtended Reality (XR).
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