I had the pleasure of trying a prototype of the new Oculus Rift "Crystal Cove" headset earlier this year, and it was mind-blowing. But after the Oculus staffers ripped their headset off my face — my 15 minutes was up — I chatted with them about what else it could be used for.
I am not a gamer, so for me the most impressive things about the Oculus weren't the shooting action or the alien spaceships I had been flying around.
Rather, it was how smooth and real the world inside the headset seemed to be. Although it was being shown on two lenses in front of my eyes, it felt as comfortable as real life. The scenery moved in a natural way when you moved your head. It was not at all disorienting.
So it occurred to me that the headset could be used for a bunch of non-game stuff. Any situation, in fact, in which a remote but real view of something might be useful.
This is what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems to be thinking of in his acquisition of the company for $2 billion today.
The Oculus execs told me they'd had a lot of interest from architects especially, because they loved the way you could walk through a model of a building and instantly adjust the height of ceilings and doors based on a "real" view. It was far superior to a physical wood and cardboard model.
It also occurred to me that if the headset could be hooked up to a drone with a set of 360-degree cameras, then a remote pilot could drive the drone anywhere and give the person wearing the headset a live, perfect 360-view of the real world. That would be a huge boost to security or police forces; you would be able to view — and chase — anything remotely.
That is not currently possible, for a couple of reasons. Apparently, filming with multi-lens cameras to get stereoscopic vision is much more difficult than it looks. And meshing left and right images is a processing nightmare — the amount of computing power you'd need to do it live is staggering.
But, the folks I talked to said, they are problems that are solvable in the future as the software and hardware needed becomes more powerful.
In the meantime, the Oculus' future depends on its small community of app developers. Many of them are making games. But some of the most exciting ideas are non-gaming apps, such as true-to-life museum walk-th roughs.
The virtual 3D sky is the limit.
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