When it comes to events such as “hack days” and “hackathons,” most of what we understand, or pretend to understand, is pretty rudimentary: geeky computer science guys and gals typing ferociously away at their computers just so something productive can come to be.
That is, at least what I imagined what Boston VR Hack Day was going to look like. The reality was very different: held in a comfortable and open space, a combination of developers, programmers, and simple enthusiasts came together to discuss the future of this technology. The event space wasn’t just filled with coders, but truly diverse: Aside from the broad range of industries within computer science that was present in that room, professionals from healthcare, infrastructure and even real estate participated actively with other members.
One thing was clear: there is a fantastic chance that Virtual Reality is seeping into every single industry on the planet.
Jeffrey Jacobson, one of the event organizers and a Virtual Reality veteran who has been in the industry for 25 years, believes that this technology, while only in its infancy, has the potential to dominate the way we communicate in the near future.
“When I first saw it (VR headsets), I was skeptical.” said Jacobson, “I had seen a wave of VR equipment come about in the early 90s and it was all just garbage. It was a worthy effort, I’m really glad they tried, but it just wasn’t ready at the time.”
“Then I [used] one, made me sick immediately since I’m motion sensitive,” said Jacobson, “and then I realized the whole world was going to change.”
Alan Foster, the CEO of Lore Media Inc. and one of the event organizers, held similar views to Jacobson.
“Most people when they look at Virtual Reality, they see a new platform for video games,” said Foster, “I look at it more fundamentally tool, as a new medium for communications and engagements in the same way of when smartphones first came out, it was a new medium that allowed us to do things that allowed us do things that we couldn’t have done before.”
Charles Wong, a consultant for a healthcare company, said that it was his first time attending these events. Wong is among the few in the room who doesn’t know how to code, but that doesn’t take away from how excited he is about this new technology.
“I am here because I am very interested in Virtual and Augmented reality,” said Wong, “I think these new technology have a tremendous potential in impacting the way humans in a society interact with one another and I really want to get involved in that space.” Wong also said that though he is unsure what he wants to accomplish now, he wants to help bring VR and AR to the masses so that everyone can enjoy them. “Just like the iPhone,” said Wong.
A huge component of any hack day or hackathon is to give opportunities to coders and software developers to work on their projects and share ideas, which Boston’s best minds in VR and AR did not run short on. These softwares ranged from video games, virtual shopping experiences, VR real estate experiences to even entire body parts based in augmented reality.
Julien Bouvier-Volaille, one of the programmers at the meetup, has plans to help amputees suffering from phantom pain by building a limb in AR. His prototype, a left arm, already has the ability to accomplish tasks by using a computer keyboard to control its fingers.
“The idea came to me at night: What would happen if I lost my hand? I’ve been a programmer for years, and I thought there should be a solution to help me work again [if I ever lost my hand],” said Volaille.
Volaille said the project not only aims to help people with pain problems, but to also restore the use of their missing limb.
“It will of course have the ability to interact with virtual objects. For an example, your virtual hand [in augmented reality] will have the ability to type on a virtual keyboard,” said Volaille, “at the end, you can work again with a few weeks.”
However exciting the potentials for this new technology seems, Jacobson said that there are still lots of difficulties VR and AR developers must overcome. “All of the tools for VR are immature, and it’s really hard to do things,” he said, “There are a lot of very smart people working very hard to make the tools more streamlined, but we’re not there yet.” Jacobson lamented on the fact on the diversity of programming tools available and their inflexibility; how most programmers need to do their own coding to get one program to “talk” to another.
“There’s a very big shortage of talent, and most of that talent only has one or two years of experience,” said Jacobson.
The immense difficulties are not stopping any of these programmers. All present believed that Augmented reality will be part of our daily lives in the very near future.
“Some people ask me, ‘what’s going to win, AR or VR?’ that’s almost like asking which one’s better, my left foot or my right foot,” said Jacobson.