What we have learned at CES: software will free us from hardware

Andy Gstoll

There’s a lot of noise at CES (and about CES). The Las Vegas trade show, which has been the birthplace (or at least the birthday party) for much of the past decade’s most impressive tech has come and gone, again – leaving in its wake a lot of excitement (Wow! Self-driving cars!), anticipation (when will I have a Star Trek-style Holodeck?) and a little concern (Uh-oh… self driving cars…). But while everyone’s still talking about what we saw in 2016, we’re already dreaming of what we’ll see in 2017… and beyond.

The most exciting thing for us: VR is starting to cut the cord, and the rest of the world is catching up to what we’ve been working towards for the last seven years. The people building the next generation of wearable virtual reality devices are starting to think wireless, which means a life beyond the living room.

The biggest name in VR – Oculus Rift – is a ‘tethered’ device; something that needs the processing power of a desktop computer or gaming platform to create and display a virtual world. When tethered, you can’t walk anywhere. That’s why in today’s VR games, you will always need to teleport from one room to another – you can’t actually walk.

Lighthouse tracking cuts the literal cord, but not the figurative one – you need hardware on the wall, which still keeps you from moving room to room, let alone outside. We want to operate beyond your living room – and with Wikitude’s pure visual 3D tracking, that will happen – with no additional hardware needed.

Are tethered systems better today? Absolutely. They’re more powerful, faster, more immersive and more impressive. But while the future of gaming may be ‘virtual reality’ – an immersive experience – the future of life is augmented reality. Reality, plus. The freedom to roam isn’t a maybe – it’s a must. There’s a reason the mobile market is the biggest new market created in the past two decades. What are people paying for when they buy a smartphone? A toy? No – people will pay for freedom and convenience. They want the ability to work out of the office; the convenience of knowledge at their fingertips at any time.

One piece of impressive tech helping us cut the cord is the GameFace. The London-based VR firm has been in business since 2009, and from the start, they’ve been building headsets that process and render graphics natively using nVidia internals to create a ‘head-mounted console’. According to their CEO Edward Mason, their product packs twice the power of Playstation into a wearable headset. The fan-cooled device, powered by a battery in your pocket, allows up to 7 hours of experiential use, he claims – along with the fact that the device will be shipping in early 2017.

The unseen hurdle here? We need smaller and faster processors to understand bigger worlds. We need your phone to build a virtual version of the room you’re in – and do it in nanoseconds. That’s exactly what Wikitude’s 3D slam is focused on – we have the running technology right now, and the worlds we are building will just keep getting bigger and better, as seen in our demo video below:

The next step? Something like the Microsoft Hololens or the ODG R‑7 Smartglasses. The ODG R‑7 device is bigger than your standard pair of sunglasses but smaller than a ski goggle, and packing state of the art hardware components enabling an increasingly bigger Field of View (FOV), all the pieces needed to make on-the-go 3D mapping a reality.

It’s a unique paradox – to be fully wired in and constantly connected, with a world of information and entertainment at our fingertips at any time, we need to cut the cords and get out of the house. That’s what we hope to see at CES 2017.

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