Virtual Reality pioneer Oculus VR this week announced its acquisition of Surreal Vision, a company that specializes in recreating actual physical spaces in real time for insertion into a virtual reality environment. In other words, virtual reality just got real.
Oculus VR has spearheaded a revitalization in the virtual reality space. And when Facebook acquired the company for $2 billion last year, it became more than apparent that VR is now here to stay.
Virtual reality is nothing new, of course, but technology has finally reached a point where terrific VR experiences can be delivered by gear that is both affordable and portable. Consider Samsung's Gear VR headset, made in partnership with Oculus VR. The device adds a superb VR gaming element to the company’s smartphones for just $199, and models are available for all three of the company’s flagship handsets.
But virtual reality is about much more than just gaming.
Consider this: From the comfort of your own home in New York, you can walk around a new exhibit at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Not just a still representation of the exhibit that was captured by cameras months earlier and then recreated in virtual reality. You can be there in real time, right now.
Possibilities flood the mind, and Surreal Vision is working to make those possibilities a reality. With Oculus’ focus on mixed reality, the company seems like a perfect fit to help move Oculus VR’s vision forward.
An obvious use case is telepresence. With the tech being developed by Surreal Vision, and now Oculus VR, a user would be able to remotely attend a meeting halfway around the world in real time, as if he or she were there. The same user could then visit with friends or family across the country just a few minutes later.
Surreal Vision co-founder Richard Newcombe offered the following statement alongside the announcement:
“From the human point of view, the world is constantly in motion. As we move around, our eyes dart about the scene and the rich dynamical nature of the scene’s contents come flooding in. We’re able to make sense of those changing signals to produce a coherent understanding of the world we live in, which we effortlessly navigate and interact with. Over the past three decades, a great deal of work in computer vision has attempted to mimic human-class perceptual capabilities using color and depth cameras.
At Surreal Vision, we are overhauling state-of-the-art 3D scene reconstruction algorithms to provide a rich, up-to-date model of everything in the environment including people and their interactions with each other. We’re developing breakthrough techniques to capture, interpret, manage, analyse, and finally reproject in real-time a model of reality back to the user in a way that feels real, creating a new, mixed reality that brings together the virtual and real worlds.
Ultimately, these technologies will lead to VR and AR systems that can be used in any condition, day or night, indoors or outdoors. They will open the door to true telepresence, where people can visit anyone, anywhere.
Much progress has been made toward this future, but significant challenges remain. For virtual reality, the accuracy and quality of the continuously updating 3D reconstruction must be near flawless, which is a requirement almost no other modern computer vision problem faces. When we cross these seminal thresholds, users will perceive the virtual world as truly real – and that is the experience we’re driving toward.
By achieving the ability to continuously reconstruct and track the world around us, we’ll be able to build an understanding of the world at a semantic level. This will bring the power of the digital world to the myriad of interactions we as humans perform everyday, leading toward a breakthrough in human-computer interaction and a computing platform that has true spatial awareness.
Given the team, the resources, and this shared vision, there’s no better place for us to help bring about these breakthroughs than Oculus. We’re incredibly excited for the future.”
The terms of the deal were not disclosed.