Forging ahead with Virtual Reality

The second annual Consumer Virtual Reality Conference will show off the latest technology, but the use won’t be applicable in everyday life yet. The CVR will be coming to the Vancouver Convention Centre from May 5–7. It will have demonstrations from Secret Location, Cloudhead Games, Ydreams, Serious Simulations and many others.

People who are dissatisfied with everyday reality will actively change it, says Ray Hsu, PhD.

“They (activists) will create new ‘realities’ (if we’re talking about VR/AR/MR) for others to experience,” says Hsu.

Technical glitches

Hsu is one of the researchers pushing the boundaries of real-world applications by integrating Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality/Mixed Reality and other emerging technologies (Artificial Intelligence and machine learning). He thinks VR has impacted daily lives as an idea more than as technology. The available modes of experiencing VR, such as hardware, are still yet to be determined.

“[The technology is] also too expensive for mainstream consumption and also need to address basic problems like motion-sickness,” says Hsu.

Barnhard Riecke, an Associate Professor at SFU-SIAT (School of Interactive Arts and Technology), also acknowledges these issues that arise with VR.

“How can we help them leverage the technology without getting people sick or disoriented, or eyestrain or other potential negative side effects which technology can also have? It depends very much on the application. It certainly doesn’t solve all the issues. There are some things you want to do immersively and others not,” says Riecke.

However, Riecke thinks there are some practical uses of VR and AR.

“Say you’re looking to buy a place and it’s across town. You don’t have enough time to drive there. If you could virtually experience it well enough to know what you’re looking at, then this would save you a lot of time,” says Riecke. “Say an architect wants to show their designs to people without having to have a physical mock-up: they could let their clients walk through and experience the building, or the architect could guide them through the environment.”

Riecke will be part of Emily Carr Design Panel for the Consumer Virtual Reality conference. He also agrees there are more uses for VR for hypothetical scenarios. He will be showcasing his Virtual Earth gazing project.

“Anything that virtual reality allows you do, something that you could not do otherwise, I think that’s where it is really powerful. If we’re investigating how we can fly into space, it gives you really an embodied sensation or illusion that you’re really flying through space,” says Riecke. “Another project we’re starting now, we try to give people the jest of the experience that astronauts had when they were out in space. They came back changed. One of the early astronauts Edgar Mitchell stated we went to the moon as technicians. We returned as humanitarians. That’s just one example that his medium can be really powerful.”

Yet he doesn’t think that it should be a goal for VR to be used in everyday situations.

“For some things they would be useful, for others not. For example, I much prefer not to fly to Toronto or anywhere – even an hour on the Skytrain or a drive through Vancouver. If I could have a good enough video conference or teleconference or telepresence where this would be good enough in terms of us having a good conversation,” says Riecke.

Rethinking VR and technology

Ray Hsu, specialist in virtual reality and augmented reality | Photo by Joey Armstrong

However, Riecke says VR has come a long way.

“Back in the olden days, we often asked [ourselves] to adapt to the computer so you use punch cards or type code. The idea of virtual reality is to better understand how humans perceive, how we think, how we behave, how we move, what cues are really important to us, the more we can design the technology to support us at what we’re good at,” he explains.

Hsu, who is the Faculty in Residence at the UBC Emerging Media Lab, Chair of the Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality Working Group, notes there was no cross-campus discussions about this topic.

“To be sure, there were individual labs or researchers who were devoted to exploring the role that technology could play in furthering learning outcomes, but given academic silos, it required a lot of work to find them,” says Hsu.

Hsu started the VR/AR Working Group at UBC so faculty, students, industry, campus IT staff and others who were invested in these ideas and products could share them.

“When the dust settles among competitors to provide a solid baseline experience that is affordable, then the work of reimagining daily life under a new computing paradigm – one without screens as we know it – can begin,” says Hsu.

Hsu has led hundreds of people through demos of these technologies. He’s seen many try VR for the first time and, when they lift the headset, they ask, “Why would you ever want to leave?”

“This seems a common enough pattern from the surprise and “wow-factor” of a new kind of experience. I believe that as these kinds of experiences become more commonplace, many people will consume them the way that they consume other kinds of media, like video,” says Hsu.

For more information, visit

And to check out Riecke’s Virtual Earth gazing project, visit