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Can VR become billion-user platform?

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Virtual reality is suddenly the flavour of the moment for anything from product launches to test drives. Now a gaming guru believes it will be the next billion-user platform. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK explores.

In November 2016, iconic car brand Jaguar set the marketing world alight with the launch of its I-PACE Concept, an all-electric sport utility vehicle. Not because the car looked so great, but because the Los Angeles event was the world’s first live virtual reality unveiling of a new vehicle.

Five groups of 66 guests, at the launch venue and in a VR hub in London, were fitted with HTC Vive Business Edition headsets, powered by Dell Precision workstations. This gave them an almost photo-realistic experience of being inside the concept car and interacting live with other participants. The big deal? They could watch the concept built piece by piece around them while a live presenter explained what was happening.

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Now, Mercedes-Benz South Africa has put together a series of virtual reality campaigns, working with animation agency Sinister Studio to develop four test-drive videos. The new Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupé, E-Class, AMG C 63 and a new range of roadsters and cabriolets have all been given the VR treatment.

Suddenly, VR has moved out of the gaming and gimmicks realm to become a serious marketing option. The problem is that only a few people own VR headsets.

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“In 2017, VR is a niche technology,” says Piers Harding-Rolls, research director of global research consultancy IHS Markit. “The market is going to grow, but it will still be a niche market by 2020.”

Speaking at the IFA global press conference in Lisbon recently, he said it would take three to five years for the technology to broaden its appeal.

As a result, it was startling to hear one of the gurus of the gaming world declare, earlier this month, that VR, along with augmented reality – which overlays digital information on the real world – would be “the next billion user platform”.

“We can expect a revolution in computer graphics to change the way people interact with computers,” said Tim Sweeney, founder of leading gaming software company Epic Games, part owned by Tencent – which is in turn part-owned by South Africa’s Naspers.

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Sweeney was talking during a “guru session” at Dell EMC World, an annual event in Las Vegas, where he shared the stage with Frank Azor, co-founder of Alienware, an iconic gaming computer brand owned by Dell.

Azof shared Sweeney’s enthusiasm: “This revolution is not ten or 20 years away. Much like the PC industry in the 1980s, VR has come very far in very short time, but we have a lot more tools and technology today than we had 30 years ago. There’s been a little pessimism around the take-up of VR. It’s been 14 months since the Oculus Rift and HTC have been around. People expected 10-million headsets in use by now, and there’s only a million.”

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But, said Azof, it’s coming. The fact that it was now in use in motoring, real estate and even hospitals was the signal: “If you’re not already working on how to apply these technologies into your businesses and into your lives, you’re already behind.”

He gave the example of real estate businesses that now show homes to prospective buyers in a much more immersive way than relying on pictures and descriptions.

“You don’t need to deploy a $2000 high-end rig. A $100 set of glasses can give you a pretty immersive experience. Small and large hospitals use it for patient education. We learn better through experience than through literature, so hospital discharge information is being put into an experience instead of the patient reading literature.”

Mercedes-Benz S 500 4MATIC Coupé Edition 1 (C 217) 2013

Sweeney believes the reason it hasn’t taken off until now is that VR does not allow for the high tolerance that PC or mobile game players have for graphics that aren’t realistic.

“VR has to be realistic because it has to convince you that you’re immersed in the real world. Even for non photo-realistic animated experiences, your brain still has high expectations of how graphics appear around you, how lights reflect in eyes, and so on.”

The answer lies in photo-realistic computer graphics being rendered in real-time, meaning that the scene changes instantly and in a realistic way as one moves through it, with accurate simulations of how light interacts with objects in the real world.

“This requires an enormous amount of detail in an object, and it becomes impractical for artists to draw every object. Now artists can scan objects in the real world and use geometry and other techniques for rendering and accurately simulating the way cameras work in the real world.

“Outside the games industry, we are seeing a lot of non-fiction, non-game stuff, like architectural renderings in real time. Architects have high expectations of real-time rendering, accurate shading of wood, and the like.”

Sweeney believes automobile manufacturers will be early beneficiaries.

“Car makers like McLaren are using real-time rendering for pre production. In future, when car designers are designing cars, they will be constantly building it in VR and testing and retesting it before building the car itself. This means real-time has to be done very accurately.

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“GM wants customers to walk into a dealership and configure a car and then watch themselves in their own car. And customers want to see themselves in the car they configured before they buy it.”

Not that gamers will be left behind.

“The next really interesting step is multi-player games. Doom was the first game that really defined multi-players, but they haven’t changed much in 20 years. All lo-fi and low bandwidth, you shooting and having simple dialogue; it’s not very interesting. We’re going to see more change in multiplayer gaming in the next two years than in the last 20 years.

“This is the most exciting time I’ve ever seen in the industry. These funny VR helmets you wear now are just the start of the revolution.”

Cars

Auto rivals team up for connected car demo

Rivals BMW, Ford and Groupe PSA, maker of Peugeot and Opel cars, have teamed up with the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), Qualcomm Technologies and Savari for Europe’s first live demonstration of C-V2X direct communication technology operating across vehicles from multiple auto manufacturers.

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The live demonstration also featured a live showcase of C-V2X direct communication technology operating between passenger cars, motorcycles, and roadside infrastructure. C-V2X is a global solution for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communication in support of improved automotive safety, automated driving and traffic efficiency.

The demonstration exhibited the road safety and traffic efficiency benefits of using C-V2X for Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) collision avoidance, as well as Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) connectivity to traffic signals and Traffic Management Centers (TMC). C-V2X was operated using real-time direct communications over ITS spectrum and demonstrated its ability to work without cellular network coverage, and underscores its commercial readiness for industry deployment as early as 2020. Superior performance and cost-effectiveness compared to other V2X technologies, along with forward-compatibility with 5G, make C-V2X direct communications a preferred solution for C-ITS applications.

Six demonstrations were shown including: Emergency Electronic Brake Light, Intersection Collision Warning, Across Traffic Turn Collision Risk Warning, Slow Vehicle Warning and Stationary Vehicle Warning, Signal Phase and Timing / Signal Violation Warning and Vulnerable Road User (pedestrian) Warning. The vehicles involved included two-wheel e-scooters provided by BMW Group, and automotive passenger vehicles provided by Ford, Groupe PSA, and BMW Group, all of which were equipped with C-V2X direct communication technology using the Qualcomm® 9150 C-V2X chipset solution.  V2X software stack and application software, along with roadside infrastructure, were provided by industry leader, Savari.

C-V2X is globally supported by a broad automotive ecosystem, which includes the fast growing 5GAA organization.  The 5GAA involves over 85 global members comprised of many leading automakers, Tier-1 suppliers, software developers, mobile operators, semiconductor companies, test equipment vendors, telecom suppliers, traffic signal suppliers and road operators.  

Cellular modems will be key to the C-V2X deployment in vehicles to support telematics, eCall, connected infotainment and delivering useful driving/traffic/parking information. As C-V2X direct communication functionality is integrated into the cellular modem, C-V2X solutions are expected to be more cost-efficient and economical over competing technologies, and benefit from accelerated attach rates.  C-V2X direct communication field validations are currently underway in Germany, France, Korea, China, Japan and the U.S.

C-V2X currently stands as the only V2X technology based on globally recognized 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) specifications, with ongoing evolution designed to offer forward compatibility with 5G.  C-V2X also leverages and reuses the upper layer protocols defined by the automotive industry, including the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) organization. C-V2X includes two complementary transmission modes: 

  • Direct communication as shown in this demonstration for V2V and V2I use cases
  • V2N network communication, which leverages mobile operators for connectivity and delivers cloud-based services, including automated crash notification (ACN, as mandated by eCall), hazard warnings, weather conditions, green light optimal speed advisory (GLOSA), parking spot location, and remote tele-operation to support automated driving, to name a few.

“This demonstration builds on the successful C-V2X showcase we organised with our members Audi, Ford and Qualcomm in Washington DC in April, said Christoph Voigt, Chairman of 5GAA.

“We are excited to witness the growing momentum behind this life-saving technology and to see our members working together to deploy C-V2X, and to make it hit the road as soon as possible.”  

“The BMW Group introduced the first C-ITS use cases already in 2013 with the market introduction of the BMW i3. Today most of envisaged C-ITS use-cases are already institutionalized. With the implementation of C-V2X, the BMW Group accomplishes the last set of the puzzle with a practical path to C-ITS showing quick benefits,” said Christoph Grote, Senior Vice President Electronics, BMW Group. 

“With its ability to safely and securely connect vehicles, along with its evolution into 5G, C-V2X is integral to Ford’s vision for future transportation in which all cars and infrastructure talk to each other,” said Thomas Lukaszewicz, Manager Automated Driving, Ford of Europe. “We are very encouraged by preliminary test results in Europe and elsewhere which support our belief that C-V2X direct communications has superior V2X communication capabilities.”

“We’re moving forward with seamless communication between cars and their environment for enhancing road safety, as well as our customers’ safety,” said Carla Gohin, Group PSA’s Vice President for Research and Advanced Engineering. “Following the first European C-V2X direct communications demonstration we hosted with Qualcomm Technologies last March, we’re pleased to work with leading automotive and technology companies today to highlight that C-V2X interoperability is a reality.” 

“This demonstration of interoperability between multiple automakers is not only another milestone achieved towards C-V2X deployment, but also further validates the commercial viability and global compatibility of C-V2X direct communications for connected vehicles,” said Enrico Salvatori, senior vice president & president, Qualcomm Europe and MEA. “We look forward in continuing to work alongside leaders in the automotive industry, like the 5GAA, BMW Group, Ford, Groupe PSA and Savari, to help advance the automotive industry’s shift towards a safer, connected and more autonomous future.” 

“As one of the V2X pioneers, our company is extremely pleased to continue to help enable the next step in the V2X revolution that we helped start back in 2008,” said Ravi Puvvala, CEO of Savari. “For the last year and a half, the Savari team has worked diligently alongside the dedicated C-V2X engineers in the 5GAA partnership. The resulting string of increasingly impressive demonstrations is continuing to convince the world that C-V2X will soon be deployed around the world.”

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Win a Poster Heater with Gadget and Takealot.com

This winter Gadget and Takealot.com are giving away three Poster Heaters, which look like posters but become heaters when you plug them in.

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Three Gadget readers will each win a unit, valued at R550 each. To enter, follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter and tell us on the @GadgetZA account how many Watts the heater consumes.

What’s the big deal about these heaters? Many of us are struggling to keep the balance between soaring electricity costs and the need to keep warm this winter.

However, the recently launched Poster Heater by EasyHeat and distributed in South Africa by Takealot.com is not only one of the most cost effective electric heaters currently on the market, it is also easy to setup and use.

As the name indicates, it is a poster similar to one you would hang on a wall. But, plug it in and it turns into a 300 Watt heater. The Poster Heater isn’t designed to heat hallways or large rooms, but rather smaller ones like a bedroom or a baby’s nursery or a dressing room.

It uses radiant heating, which means that it heats up in a couple of minutes and the heat is directed at the objects or people around it, quickly taking the chill out of the air and providing a comfortable ambient temperature.

The other advantage of radiant heating is that it doesn’t dry out the air like infrared or gas heaters. Users also don’t have to worry about their children or pets getting too close to it because, even though it gets hot, it can be touched.

To enter the competition follow the steps below:

Competition entry details:

1. Follow @GadgetZA and @Takealot on Twitter. (We will ONLY be accepting entires via Twitter, so please don’t enter through the comments section of this article.)

2. Tell us on Twitter, via @GadgetZA, mentioning @Takealot in your posting, how many Watts the Poster Heater consumes.

cleardot.gif3. The competition closes on 31 July 2018.

4. Winners will be notified via Twitter on 1 August and Takealot.com will be in touch to organise delivery.

5. The competition is only open to South African residents.

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