Oculus Rift – the Kickstarter’d head-mounted virtual reality device – is gaining ever more media hype. In less than a year it has received endorsements from such gaming bigwigs as Valve’s Gabe Newel, DayZ designer Dean Hall, and Minecraft’s Notch. Last month, Matt Hooper, ex-creative director at Id Software (creators of DOOM and Quake), joined his former colleague John Carmack at the development company, Oculus VR.
Virtual reality (VR) has long been desired by gamers. Nintendo attempted VR in 1995 with their Virtual Boy, but with its $180 price tag, and lukewarm critical success, it was discontinued after a year. The technology just wasn’t ready.
But technology has come a long way since then. By the age of 20, founder of Oculus VR, Palmer Luckey, had developed the reputation of having the largest collection of head-mounted-displays in the world, ranging from home-theatre models to high-end military gadgets. After a demonstration at the 2012 E3 convention, the company launched a Kickstarter campaign that surpassed their target amount of $250,000 within a few hours, eventually racking up nearly $2.5 million in funds.
Elsewhere, Steve Mann, known to some as the father of wearable computing, has been developing industrial, medical, and military augmented reality systems for over 30 years. In recent months he has been hired by Meta, an ambitious start-up aiming for entry-level consumer VR goggles. Google has a similar goal with their product Google Glass; but rather than full augmented reality, Google are simply providing an optical overlay, presenting a minimal display over your vision allowing you to take photos and videos, ask for directions, send messages, and other Google services.
Some people aren’t as excited. Critics are quick to point out the ‘WiSpy’ scandal involving StreetView cars collecting email addresses and other private data from open wireless networks. The idea of filtering your every sight through a Google display is utterly disturbing to some. Earlier this year some US Congressmen sent Google a letter clarifying some privacy concerns, such as data retention and facial recognition, prompting some businesses to ban Google Glass even before its release. These privacy concerns are very real, and need to be discussed. This is the world we are coming into, where events are being recorded and uploaded as they occur in real time.
Recently Microsoft announced that the Xbox One will not require the motion sensing device, ‘Kinect’, to be on at all times for the console to work, but only because of the uproar from consumers. A Microsoft patent even suggests using the Kinect to charge individual people in a room. Thankfully, people don’t seem to be interested in letting this device into their homes.
More immersive experiences naturally lead to more privacy concerns. The benefits of having an integrated visual gaming experience could be great, but at what cost? We already carry around in our pockets little microphones, we broadcast our location via social media platforms, and increasingly our lives are downloadable and viewable through our Facebook timelines.
But the technology keeps growing, and we need to keep businesses accountable. Be it Microsoft, Google, or smaller companies like Oculus VR, we must be careful the access we give. The battle between privacy and security rages on.