Wearable tech will also allow consumers to don a headset to look around in virtual worlds, use a heartbeat-reading wristband to pay for purchases, and strap on an armband to control a computer or drone with a wave.
“Technology is beginning to wrap around us and cater to our needs, we’re moving more toward a natural experience, whether that is through motion and gesture — moving your hands through the air and being able to have those movements tracked — or from a neural capacity and being able to use your brain to control an experience,” says Helen Papagiannis, who researches augmented reality and virtual reality trends.
At the forefront of the looming virtual reality trend is the company Oculus VR, which in 2012 launched a crowdfunding campaign to get its Oculus Rift headset put into production. This March, the company shocked the tech world by announcing it had been acquired by Facebook in a $ 2 billion (U.S.) deal. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg called it “a new communication platform.”
“We have a lot more to do on mobile, but at this point we feel we’re in a position where we can start focusing on what platforms will come next to enable even more useful, entertaining and personal experiences,” Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post announcing the acquisition.
“Virtual reality was once the dream of science fiction. But the Internet was also once a dream, and so were computers and smartphones. The future is coming and we have a chance to build it together. I can’t wait to start working with the whole team at Oculus to bring this future to the world, and to unlock new worlds for all of us.”
When a user puts on the Oculus Rift — which looks like a very large futuristic set of goggles — they see a video screen that simulates the experience of being in a virtual world. Turn your head and the video being played by the Oculus responds smoothly as if you were actually there.
“I think it’s going to have a huge impact. The minute you see it you know this world is going to change profoundly, it’s incredible, it’s absolutely incredible,” says Thomas Wallner, founder of the digital production company Deep 360.
In tandem with the recently aired TV documentary “The Polar Sea,” Wallner helped create a virtual reality companion piece that can be experienced on devices like the Oculus Rift. In one scene, the user is set on a beach in the Arctic while the northern lights glow overhead.
“This medium has the ability to fascinate and convert people upon contact,” Wallner says. “It’s an experience that is entirely new, it breaks the fourth wall for the first time in the history of any medium and people are just fascinated by it and enthralled and awed.”
The company’s Myo armband, which it plans to ship in the new year, uses sensors to detect arm motion and muscle activity. The Myo can use arm gestures to flip through pages in a presentation, play games, or control music players. In one of its most impressive demos, the Myo is used to launch and control a drone.
“The founders were thinking about interfaces of the future, how would we control the next type of computer, the next smartphone, the next thing — whatever that is,” says Scott Greenberg, who works in developer relations for Thalmic Labs.
“Your cardiac rhythm, your electrocardiogram, is a unique biometric like a fingerprint. A person’s electrocardiogram is a unique biometric because the shape of your heart and the position of your heart is unique and that expresses itself in this electrical signal,” says founder Karl Martin of the company Nymi, which was until recently known as Bionym.
“We put recognition technology in the wristband so it works for you but no one else.”
“If you think about it, how many times a day do you have to prove who you are to an entity? How many times do you have to unlock your phone? It’s crazy, you keep this thing in your pocket and every time you take it out you have to prove to it you’re the one who should be accessing it and it’s not someone else who picked it up,” Martin says.
“The reason why we made another wristband is because our view of the wearables space is it’s still really early.”