Imagine a world where you can hold up a cellphone in front of a restaurant, and instantly see Yelp reviews, flip through a digital menu, and have the option to book a table. Then consider driving a car with a smart windshield, which displays digital graphics on top of the driver’s real-life view. And then try to wrap your mind around a world where screens have become completely obsolete—because individuals can conjure computer displays through contact lenses or glasses.
According to Dan Burgar, president of the Vancouver chapter of the VR/AR Association, that day is almost upon us. Working to develop awareness of virtual reality (VR)—the technology where users wear an immersive headset to experience three-dimensional environments—and augmented reality (AR)—the practice of superimposing computer-generated images onto a user’s view of the real world—Burgar finds it difficult to think of an industry where the hardware would not generate a huge leap forward.
“I think the thing that will blow people’s minds the most is the practical applications,” he tells the Straight, reached by phone at the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona. “The gaming stuff is really fun, and the entertainment side is really interesting, but what I get most excited about is how widespread it’s going to become in everyday life, whether it’s in professions like healthcare, where people can operate without having a human body in front of them, or just walking around on the street.
“It’s already beginning to be used in areas like building development, where it gives architects the tools to manipulate their creations in three-dimensions,” he continues. “Real estate is using it to allow customers to visualize unbuilt spaces, and to view properties without actually having to visit them. And it’s becoming important in education, where it’s possible to train individuals in areas like oil and gas extraction by just putting on the headset. That allows you to get as close as possible to a real-life experience before entering a dangerous situation.”
Vancouver is fast becoming a hub for VR and AR—a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the B.C. government. Not only has the province invested $100 million in venture capital for British Columbian tech companies, it’s recently started offering a tax credit specifically for virtual and augmented reality. It’s that forward-thinking approach, Burgar says, that inspired him to create a VR/AR Association chapter in the city.
“If I had to sum it up, I’d say that the VR/AR Association is a community of the best minds making use of virtual reality and augmented reality,” he comments. “So far there are 28 branches, including places as far-flung as New Zealand, Russia, and the UAE. The goal is to connect businesses and organizations with the developers and service providers working with the technology. We want to band together with companies to figure out what the best practices are, and how we can connect together to move the industry along.
“Our Vancouver chapter has about 30 members,” he continues, “but there are more than 50 companies here that are dabbling in virtual reality or working on augmented reality development, and that number increases every day. We are continually connecting local businesses with Vancouver developers, and figuring out how to use this technology creatively.”
As well as pointing out its versatility in a business to business setting, Burgar is keen to bring VR and AR to the local public. Recently organizing an event at Canuck Place—a hospice that offers palliative care services for sick children in B.C.—the VR/AR Association staff spent a day introducing the kids to the headsets.
“Community engagement is really important to our organization,” Burgar says. “We live in such a great city, and any way that we can give back is big for us. It feels great to be able put a smile on the kids’ faces by putting them in VR goggles and getting them out of the hospital with games, or transporting them to different virtual locations, and letting them immerse themselves in fantastic worlds. We want to continue cultivating and helping out Vancouverites in any way possible, and we have some initiatives we’re working on that will bring this technology to the community.
“Our next big VR and AR event is called CVR,” he continues, “which is the Pacific Northwest’s leading virtual, augmented, and mixed reality expo. We’re expecting between 8000 and 10,000 people. The Friday will be an industry day, and people like NASA, CNN, and the government of Canada will be there to discuss where VR and AR fit in their industry. Then we open it up to the public for the weekend, where anyone can come and try it out. We think it’s important that this technology is accessible to everyone—because this is the future.”
CVR is at the Vancouver Convention Centre from May 5 to May 7. More information about the VR/AR Association can be found here, and the official page for the Vancouver chapter can be located here.