Despite the uncertainty the UK is facing after the Brexit referendum last 23 June, it seems the British economy is not going to be affected as badly as experts forecasted. At least, for the moment. It is true that the pound has fallen dramatically, yet the consumer confidence is back to its pre-Brexit vote, and spending levels are even increasing steadily.
It seems to be the case for the technology business in the UK. Facebook, Google, and Apple, have announced recently major investments in the city. Apple will have its UK headquarters at Battersea Power Station (currently under a major £8bn development to host offices, homes, shops, restaurants and event spaces) from 2021 for its 1,400 employees. With space enough to double that size.
Facebook currently has plans to grow in the UK, building a new office space for its UK headquarters. And it will hire 500 people to double its size. Facebook also will invest an additional $250 million in Virtual Reality (to sum up to a total of $500 million). Zuckerberg’s company bought in 2014 the VR company Oculus for $2 billion, and they are investing heavily in what´s meant to be the next big tech trend in the near future.
Google´s CEO, Sundar Pichai, visited London last week and said they are investing £1bn in a new campus building in King´s Cross, where currently they employ 4,000 people. A number that could increase to 7,000 in 4 years time.
Not only that, as the Silicon Valley company is investing in education using the latest digital advances. It has already started its Google Expedition, a programme to bring VR to 1 million school kids in the UK in the next few months. It will include virtual visits to museums, underwater, or outer space, enhancing learning and inspiring the new generations through engagement offering an immersive experience. The programme is free and schools can register to take part of the program here.
The Digital Garage is another initiative from Google to encourage education, in this case aimed for adults. Google will provide with 5 hours of free education on digital skills, starting in 2017, either in face-to-face training sessions in more than a hundred locations all over the UK, or online here. This initiative has already provided training for 250,000 persons in the UK alone.
VR is also set to revolutionise the retail industry, and it is expected that in less than 15 years everyone will shop through Virtual Reality. Again, the major players are betting on this technology, and most of them have already launched their own headsets. John Lewis, McDonalds and Ferrari, to name just a few, have used VR to simulate real environments to allow an immersive experience for the consumers. Online shopping has evolved much faster and is using loads of data to improve shopping experience. On a similar fashion, companies such as Whole Foods, American Apparel, are using technology to enhance a better buyer experience. They are using chatbots so consumers can ask questions in real time, or smart mirrors that can act as an stylist, just to name a couple.
Gaming is one of the main industries investing loads of money and resources in Virtual Reality. Who remembers Second Life? Just a reminder for the younger readers, Second Life is a virtual world released by company Linden Lab in 2003, with cinemas, shopping malls, clubs. Even big companies invested in real estate, it had its own virtual currency (Linden dollars, early grounds of “bitcoins”?). It seemed to be the biggest internet deal of the beginning of the 21st century. Just 3 years later, in 2006, the number of users got stuck in around a million, and the big star seemed to fade away. Maybe it was too early for the technology of the time for the big hopes founder Philip Rosedale had for his venture? He left the company soon after, but he came back in 2014 when he saw that VR was ready to roll and engage a mainstream audience, when Facebook bought Oculus.
Earlier this year, Rosedale launched his new virtual world, High Fidelity. Much bigger, realistic, and sophisticated than the original Second Life. Which by the way is still going on, it has 900,000 monthly players, and it is preparing an evolution to compete with High Fidelity, named Sansar. Both of these virtual worlds allow the players create their own VR content. Yet High Fidelity is an open model, opposed to the closed system by Sansar.
Augmented Reality is sister technology to VR. Last summer, Pokémon Go bursted and revealed to be an Augmented Reality game-changer for the gaming and the marketing industry. It had 500 million downloads only in the first 2 months, and also was in the media on a daily basis. Not only as it was able to get the people moving, but on a more serious security issues, with drivers causing accidents because of driving while playing the game. Nintendo and Niantic´s shares soared, and they are both working to keep the flame alive. They are working hard to keep the players engaged. For Halloween they released an in-game event, increasing the daily users by 2 digit figures. And also developed partnerships with brands like McDonalds, and wearable devices. In September they released a wristband device that sends notifications when a Pokémon is close, and some functionalities will be available in the new Apple Watch. This is just the beginning, as this is a long term project for Niantic, the parent company of the Pokémon Go App, which also has the endorsement of Nintendo and Google itself, investing +£22 million in Niantic last year. Live events and more innovations are expected soon.
Both VR and AR are evolving really fast, and there is a lot of buzz in the media everyday. But it is a bit early to say if they will become a mainstream thing, as “only” one million VR devices have been sold. For the moment you need to have your VR device connected to a computer to play apps and games, or alternatively clip a mobile phone to the VR headset.
However, entrepeneur Dan Cook has been working with brainwave technology for twenty years now. At the beginning to develop lie detectors, and also with pharmaceutical companies trying to understand the neurological effects of their drugs. Now his company EyeMynd is focusing its work in the VR field, and Cook predicts a future of VR where you won’t need a headset or any other type of controller. Just our minds. Our brainwaves will be the guide to the virtual worlds. We are not there quite yet, as nowadays the neuroscientists need invasive procedures to interpret the brain signals. But may arrive earlier than one could expect.
In the meantime, VR has already lots of ways to serve the healthcare industry. We will talk about this in our next blog posts.