We live in the age of technological innovations, where technologies have long taken the grand leap from reducing the scope of repetitive human labor to bettering our experiences and the ways we interact with different products and solutions. Bridging these two ends of the spectrum are two pivotal technology paradigms: VR and robotics.
VR headsets like MetaQuest and VR-based games accessible through distribution platforms like Steam are fast becoming a trend. The robotics market, on the other hand, could grow to more than US$214 billion by 2028.
Moving from the realm of virtual to the physical, robotics has proven its worth in both industrial and commercial setups. Among industries, its presence is visible across categories, including:
- Metal, and more.
In commercial/service setup, it caters to:
- Domestic uses
Moreover, we have now moved ahead of VR and Robotics servicing their bases in isolation. Both being technologies with wide-ranging potential have started showing what their symbiosis may bring to the table. And this merger has been transformative, to say the least.
VRoxy: An Ideal Coming Together of VR and Robotics
Some solutions have successfully leveraged the intersectional space of VR and Robotics. These solutions help us understand how the intersectionality of and osmosis between multiple technology paradigms have become a table-turner of late.
Here, we look at VRoxy as a specific case study that illustrates the real-world applications of VR robotics in a professional setting, the capabilities it can bring, and the research that goes into developing it.
What is VRoxy?
VRoxy first made its appearance as a paper titled “VRoxy: Wide-Area Collaboration From an Office Using a VR-Driven Robotic Proxy” at the Association for Computing Machinery Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST) held between October 29th and November 1st in San Francisco.
At its core, VRoxy is a system that offers access to remote spaces through a robot using a VR headset. It can map any precise movement, irrespective of how small in magnitude it is, made by the remote user in the VR space and project it as a larger movement of the robot in the physical space. Resultantly, the user conveniently navigates large physical spaces in a low-fidelity rendering of the remote space.
How VRoxy Works: Features and Functionalities
The user of a VRoxy VR headset would get access to two view modes. The first is the live mode, and the other is the navigational mode.
The purpose of the live mode is to display an immersive image of the collaborative space in real-time. The goal is to facilitate interactions with local collaborators.
On the other hand, the navigational mode shows rendered pathways of physical space for the remote user to have quicker and smoother mobility.
The robotic component of the setup has also been devised with convenience in mind. Since the system is automatic, it does not require manually steering the robot. Instead, it leverages the feed from a 360-degree camera to run real-time interactions.
VRoxy is also adaptable to non-verbal cues, implying that it can:
- Translate head rotation
- Facial expressions
- Pointing gestures
- Eye gaze through a telepresence robot at a remote location
VRoxy: The Transformative Power of VRRobotics
By now, we can clearly understand how the transformative synergy between VR technologies and robotics has played out in VRoxy. It has freed mobility from spatial limitations, steering through an expansive remote environment from a smaller physical space. Moreover, one can seamlessly toggle between separate workspaces using the solution.
VRoxy: What the Future Holds
VRoxy is very young in its evolutionary life cycle, with more innovations on the horizon. Shortly, ongoing research is expected to enable VRoxy to interact with remote users via robotic arms. It is also advancing towards building real-time mapping capabilities for use in diverse spaces, such as classrooms, where environmental adaptation and navigation are essential.
This progression underscores the vast potential that the scientific community, innovators, and project builders see in the collaborative space of VR and robotics—a source of widespread inspiration. A testament to this is the University of Tsukuba, Japan, which has demonstrated innovations like simulating cold sensations without actual cooling.
University of Tsukuba’s Breakthrough Research
The research has resulted in the development of a non-contact technology that can simulate cold sensations consistently while maintaining an almost constant skin temperature. In other words, it shows ways to generate a virtual/sensory cold via a non-contact method without physically altering the skin temperature.
Generating Sensation Without Changes in Physical Parameters: How it Happens
The technology makes prudent, precise, and efficient use of cold air flow and a light source. It shifts fast between a cold sensation induced by the airflow and a gentle warmth stemming from the use of light. The idea is to use the phenomenon of ‘temperature acclimatization’ to disrupt our ability to gauge temperature changes in a VR environment while switching scenes.
To delve deeper into understanding how this works, ‘Temperature Acclimatization’ points towards the fact that repeated exposure to the same stimuli makes us accustomed to the stimuli. It becomes hard to recognize new sensations.
A Breakthrough for Future VR Innovations
The core proposition that comes out of this research is that it is possible to provide a virtual cold sensation without changing the temperature. Just as we saw with VRoxy, which provided mobility beyond spatial limitations, this research allows us to generate sensory feelings without a change in the actual stimulator.
Such advancements could significantly enhance the immersive capabilities of VRVR—qualities that are crucial for the technology's future success. Immersiveness is a quality that could be decisive for the future of VR. It is equally crucial in making robotics more engaging. And the research is a significant step towards enhancing this quality.
It can make the metaverse a more real and exciting place to be where sensory inputs can be run for a prolonged period, adding more lifelike qualities to a simulated scenario.
These researches, experiments, and innovations are indicative of VR-robotics’ true potential, where the sky's the limit, and one can even dare to think beyond that. This potential is not just theoretical, as VR robotics has indeed broken many such ceilings over the recent past.
In the process, it ventured into diverse application areas, including:
- Emergency response and much more
How VR Robotics is Present in Multiple Application Areas
Remote Medical Procedures
VR robotics finds its use in multiple areas of medical practice and intervention, including medical education, training, surgery, pain management, rehabilitation, physical therapy, and more.
Surgeons can perform mock surgeries in a virtual space, eliminating the resource-heavy practical skill-building exercises. Building on these skills, trained surgeons are then able to perform virtual surgeries with haptic controllers, further enhancing their precision and technique.
Expanding on this precision and control, surgeons can manipulate a robotic arm’s movements using VR, an advancement showcased by VRoxy. This technology facilitates delicate maneuvers crucial for surgery and paves the way for ‘remote telesurgery'—where a surgeon in one location can operate on a patient elsewhere. This innovation represents a significant shift from traditional surgical methods, offering almost game-changing possibilities.
Complex Training Environments
In some areas, training in real-life scenarios could be expensive, risk-bearing, or inefficient in its time sensitivity.
Military training might require the destruction of costly resources, just as aviation training might necessitate keeping expensive resources idle or non-productive. Similarly, in the realm of pain and injury management as well as stroke rehabilitation, training cannot afford the luxury of long educational periods when patients are suffering.
In all these situations, VR can simulate real-life scenarios to the closest extent possible, while robotics can help replicate movements, gestures, and actions to their minutest precision.
Education and Training
Training, especially in the fields of science, technology, engineering, architecture, and medical science, involves working with materials, machines, and human lives. While educational institutions often face fund crunch in gathering these resources, for students and learners, the access becomes more and more scarce.
Lack of access to chemicals, complex machines, and instruments has often barred learners, especially from developing countries, from realizing the full potential of the things they are studying or expected to work with.
While VR was earlier only simulating these scenarios to experience, robotics have made it possible to test these instruments and machinery without buying them and creating expensive infrastructure to keep them sound for long.
Design and Prototyping
VR Robotics has proven its worth as a collaborative learning tool for technology design and prototype development. VR offers unmatched freedom in constructing experiences, enabling designers to transcend their immediate physical and social contexts and venue characteristics.
This freedom affords a much higher level of flexibility by providing access to multiple perspectives, reducing perceptual constraints, and offering customizable avatars. Complementing this, robotics enhances the design process by making interactions more effective, extending them beyond mere perception to create a truly sensory and physical experience.
Emergency Response Training
Evident from the name itself, it requires an emergency to impart this training. The absurdity of the proposition makes the area of emergency response skill deficient. VR robotics does not only help in simulating possible emergency scenarios, but trainers can also maximize the diversity and intensity of post-emergency conditions to raise an optimally trained workforce.
Hopping on the VR Robotics Bandwagon: Tech Giants Ready to Maximize Opportunities
The massive potential that VR robotics presents itself with has attracted every renowned name in the field.
Among the frontrunners is Apple, which is expected to earn revenue over $20 billion a year by 2030 and perhaps reach as high as $70 billion with its AR/VR offerings. This ambitious financial outlook is supported by concrete steps toward product realization. According to Apple’s supply-chain partners, the Apple AR/VR headsets are slated to arrive in the December 2023 quarter, with an initial production of 300,000 to 500,000 units. Analysts expect it to grow slowly, with 850,000 units in fiscal 2024 and 3.4 million by fiscal year 2026.
Its stock is currently trading at $182.45, which reflects a slight dip from its 52-week peak. Yet the tech giant's value has impressively sustained above its lowest point in the same period. With an average of over 61 million shares changing hands daily and a staggering market cap of $2.84 trillion, Apple's economic footprint is colossal. The dividends tell a story of consistent shareholder value, complemented by a solid earnings per share figure.
As Apple approaches another dividend date, its financials paint a picture of a company that’s not just weathering the market's ebb and flow but also leveraging it to reinforce its standing as a leader in the tech sector.
The next company to lead in the immersive VR experiences development space is Microsoft. It’s HoloLens, a mixed reality head-mounted display developed and manufactured by Microsoft, had already sold around 300,000 units by the end of October last year. Adding further to its attractiveness is Microsoft’s reported deal to supply these devices to the United States Army, which could be as big as US$22 billion.
The company is trading at $361.53, with a slight decrease of $1.67 or 0.46% from the previous close. Microsoft's market capitalization stands robust at $2.69 trillion, underscoring its position as one of the most valuable companies globally. Over the last 52 weeks, the stock has fluctuated between $219.35 and $366.78, showing a healthy trading range.
Any list of companies leading the VR experience development race is incomplete without Meta, having already achieved significant market penetration with 17 million units of its Quest 2 VR headsets sold. To further cement its position, Meta has already launched the high-end Meta Quest Pro, priced at $1,500. Those looking for a more budget friendly option can also turn to the Meta Quest 3 which starts at $499 on launch.
Over the past 52 weeks, the stock has seen a high of $330.54 and a low of $100.74, demonstrating a significant range in its trading price. The company has a substantial market capitalization of $821.045 billion, indicating its major presence in the market, backed by 2.57 billion shares outstanding.
The 10-day average trading volume stands at 24.35 million shares, showing active trading in the stock. A beta of 1.21 suggests that the stock has higher volatility compared to the broader market. The Year-To-Date (YTD) percentage change is quite remarkable at 166.05%, pointing to a strong performance so far this year.
Speculations are also rife that Samsung is returning with its Mixed Reality offering that will include a significant chunk of its VR Robotics innovations. It will be a headset with four tracking cameras, a pancake lens, two RGB outward-facing cameras, a depth sensor, eye-tracking, hand-tracking, OLED microdisplays, and Samsung’s Exynos 2200 chipset.
Mirroring this innovative drive in their financial outlook, the tech titan shows a bullish forecast, with 2023 sales hitting 261,070 billion KRW and an expected leap in 2024 to 300,279 billion KRW. Investors are closely watching the substantial growth in net income projections, which are set to soar from 2023's 10,900 billion KRW to a striking 29,051 billion KRW the following year. With a solid net cash position and a steady dividend yield hovering over 2%, Samsung's financial health signals robust growth and sustained investor confidence.
Why these tech giants are keen to get into VR robotics is the opportunities they present them with. It enhances user experience manifolds and helps technological innovation break its ceiling in terms of what we could achieve in a multi-dimensional world.
The Exciting Future of VR Robotics
Summarily, VR makes experiences immersing, while robotics helps users engage more vividly and vigorously. Innovations around it will save resources, make learning more effective, and training optimally close to real-life scenarios. It will negate spatial limitations, with teleporting becoming a practicality and not something limited to sci-fi books. A limited set of resources will be capable of achieving more.
A lot of the success would depend on how much the tech companies are willing to invest in R&D. But, looking at the current trends, the allocations will only increase along this line. Collaborating with other relevant technology paradigms, such as AI and Machine Learning, will expand the scope, increase the finesse, and make the proposition more adaptive, flexible, and intimately real.