Future Labs Explores the Near Future for AR and VR

This past Tuesday night, Digital Future Lab (an incubator started by NYU Tandon School of Engineering in partnership with the New York Economic Development Corporation ) and Two Trees management hosted an event in their DUMBO loft space to discuss what this next year might bring in the developing realms of Augmented and Virtual Reality.

The well-curated panel brought together professionals from various sectors of the industry and presented a balanced perspective.


Shawn Cheng Shawn Cheng, Principal at VC fund Vayner RSE, represented investors; Justin Hendrix, Executive Director of NYC Media Lab, gave insight from the front lines of practitioners and startups developing the technology; Sophie Kleber, Executive Director of Product and Innovation at the digital agency Huge, covered implementation and use cases in her current work for a wide array of clients; and Sophia Dominguez, CEO and Founder of SVRF, a search and discovery platform for AR/VR content and companies, is an expert on overall industry trends.

The event was well attended, bringing people together from a variety of fields and disciplines. I met students from Fordham, SVA and NYU, analog and digital artists, professionals from tech and other industries, as well as a few founders of companies in the incubator itself.

                    Attendees mingling before the panel begins.

The conversation was pretty fast-paced and geared more towards people with some working knowledge of the field, but also packed with a lot of great information.

Here are my biggest takeaways:

The field is still in its infancy

The general consensus of the panel was that, despite all the hype and excitement surrounding this technology, 2017 — and probably the first half of 2018 — will likely be a rocky period as the industry tries to figure itself out. Outside of the two leading juggernauts of HTC and Facebook (more on them in a minute), it’s still a relatively small world utilizing clunky, intrusive hardware and generally presenting underwhelming, straightforward content outside of a few standouts.

Shawn had a great comment that we tend of overestimate the influence of technology in the short term and underestimate its effects in the long term, and that sentiment permeated the rest of the evening.

We’re just scratching the surface of VR and AR content, surprises will abound

There was a lot discussion around finding more use-cases for these systems in different industries and how content will develop in the future.

Sophie was a big advocate for utilizing VR during the prototyping phase, allowing her team at Huge to walk through an event set up, complete with sight lines and layout, before installing a single piece of furniture. Microsoft is also working to apply its Hololens technology to healthcare, giving surgeons the ability to create and manipulate 3D MRI scans to assist in preparation before complex surgery.

The most surprising example came from Justin when he described a recent experience with a new game that allowed players to inhabit an Eggplant avatar and interact in a surreal vegetable world. It turned out to be the biggest hit of the conference. More and more, engineers are more taking a “build first” approach, letting their imaginations run wild and allowing users to guide the process going forward.

Path finding by larger companies, problem solving by smaller ones

The field is currently dominated by Facebook — gaining influence through acquiring companies like Oculus Rift — and HTC — developing both hardware and software through a more vertically-integrated approach in starting their own content studios and labs — and that probably won’t change in the near term.

The biggest sources of opportunity lie in more granular, specific problem solving and making existing systems work better. We tend to forget just how complex VR and AR systems are. Finding better ways to compress and process huge data files was a subject that came up often. How these systems are going to function with increasingly online technology is also a big question that will require more standardization and faster connections.

There are larger philosophical questions

Sophie made an insightful point that, given the immersive nature of VR, it might actually help us get back some of the attention span we’ve lost in the digital age, creating areas where we’re actually willing to say no to distraction for longer periods of time.

Though it’s further in the future, communicating and interacting through these systems will give us the opportunity to have greater choice over how we represent ourselves and identify with each other. And since adoption of VR/AR is still relatively small, we’re in a stage where we can start making choices and creating boundaries of how this is all going to integrate into our lives that will influence development in the future.

Excitement and Opportunity

The field is wide open at the moment and the possibilities seem endless at this stage of the game with so much new talent entering the field and many established companies seeking ways to implement AR and VR into what they provide. Though the technology will likely take longer than expected to really come into it’s own, it will undoubtedly have a large impact on how we work, play, and communicate.

So what do you think? Is there an experience in your life that could be improved by a more immersive context? Is there a project or hobby you’re working on that would benefit from a 3D environment or an added layer of information or content? And what is something you wouldn’t want VR or AR to intrude on? Let us know in the comments section below.

We’d love to keep this conversation going at our upcoming events. NYU Tandon is also a sponsor of our upcoming event, Driverless Trucks Will Come Before Driverless Cars, March 14th — a workshop on the impact that driverless trucks will have on the trucking industry and society. For more information or to register for the event, just follow this link. Until then, stay curious and stay informed.

Events Manager, Blogger, Strategist, Musician

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