Star Trek has famously anticipated automatic doors, flip phones, iPads, and only this week the US Space Force’s logo. . Being too young to have seen the original series, the senior citizens of my team have also told me that in order to allow the crew to feel like they’re having a holiday during multi-year missions, they would escape their ‘actual’ reality by entering a haptic Virtual Reality (VR) for a 2 week trip to a simulated location of their choosing. While the technology to achieve this may not yet be here, Facebook and others are driving down the costs of their VR headsets and increasing functionality, and developers are responding by creating more attractive VR content. What this could soon lead to, is a tipping point for VR that sees its move from being a technology for early adopters, to being a technology underlying many mass-market applications.

One AIM company that is attractively positioned in the developing world of VR is Oxford Metrics (OMG), and yesterday a couple of us traveled to Ealing to try out London’s first VR bar, NAVRTAR. This makes use of Oxford Metrics’ cutting-edge Location-Based Virtual Reality (LBVR) solution to enable multiple people to play in VR in a room together, and this is a substantial step up from most current VR technologies where one person wears a headset and can play with themselves. OMG’s solution instead leverages its extensive experience in motion sensing and works through deploying a series of cameras that detect motion sensors on each player, before processing this data and displaying it back in real-time to each player’s headset in the VR simulation. The results were incredibly impressive across a series of games created by an external games developer, including a zombie apocalypse, alien invasion and bank heist (which I’m happy to report that we successfully completed). Given the quality of this experience, we’d expect to see many more multiplayer VR experiences open up in a similar way to the recently rapid growth in escape rooms in the UK and globally, and this provides an immediate end-market for OMG to grow awareness of its VR capabilities.

However, it’s also worth remembering that VR is only one aspect of the potentially transformational value of OMG’s product set. This is because its VR technology is based upon OMG’s market leading motion capture solution Vicon, which also has applications across life sciences (sports, biomechanics, research, etc), entertainment (creating high fidelity characters in films and games), and engineering (precisely tracking and measuring motion for robotics, automotive, and aerospace applications). As OMG continues to invest in Vicon, and advances in technology broaden the possibilities across a range of sectors, we only expect that the number of use cases for Vicon will continue to expand. If OMG can consequently position Vicon as a core component in several of these verticals, it could be looking at an asset with major strategic value – not least if VR becomes a mass-market technology.

Near-term, this month sees the ICE Expo at the Excel on 4-6 February and MWC in Barcelona. These events should give some insight into the future direction of the overall sector, and we also expect to see several applications of Augmented Reality (AR) and VR technology that are being developed for both consumers and businesses. This follows Apple’s CEO Tim Cook highlighting on Apple’s Q1 call this week that AR is likely to pervade our future lives, and according to Bloomberg, Apple is working on an AR/VR headset that could launch in 2021-2022, with AR smart glasses to follow in 2023.

With this much focus and capital flowing into reality-based technologies, we expect the 2020s are likely to see some substantial changes to how we perceive reality. Even in these relatively early stages of its development, what amazed me about yesterday’s experience is how realistic the technology already is. When you consider that the technology is only going to continue to (rapidly) develop from here, it is certainly conceivable that in the not-so-distant future there will be some profoundly transformational VR applications. Some of these possibilities have already been covered in a variety of views of the future including Star Trek, and a compassionately compelling comparison comes from the San Junipero episode of Netflix’s Black Mirror. In this, patients such as those that are terminally ill or paralysed can be placed into a simulation where they are free to live in a realistic world as themselves and do all of the things that would have been possible at a healthier stage of their lives, without realising they’re in a simulation.

What consequently becomes apparent is that it’s possible that we could create a simulated reality that is identical to what we all perceive as our current, ‘actual’ reality. While this level of simulation is not possible to achieve with current technology, it is certainly not inconceivable that the technology to enable it will be developed in the future. The question is then that, if we can create simulations of reality that are so convincing that we can’t tell the difference between the simulation and ‘actual’ reality, how do we know that what we all currently perceive as reality is not just a simulation itself? The simple answer, is that we don’t.

Happy Friday