Saturation’s Implications

In my post “Molding Versus Mimicking Reality,” I wrote about augmented and virtual reality technologies that “the countdown to market saturation is now clearly underway.”  I’ll discuss some of the implications of this, and provide some additional evidence to support this view, below.

As I write these words, the foundations of some pretty advanced dynamic 3D display technologies are already in place, from the mobile to the billboard scale, and from the non-immersive to the immersive. Since these new dynamic 3D displays “contain” the currently dominant dynamic 2D displays, Marshall McLuhan’s work suggests that significant social change is likely to accompany the resulting shift in our dominant display medium. [1]

A particularly important change will be the increase in public awareness of the communications capabilities of dynamic 3D display technologies, including augmented and virtual reality technologies.  This will build on any existing public awareness of their gaming capabilities.

Industry firms are likely to soon be able to distribute these technologies through some of the same established networks that mobile communications devices are currently distributed through, as the technologies will become increasingly essential for communications over time.

This means that the potential for dynamic 3D displays to rapidly saturate the global marketplace should not be underestimated.


As a case in point, consider this May 2012 MIT Technology Review article, which shows a chart on page 2 illustrating that new types of phone technologies have been reaching market saturation more quickly than their predecessors over time in the US.  Author Michael DeGusta wrote:

It took almost a century for landline phones to reach saturation, or the point at which new demand falls off. Mobile phones, by contrast, achieved saturation in just 20 years. Smart phones are on track to halve that rate yet again…

He later reinforced this statement with the following quote:

It took landline telephones about 45 years to get from 5 percent to 50 percent penetration among U.S. households, and mobile phones took around seven years to reach a similar proportion of consumers. Smart phones have gone from 5 percent to 40 percent in about four years, despite a recession.

Based on the above, if we estimate 2015 as the beginning of mass consumer access to dynamic 3D display technologies, it seems conservative to also estimate that these technologies will achieve full domestic market saturation by 2030 (i.e. in 15 years). Furthermore, since immersive virtual reality technologies will be significantly more convenient than other non-immersive dynamic 3D display technologies [2], it also seems reasonable to expect that immersive display use will eclipse non-immersive display use within this 15 year timeframe.

Note also that Ray Kurzweil predicted that by the late 2020s, virtual reality will be able to completely mimic reality for users by engaging all five of their senses. [3] This of course implies that audiovisual virtual reality technology will be extremely well developed by 2030.

However, if all of this is indeed the case, then some of the adverse economic effects described in my post “The Virtual Reality Spiral” will unfortunately be very likely to occur over the same timeframe.  Furthermore, if the economy happens to naturally weaken or stumble during this 15 year period (without virtual reality substitution being an obvious driver of this), this would likely speed up the ongoing market saturation of virtual reality technologies anyway.

In other words, the public will be more likely to choose cheap virtual reality experiences over more expensive real ones in difficult economic times when budgets are tight than in easy economic times.

So, although the virtual reality spiral’s effects have the potential to contribute to recessionary conditions over the next 15 years, a regular recession would also have the potential to amplify the virtual reality spiral’s effects over the same time period.  Thus, the order in which one of these phenomena follows the other in practice is largely irrelevant, because they will tend to reinforce each other as virtual reality technologies cheapen and improve on their way towards market saturation.


A Few More Examples of Technologies Out There Today

In the rest of this post, I’ll give some examples of technologies that highlight the fact that both dynamic 3D displays and advanced 3D imaging capabilities are not that far from widespread public availability.

I suspect that non-immersive mobile/tablet based technologies for dynamic 3D display, augmented reality and 3D/light-field imaging may be among the first technologies in this space that are widely used by the public.  In the meantime, augmented and virtual reality headsets will continue to rapidly improve.  As the public gains proficiency using the non-immersive technologies above, demand for completely immersive virtual reality displays should continue to increase until virtual reality displays become the dominant medium.

Mobile Holography

A start-up company named Leia, Inc. has developed a glasses-free holographic display technology that can be used on mobile devices, as this Wall Street Journal video on the topic highlights.  This device apparently uses a proprietary backlight capable of projecting light across a wide range of angles.

Light Field and 3D Scanning Technologies

Also, in the light field space, I noticed this ReCode article which states that light field camera company Lytro plans to take “its signature light field technology into new areas, including video and virtual reality.”  Furthermore, this TechCrunch article, titled “Apple Buys LinX, A Camera Module Maker Promising DSLR-Like Mobile Performance,” seems to imply that cameras employing light field like technology may soon be coming to mobile devices.

It is also worth noting that there are several 3D scanners available in the 3D printing space today, such as Makerbot’s Digitizer and Fuel 3D’s SCANIFY.  As these technologies continue to develop, along with range finding technology such as that employed in Google’s Project Tango tablets, human ability to precisely pinpoint the locations of objects in 3D space will dramatically improve.  This should help to increase the quality of “Digitized Reality” representations of the “real world” generated in future virtual reality goggles.

Projection Based AR/VR Wearables

Finally, I want to briefly discuss projection based display technology, which may have the potential to reduce the weight of some types of virtual reality goggles.

A company called Technical Illusions has developed the “CastAR” augmented reality glasses, for which their website currently shows “Estimated delivery” for pre-orders in Q4 2015. These glasses apparently use LCD micro-projectors to project left eye and right eye images onto external “retro reflective” surfaces (see Wikipedia link here for definition), which must be located in the surrounding environment. The images that reflect off these surfaces are then directed to the viewer’s left and right eyes correctly with the help of shutters (e.g. see this PC World article’s explanation, from before the close of the related Kickstarter campaign).

The CastAR glasses look relatively sleek in the pictures displayed on their website, and the company has also developed a clip-on attachment to the glasses for virtual reality uses, for which their website also shows “Estimated delivery” for pre-orders in Q4 2015. I find their overall approach fascinating, as it appears to demonstrate that projectors can be useful components of AR/VR wearables.

This implies that some future virtual reality goggles may be able to reduce weight versus heavier technologies of today by using “pico projectors” to project light onto movie-screen-like surfaces inside the goggles.



[1]  Marshall McLuhan mentioned in his book Understanding Media (Berkeley, CA: Gingko Press, 1964) that “the “content” of any medium is always another medium.”  See also my post “A Marvelous Medium” for additional details on my reasoning in this sentence.

[2] See my posts “A Marvelous Medium” and “Reality Channels” for my explanations of this.

[3] Kurzweil, Ray.  The Singularity is Near, New York: Penguin Books, 2005, pp.341-342


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