On a recent visit to Melbourne I had the opportunity to participate in one of Accenture’s regular innovation showcases. Two of the elements of our showcase were live demonstrations of cutting edge Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technology and I had the opportunity to play with both platforms.

My first experiment was with the HTC Vive Virtual Reality platform and a demonstration of ‘Virtual Cricket’.

The VR setup consisted of two motion detection units mounted on above eye level poles, the HTC Vive headset, an Alienware brand PC and surprisingly, a real cricket bat, all surrounded by a few square metres of yellow striped office floor clearly intended to warn any passers-by that they might collect some willow to the face if they entered during batting practice.

I put on the headset and immediately my physical reality dropped away to reveal a virtual cricket field, I glanced down to look for the real cricket bat and found its virtual replacement standing in its place. I tentatively reached out and found the handle and the physical/virtual overlap of virtual sight/physical touch seemed to solidify the simulation for me.

My first thought was to fiddle with the virtual world so I poked out at my virtual stumps with my real bat and had the satisfaction of the bails falling to the pitch.

Smiling I turned to face my first ball.

The first ball whizzed by, it seemed I wasn’t any better at cricket in the virtual world, but by poking the control panel which hung in the air behind my stumps I could slow the bowling and was rewarded with a few successful (if somewhat less than professional) hits to mid field.

My Augmented Reality experience was provided by Microsoft’s Hololens which is a lightweight headset with a clear visor like front portion through which you can see the real world.

Hololens takes a little more effort to get the hang of, the hand gestures are simple but you do need to form them correctly, once you’ve got that right however, navigating the system is straight forward by looking at the virtual UI displayed mid-room and reaching out and tapping what you are currently looking at.

Soon I’d placed virtual dogs and a city scape mid-room and was delighted with the ability to walk around and up to the objects. The narrow field of view when you get too close was a slight impediment, but if you adjust your stance it isn’t an obstacle.

Since this first encounter I’ve managed to spend some more time with the hololens and played with some of its apps including a game which turns the room you are currently in into battle zone with various aliens coming out of your walls. I must say it took me some time to get the smile off my face.

Of the two technologies, I would describe AR as being less technically mature and less immediately intuitive, however, the concept of lightweight headsets that will weave together the virtual and real world seems to me to extremely compelling and one I’m personally excited by.

I look forward to seeing how this technology evolves!