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Apple's ARkit is trying to find a home in consumer virtual reality applications.

Virtual reality is in a precarious place as one of the hot topics of CES. While hardware like the Oculus headset is becoming a common marketing tool for companies that want to show their customers an immersive video, practical applications still remain mostly squirreled away. While the medical industry is using heads-up displays to assist in surgeries, consumer-facing AR/VR hasn’t quite yet caught on.

Bill Briggs, CTO of Deloitte Insights, and Tony Parisi, AR/VR strategy lead at Unity Technologies, spoke about the progress they’ve seen in the VR/AR space at a panel on Tuesday, Jan. 9. 

“2017 was an interesting year, year two of really deploying virtual reality with the same core technology previously announced … “ Parisi said.  Hardware is still too clunky and mobile phone applications not powerful enough to make AR easy, he said, so it’s still a challenge to go commercial with the technology. The industry is shrinking from the numerous startups which attracted investors in 2017 into a smaller population of more well-established and well-funded designs. 

One of the most notable of these is Apple’s ARKit, which enables persistent 3D content on mobile phones. Now, designers just need to find practical applications for it. 

Unity Technologies produces the Unity video game engine, so naturally Parisi cites gaming and entertainment as one of the core use cases for VR. It’s used in engineering, the aforementioned medical industry, and as a training tool for retail workers as well. Also on display at CES 2018 was Nvidia’s “Holodeck,” a collaborative VR work tool for professional design applications. Briggs noted that one of Deloitte’s customers uses VR in the design and manufacturing of aircraft harnesses. 

“But these are one-offs and not widely distributed or in partnership with other companies,” Parisi said. He said that companies currently have to make their own conversion programs in order to transfer design packages into VR. Therefore, the next step — and a step in which Unity wants to be involved — would be to make that transition more smooth. Parisi also said that VR is still waiting on “an explosive change” to make it more appealing to consumers. While he cited some successful VR media like the TiltBrush art program or the Jedi Challenges Star Wars simulator, he said that he thinks the next big thing in AR/VR won’t be a revolution in content, but rather, a drastic change in format. 

Just as last year many booths had VR goggles hanging out ready to play their ads, this year many booths include Amazon Alexa integration with their devices. Therefore, it should be no surprise that one of the most promising pieces of AR/VR news is the Alexa-enabled Vuzix headset. 

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