Virtual and augmented reality on the rise in New Zealand

By Melissa Nightingale

Jessica Manins holds a virtual reality headset, part of the technology she believes will be turned into a billion dollar industry in NZ.
Jessica Manins holds a virtual reality headset, part of the technology she believes will be turned into a billion dollar industry in NZ.

"To the holodeck!"

It might not be a sentence that's far off being commonplace, if growth in technology is anything to go by.

Executive director of New Zealand's first ever Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR) Association Jessica Manins said the technology will become increasingly more accessible to Kiwis as companies continue to invest in it.

Eventually, members of the public will be able to don a headset and interact with digital objects overlaid into their physical environment.

Picture any modern sci-fi movie or TV show, with people standing in front of floating digital screens made up of particles of light. Users are then able to use the screens by vaguely waving their hands around in the air.

Or perhaps you might think of some Star Trek-esque hologram, taking the form of a person which the user can interact with.

This is called "mixed reality", and can be seen in such products as the Microsoft HoloLens, or in technology developed by a company called Magic Leap.

It's the next step on from VR and AR.

Users of virtual reality headsets immerse themselves in a different environment.
Users of virtual reality headsets immerse themselves in a different environment.

"Virtual reality immerses you in a completely different world, so it actually kind of feels like you're somewhere different, and the emotions that come with that," Manins said.

"Augmented reality puts a digital object within your physical environment."

The step up from AR to mixed reality is allowing the user to interact with said digital object.

The NZ branch of the global VR/AR Association (NZVRARA) has been newly established to draw together New Zealand companies working on such technology and support their work, encouraging growth and education for the general public about what the technology is and how it works.

The Association has 16 executive committee members working around the country, focusing encouraging collaboration among Kiwi businesses and "championing and supporting this industry".

They plan to showcase the technology and hold events, including an international mixed reality conference early next year.

"The opportunities here are massive for New Zealand," Manins said.

"I personally believe that if we invest in education and capability building, it could be worth $2 billion as an export industry in the next decade.

"As a nation, we're digitally savvy. We're creative storytellers."

The technology could be applied to a wide number of different things - not just movies and video games.

Manins said mixed reality was already being used for architecture, allowing people to walk through and see what an unfinished building would look like.

The Association had their official launch in Wellington this evening, with speakers such as Alejandro Davila, the creator of New Zealand's first virtual reality film, The Green Fairy, and Toni Moyes, COO of 8i.

Manins said watching movies through virtual reality meant the user would be able to look around their virtual environment while wearing the headset. Virtual reality movie theatres are beginning to pop up overseas, she said.

"One of our members in Christchurch has opened a VR room . . . another woman up in Auckland is opening something similar."

While high end versions of the technology are fairly expensive, some companies were starting to give away headsets with smartphone sales.

With more big companies investing, the technology would continue to grow and become more affordable for the average Kiwi.

Manins said the Association will hold launches in Auckland and Christchurch next month.

- NZ Herald

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