Paris. Rome. Sky diving. Bungee jumping. In light of swift technological advancements, the public can now experience all of these in one place. No thirteen-hour flights. No waiting in line. When in need of a break after an exhausting day at work, just come home, put on a Virtual Reality (VR) headset and dive into a world of realistic and lifelike extraordinary experiences. The list goes on to uncharted waters that can now be explored with the help of this groundbreaking technology.
Many are not aware of the distinct difference between augmented reality (AR) and VR. VR is a computer technology that invites the user insidesimulated three-dimensional environments, unlike traditional user interfaces. In comparison, AR superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world. The distinctive difference between the two is that VR completely replaces the real world with a simulated one, whereas AR enhances the current perception of reality; VR virtually creates a new reality, and AR augments the reality we inhabit.
Emerging Trend of AR and VR
Nobody can doubt that the world is becoming more convenient as time flies past, transforming into an arena that favors simplicity and efficiency over all else. Perhaps the epitome of such a tendency is a wearable headset which allows the user to step into an imaginary world within seconds. The world of AR and VR technology is predicted to improve indefinitely over the next decade; in fact, the market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC) reported that worldwide revenues for this market are projected to reach 14 billion dollars in 2017 and, by 2020, experts foresee it approaching 143 billion dollars.
South Korea has every intention of seizing the number-one position in the ever-expanding blue ocean of AR and VR. The rapid advancement of the pertinent technology in South Korea and the unfathomable number of start-up firms that have dived into this newly rising sector show how much weight this market will carry in the forthcoming Fourth Industrial Revolution.
With the target of becoming a global powerhouse in the highly competitive AR and VR market in its crosshairs, Korea’s Ministry of Science and Information, Communications Technology and Future Planning (MSIP) has opened two additional complexes—centers that accommodate various VR and AR companies. Its first center was established in the Digital Media City, Sangam-dong. The so-called Korea Virtual Reality - Augmented Reality Complex (KoVAC) is composed of two zones—Digital Pavilion and VR support center.
The former comprises a VR and AR experience area and a laboratory for experts in this field to work on certain projects. The latter is an environment consisting of offices for start-ups and smallsized firms; 18 firms have already opened their offices in the center, including Venta VR, a leading firm in this area. Expecting great benefits from this complex, two centers will be built at Jeju Free International Development Center and Korea National University of Arts in Seoul.
In an attempt to bridge the technological gap between South Korea and global industrial leaders, MSIP announced that it will establish an open space where several researchers and companies can come together and share their knowledge to create more imaginative VR content. The government is aware of the importance of getting ahead in this sector, and they are prepared to expand their support to “nurture the VR and AR content industries,” Lee Sanghak, an MSIP official, declared in the opening ceremony of the complexes.
Is it Still Not Enough?
However, the start-up companies believe the government is doing only the bare minimum. From their perspective, Korea is brimming with so much knowledge and creativity that it could usher in a new paradigm of VR and AR, an opportunity they think the government is squandering. “Capital investment fails to keep up with Korea’s rapid advancement and development capacity in this field due to a lack of commercialization,” lamented You Doo Hwan, CEO of Extreme VR.
This intrepid CEO states that the amount of support from the municipality and related ministries fall way short of the amount required to develop AR and VR technology further. “In the past, sufficient investment in the online gaming sector allowed South Korea to become a proud leader in that field—it created a shortcut for Korea’s gaming industries,” mentioned You. The CEO reports that they are experiencing some hardships and suggests that “merging the game sector in Korea with VR is the fastest way to gain investment and raise profits.” Looking at the extent to which online games and VR have progressed—the installation of VR at Lotte World, one of the top theme parks in Korea, and the countless VR game stores that have opened across the country a marriage between the two fields sounds promising.
Where Are We Headed To?
Technology is rising to a whole new level; if in doubt, witness Samsung Electronics’ recent announcement that it is now possible to watch a live stream of renowned British rock band Coldplay’s concert via the Gear VR, their cuttingedge virtual reality device. Consumers of the device, which is available for purchase in 50 countries, will be able to enjoy a 360 degree view—experiencing a new kind of reality—as if they are present at the concert arena. The South Korean technology giant said that Samsung Electronics is continuously making efforts to provide “various entertainment content” to Gear VR users. With the enhancement of distinctive features of the device all around the globe, “creative content is what will make the product stand out from the herd,” noted Professor Kim G. Jounghyun (Department of Computer Science and Engineering).
▲ PHOTOGRAPHED BY LEE HYUN JI. Professor Kim G. Jounghyun
For instance, in the Czech Republic, applying VR and AR in the field of education is gaining prominence. Students in the Czech Republic can experience hands-on biology and physics lessons with a Leap Motion controller and specially-adapted Oculus Rift DK2 headsets that track their hand movements. With this technology, they are able to explore the depths of the human body or feel the speed of a falling object. However, such interactive learning processes that many countries hail as the next step in education are far from promising in Korea. Kim believes that the integration of education and VR is not likely in Korea since “Korea’s education system is too heavily concentrated on college entrance examinations.”
This is not to say that Korea is bereft of any innovative applications of AR and VR. On the contrary, Korea University Medical Center (KUMC) is collaborating with Sunkyoung Telecom (SKT) to establish a smart hospital by supplying the medical center with Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, Internet of Things (IoT) and AR. As contemporary society advances toward the field of AI-driven health care, firms are intensively focusing on AR and VR-based remote surgery surveillance systems. SKT will launch T-Real VR, its virtual reality platform, making it available to hospitals to recreate and share surgical procedures. Yet Professor Kim warns that VR may not make much progress in the field of medicine as this sector is a “sensitive area that handles the matter of life and death.”
Korea is by no means lagging compared to other global competitors. “South Korea is home to some of the finest researchers and scientists in this field who are capable of producing the best components, such as display screens and sensors,” Professor Kim mentions. The only drawback is the lack of creativity required to take advantage of these exceptional features to produce a complete whole that is novel and imaginative.