There is a saying “Forecasts are difficult, especially when they affect the future.” However, we dare to look into the future of virtual reality and have compiled some trends that could become relevant to this exciting technology chapter over the next 12 months.

VR hardware rentals will become a business model

Although there are already hard indications that the acquisition costs for virtual reality equipment in the high-end sector are likely to decline substantially, the user base, which benefits from high-quality VR experiences on its own hardware, will continue to do so in mid / end of 2018. Taking into account the already observed long-standing trend, this situation could pave the way for web-based rental offers of VR high-end systems from manufacturers such as HTC or Oculus – at least as a transitional model, until the prices of VR hardware for the mass market are affordable. Appropriate first rental offers are already available on the Web.

Augmented and virtual reality will become the central niche technology for the industry of the future

The evolution of 3D printing and the history of augmented and virtual reality technology are strikingly similar. Like 3D printing, virtual reality can look back on decades of development history. As with 3D printing, the adoption of the technology by the mass market is slower than other technology trends, one takes the triumphal procession of the smartphone for comparison. This does not have to do with the fact that the initial costs for entry-level equipment are still high and that professional solutions sometimes entail substantial investments.

3D printing technology, as well as VR technology, has long been used in the industry in niche fields, and 3D printing has become the preferred production process for certain fabrication operations. The phenomenon of Industry 4.0, the digital industrial revolution and the rapid development of the devices on offer also contributed to this. These two factors should also give augmented and virtual reality a permanent place in the industrial enterprise of the future.

Training with VR and AR is also in the forefront of the industry. The American engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney recently invested a substantial sum in a VR training center to train customers more efficiently in product maintenance. In other industries as well training and education are among the leading fields of VR technology.

Virtual Reality as an arcade and cinema trend

A central point in which augmented and virtual reality differ from other technology trends is the fact that the user experience can not be tested before buying and consumers have to rely on the manufacturers’ advertising and value propositions. One way to deal with this dilemma is to rent VR hardware. Another interesting option is to visit a public arcade or special VR cinemas where the technology can be tested and experienced. However, this form of use is not only suitable for additionally supporting the establishment of the technology in the mass market. With the stationary staging of VR content, further stylistic means such as smell or movement enhance the immersion effect and create an even more impressive overall experience.

VR gambling halls are currently springing up like mushrooms. In July of this year, the video game Mario Kart was presented as a VR version in Tokyo’s first VR arcade, and the VR arcade specialist The Void is planning dozens of new arcades for the future, including a whole Star Wars VR-themed world.

New technological innovations make virtual reality even more interactive

Anyone who believes that the evolution of VR and AR technology has already been completed is likely to learn a thing the next few years, and that’s good news. Although the first generation of high-end VR devices has come up with amazing quality in terms of immersion, performance and user comfort, there are several promising technology approaches in the pipeline that promise a whole new level of experience. The HTC Vive is already available with a complementary kit for wireless VR enjoyment. In addition, the company is working on a revised Vive version with integrated wireless function. But the way in which users influence virtual reality will change as well. While today’s interaction is exclusively via hand-held controllers, work is already underway on alternatives such as data gloves, motion detectors or thought control.

The start-up Neurable, for example, has developed a solution to control virtual reality games via thought force. By 2018, the first games should be available.

Standalone hardware opens up completely new user layers

One of the major disadvantages of high-end hardware is the fact that powerful PC hardware is required for a smooth and enjoyable VR experience. Experts believe that this very fact of technology makes it difficult to enter the mass market. So what could be more appropriate than to obstruct the necessary computing power directly in the VR or AR glasses? The manufacturers react. For example, Oculus recently introduced a slimmed-down version of its VR glasses in its ‘Oculus Go’, and HTC is pursuing similar plans. But the VR platform “Daydream” from Google is planning a VR experience without a PC or smartphone. Little is known about Apple’s VR plans. According to rumors, Apple is in the pipeline, a stand-alone AR glasses based on the Apple ARKit platform, which is also integrated in the latest iPhone models 8, 8+ and X, in the pipeline. So with virtual reality, are the characters now on stand-alone? It is at least conceivable. If the built-in computing power is right, VR and AR stand-alone devices definitely have the potential to definitely make the technology breakthrough in the mainstream.

Whether these new devices will compete with mobile VR goggles such as the Samsung Gear or with high-end VR goggles, the future will tell.

New manufacturers help VR market with additional dynamics and new developments

To date, the VR market is divided only among a few manufacturers. Only Facebook, HTC and Samsung, as well as Microsoft in the AR area are active in the market of high-end VR and AR devices. But future competitors are in the starting blocks. It was not until the middle of October this year that the official launch of “Windows Mixed Reality”, the VR software standard from Microsoft, was made possible, thanks to which VR and AR experiences should also be possible with less powerful PC systems. Shortly thereafter, Fujitsu announced its own VR glasses and matching notebook for the coming winter, based on the new Windows standard, and will also jump on the Windows VR / AR train with other manufacturers. But also from other manufacturers will appear soon new devices. Rumors have been circulating about Apple’s VR or AR glasses for some time, and Google’s VR developer «Daydream» is expecting new VR standalone goggles.

Social VR is facing a turning point

Social networks in virtual reality are almost as old as the technology itself. Already a decade and a half ago, the pioneer Linden Lab launched the VR Social Network “Second Life”, which was played exclusively on the PC screen. However, just a few years after the hype, it became quiet around the network. In the wake of technological developments around virtual reality in recent years, the company has regained momentum and launched in July of this year, the closed beta version of its new VR platform Sansar. Sansar allows its users to build their own VR worlds, to move in and to interact with other users. Facebook also pursues an aggressive VR strategy with Facebook Spaces and has invested a lot of money in the development of a VR version of its social network. However, another player, Altspace VR, had to cease operations at the beginning of August but is currently still usable on a reduced scale. The cause of the difficulties: The company had adjusted to a faster growth of the VR market. Future is uncertain. Despite a bumpy start, Social VR is on a promising path, not least thanks to the engagement of the two players: Facebook and Linden Lab. 2018 is likely to be the decision-making year.

Conclusion: Basics are created

Whatever the future will show, the various technologies around the topics of augmented and virtual reality have already laid the foundations for novel applications and exciting business potential. Whether for entertainment, to increase productivity, in manufacturing / industry or to reorganize entire business areas – the fields of application of VR and AR are almost limitless. We can only imagine the technological progress of the coming years.