“We’re really looking forward to this as an industry that takes off… A number of companies will come in, even companies we haven’t heard of yet two or three or five years down the road,” said Iribe, who was speaking at the Web Summit conference in Dublin.
“At the same time we’re a little worried about some of the bigger companies putting out product that isn’t quite ready. That elephant in the room is disorientation and motion sickness.”
Past developer versions of his own company’s Oculus Rift headset have sparked debate about this issue, with some users reporting suffering motion sickness when playing games while wearing them.
Iribe said that he expects the consumer version of Oculus Rift to have solved these issues, but delivered a warning to rivals. “We’re encouraging other companies, particularly the big consumer companies, to not put out a product until they’ve solved that problem,” he said.
Sony was the obvious target for his remarks: it announced its Project Morpheus virtual reality headset earlier this year, while Samsung has chosen to partner with Oculus VR on its upcoming Gear VR product.
Iribe added that Oculus has already invited Sony in to see its latest prototype, complete with the advice: “Please make sure your product is as good or close!”
Oculus boss said that since being bought for $2bn by Facebook earlier in the year, his company has focused on recruitment, as it beefs up its research and development division alongside working towards a commercial release for Oculus Rift.
“It’s been a very exciting time for us to partner with such a big company and really supercharge our effort to make this a reality,” he said. “The biggest area we’ve focused on over the last seven months is recruiting… to put the right structure in place to build this and take it to the consumer market.”
Oculus has grown from 50 people at the start of 2014 to more than 200 now, said Iribe. “We’ve attracted some of the very best, top-talent engineers in the industry. And a big area we’re able to focus on now is research: R&D,” he said.
“Typically it’s hard for a startup to have a whole separate research group while you also have a product group… Now with Facebook’s partnership it’s been incredible who we’ve been able to bring on board, and we now have one of the best research groups in the world.”
Iribe described VR as a “brand new industry… we’re just at the beginning” while acknowledging that the technology itself has deep roots in past efforts.
“We didn’t know how big this would be, or what the killer application was going to be. Was it just going to be gaming?” he said, before suggesting that a number of virtual reality veterans have been joining Oculus with ideas.
“What is the killer application for VR? Again, it’s too early to say. We just don’t know what that application’s going to be that most people are going to use. What game, or what real-time entertainment application… or is it going to be face-to-face communication?” he said.
“One that really resonates with most of us internally, and a long-term vision, is this is going to have a big rooting in gaming… There’ll be a market of a lot of really fun entertainment experiences where you’ll feel like you’re in the game, and it’s going to be awesome.”
However, Iribe said that virtual reality’s more mainstream application will be more around communications – something that surely plays into the reasons Facebook paid $2bn for the company.
“For me the real time when this is going to change the world is when we can have real-time face-to-face conversation,” he said, suggesting that virtual reality will become an alternative to travelling for meetings, as one example.
“Most people travel, and we get on airplanes and cars to go have face-to-face communications. If you could in the future throw on a pair of sunglasses and we could have that same conversation with people around the world… looking at each other’s eyes, looking in each other’s mouths… that’s really transformative,” said Iribe.
He also claimed that this could have an impact as deep as past communications technologies like the telephone, internet and personal computers. “To have virtual reality where you can have these face-to-face communications, that’s going to appeal to billions of people,” he said.
Iribe also talked about the importance of community to Oculus VR, from its days raising money on crowdfunding website Kickstarter.
He said that crowdfunding “really does change who you are, the the culture: being completely transparent, being attached and in touch with the community, and every step of the way we think ‘how is the community going to react to this, is this the right thing to do… Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this, maybe this sounds a little evil!’”
Iribe also talked up the latest developer version of Oculus Rift, Crescent Bay, which was announced in September. “Crescent Bay is where it all begins: that quality level,” said Iribe, who later said that his company still hopes to fit its technology into a pair of sunglasses at some point in the future.
Iribe was asked how close Oculus is to releasing the consumer version of its headset. “We wanna get it right, we really do. We are not going to ship it until we get it right, and we don’t want that to be four or five years from now. We want it to be soon,” he said.
“We’re getting much closer: we like to say it’s months, not necessarily years away. It’s many months, not just a few months. Crescent Bay, I’ll go on the record as saying that hardware-wise for the headset, it’s arguably almost there for the consumer product, and now there are some other parts.”
Earlier, Albert ‘Skip’ Rizzo from the University of Southern California talked about the potential for virtual reality technology, showing demonstration applications for treating post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers, children with attention-deficit disorder, and recovering stroke patients.
Rizzo said that he has been working on medical VR applications for many years now, but that “the technology has caught up with the vision” through improved computer processing, 3D graphics and interface devices including Oculus Rift and Microsoft’s Kinect.
Rizzo showed off Bravemind, a “virtual reality exposure therapy” application that enables soldiers with PTSD to virtually experience “trauma-relevant scenarios” as part of their treatment.
“The thing that will make virtual reality in the clinical domain more acceptable now this time round for the second coming is we’ve got a lot of data to show that it works,” said Rizzo.
He cited a study of Bravemind with 20 soldiers with PTSD that saw 16 of them no longer meeting the medical criteria for the condition at the end of the trial, although the technology had no effect on the other four.
“We’re creating immersive simulation that targets a very difficult psychological condition,” said Rizzo, as he triggered explosions and sent planes and helicopters flying low over a virtual street in his demonstration.
“We’re not saying that the technology fixes anybody: it’s still just a tool in the hands of a well-trained clinician who understands how to deliver this evidence-based treatment.”
This article was written by Stuart Dredge, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 4th November 2014 10.36 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010