Valve, Developer of Half-Life 2 and Steam, Internally Researching Augmented Reality; Apple CEO Tim Cook Stops for a Visit

Big news for the VR world fresh from of one of the biggest names in gaming. In a post to his Valve-hosted blog, employee Michael Abrash says that since joining Valve hes begun working on augmented reality / wearable computer research. Abrash says that he’s long been fascinated by the topic of virtual reality — ever since reading the novel Snow Crash in 1994.

Valve, who has developed critically acclaimed gaming franchises such as Half-Life and Portal (not to mention the hugely popular Steam digital game distribution service), is one of the biggest names in gaming. That they are publicly admitting to doing R&D for wearable computing / augmented reality is a very encouraging step forward down the road to virtual reality. Abrash, like myself, is confident that wearable computing is a natural an inevitable evolution of human-computer interaction:

…I have no doubt that 20 years from now that [wearable computing] will be standard, probably through glasses or contacts, but for all I know through some kind of more direct neural connection. And I’m pretty confident that platform shift will happen a lot sooner than 20 years – almost certainly within 10, but quite likely as little as 3-5, because the key areas – input, processing/power/size, and output – that need to evolve to enable wearable computing are shaping up nicely, although there’s a lot still to be figured out.

It’s very interesting to hear him say that we could see real wearable computing implementations in as little as 3-5 years. I see a mainstream adoption of such technology in the next 10 years or so, but if the industry can make it happen in 3-5 years, I’m not going to argue!

Abrash cautions that Valve is not anywhere near developing hardware for sale (and may never reach that stage). At this point, his work with Valve is strictly categorized as research and development; though he does mention that the possibilities are exciting:

To be clear, this is R&D – it doesn’t in any way involve a product at this point, and won’t for a long while, if ever – so please, no rumors about Steam glasses being announced at E3. It’s an initial investigation into a very interesting and promising space, and falls more under the heading of research than development.

I’m hoping that other gaming companies are either already doing similar research, or will start following Valve’s approach. Immersive virtual reality gaming is one of the prospects that I’m most excited about for future VR uses (though it’s hardly the only important use). Although we almost certainly won’t see any virtual reality focused consoles with the coming console cycle refresh, the following refresh might stand a good chance of seeing the big three (Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo) jumping into the VR space (which would be a huge push for mainstream VR). Valve, however, is mainly PC based and, pending the results of Abrash’s research, could put significant pressure on the rest of the gaming industry to get serious about virtual reality gaming.

Almost certainly entirely unrelated, but curious none-the-less: Apple’s CEO Tim Cook reportedly paid a visit to Valve in the last week. It isn’t uncommon for Cook to make visits to key companies and places that are involved with Apple’s interests, but a visit to Valve seems way off the radar given his usual modus opernandi. Valve is a leader in the gaming industry, yet they have little presence thus far on Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS. Apple could be soliciting expertise from Valve to improve iOS’s Game Center app (drawing from Valve’s experience with Steam), or perhaps Valve is in the midst of working on their first iOS title (which would be undoubtedly be featured by Apple in the App Store and signal a significant shift in the gaming industry by marking the point where triple-A developers being making titles for iOS).

There’s only a slim chance that Apple’s visit is related to Abrash’s wearable computing research, but I can tell you for certain that Apple is looking at least 10 years forward down the road, and wearable computing is almost certainly on their mind, not unlike Google.

 

Update: Tim Cook did not visit valve. See more here.

via The Verge

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