Experiencing life like never before

Smart technology offers a virtually real experience for growing numbers of leisure activities without even having to leave home

By Antoinette Price

From sports events to cultural and historic venues, the leisure industry is embracing virtual and augmented reality in creative ways, to make game viewing even more exciting and offer new travel perspectives.

VR sightseeing Selling a feeling through virtual reality (Photo: Sasha_Suzi via Getty Images)

Feel the Olympic buzz from your sofa

If there’s one sporting event that should be on every “to see” list, it’s the Olympics, and the 2016 Rio Games will showcase a taste of future broadcasting technology. The Olympic Broadcasting Service has announced it will be capturing virtual reality (VR) footage of the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as a number of events. This footage will be broadcast live and available for downloading. Headset users will be able to soak up the incredible stadium atmosphere as if they were there. Those without headsets will also be able to have the VR experience, thanks to 360 degree video publishing on the web, such as Facebook 360 or YouTube 360.

Football and soccer fans are used to almost instant replays, using 360-degree technology to relive exciting moments, but players can benefit too. American football is using VR for training and performance improvement by immersing players into the game and reviewing the moves they make. Using pre-recorded footage, players wearing headsets can practise different runs as often as they like and look around the entire ground by moving their heads.  

The Dutch national soccer team trained with a specially developed VR system before the 2014 World Cup, which other teams have since trialled. The decisions and moves made while practising with the VR system were then fully analysed and discussed with coaches. The system was developed using multiple cameras around the pitch, which made the pre-recordings, and when player data was added, to create lifelike team members in a real game.

In the US, more sports are being streamed live in VR, so that viewers feel they are where the action is, including basketball, boxing, golf and motorcycle racing.

How it works

360-degree VR is an audio-visual simulation of an altered environment around users wearing headsets and makes it possible for them to look in all directions, as they would in real life. It can include live, real-time or pre-recorded footage.

This can also be combined with apps used on tablets and smart mobile phones. As users look back at footage, they can change their perspective by tilting and rotating the phone or tablet, or by actually touching the screen, which effectively becomes their eyes.

The Standards behind the technology

A lot goes on behind the scenes of augmented reality (AR) and VR apps. Software drives components such as displays, sensors, images, maps and tracking technology, which link to the hardware (headsets, smart glasses, helmets, etc.). A number of IEC technical committees produce International Standards and have testing systems which help ensure the reliability, safety, efficiency, interoperability and quality of the components within this technology. A Subcommittee (SC) of ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee (JTC) 1, ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 29: Coding of audio, picture, multi-media and hypermedia information, has published ISO/IEC 23000-13, a Standard which focuses on the data formats used to provide an AR presentation, designed to enable the use of 2D/3D multimedia content.

The work of IEC TC 47: Semiconductor devices, and IEC SC 47F: Microelectromechanical systems, ensures that sensors and MEMS, which are vital to this technology, work reliably and efficiently, while IEC TC 100: Audio, video and multimedia systems and equipment, produces Standards which contribute to the quality, performance and their interoperability with other systems and equipment.

Find out more in the e-tech article Blending the real and virtual worlds in this issue.

Tailoring your travel experience before you leave

Even before reaching your destination, the chances are you’ve taken a virtual tour of your hotel room, immersed yourself into the sumptuous surroundings and felt like you were actually standing on the balcony overlooking the stunning vistas. It might even have influenced your decision to hit the ‘reserve’ button. As for what the destination itself has to offer, you’ve probably already researched aspects of it using virtual or augmented reality.

Scanning around town

Technology used by the tourism industry is evolving rapidly. Most people have at some point scanned Quick Response or QR codes – 2D easily readable scanner codes – from enabled smartphones to go to website links and read digital text. On holiday, the QR code replaces the plane and concert tickets and heavy travel guides, giving fast access to maps and entry to websites and easing purchases made from the phone. Tourist trails offer extra information about places, monuments or statues by scanning affixed QR codes.

No longer lost in translation

The Word Lens AR app enables travellers to place a smartphone in front of a sign or menu and get a real-time translation without connecting to the Internet. It uses the device’s built-in camera to quickly scan and identify printed text, thanks to optical character recognition capabilities, and then displays the translation on the screen. The concept is similar to apps for blind people, which scan print on objects such as food items, and read them aloud.

Discovering the past through today's technology

From Indian palaces and Dutch windmills to the Grand Canyon or Sydney’s famous harbour, it is possible to tour most parts of the world virtually, with stunning 360 degree views.

Moving inside, digital creativity is also revitalizing museums and allowing them to present exhibitions in a more engaging manner. A VR weekend, during which visitors donned headsets and walked into a 4000 year old Bronze Age house, with a lit fire, allowed visitors in the British capital to experience a more realistic version of life as it was.

3D scanning can transform artefacts back to their original state, by mending them virtually, adding colour and depth, and overlaying useful facts and information. Sketchfab is a platform for publishing 3D and VR content anywhere online and is popular with a number of museums. It uses technology that integrates with major 3D tools and platforms and allows content to be embedded on any web page and shared on other sites, such as social media.

In a similar project, a university workshop in Lebanon, together with International Augmented Med, used 3D scanning as part of an historical AR project created to enhance tourism at historic and culturally relevant destinations in Mediterranean countries in the Middle East and Europe. The partial artefact was scanned and converted into a 3D model, before being virtually reconstructed as a whole piece. Then using the app and holding the smartphone in front of the partial piece, the artefact could be viewed in its full state.

Shop 'til you drop through your screen

Certain people consider shopping to be a leisure activity, and it comes as no surprise that technology is changing shopping habits. For many, online purchases have replaced trudging to the shop itself. Now digital-age customers can use their screens and mixed reality apps to try on shoes, clothes, make-up and even check a new hair colour really suits them before buying a product. Choosing the right bed or sofa can end in arguments or disaster if the purchase ends up not fitting or is the wrong shape or colour. Once again, customers can use an app to place the piece in their homes and avoid disappointment.

These are just some of the ways the tourism industry is using AR/VR technology to enhance the travelling experience, but like many industries, it continues to innovate and evolve with the technology.

VR sightseeing Selling a feeling through virtual reality (Photo: Sasha_Suzi via Getty Images)
VR_sports Experience the stadium from your sofa (Photo: Livelike VR)
360_VR Ginza 4 chome crossing - Seeing in panoramic (Photo: Littlstar)