Embracing virtual reality

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Embracing virtual reality

Anyone keeping up with the IT world is waiting for two major annual events: the January Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the Mobile World Congress that recently took place in Barcelona, Spain. They provide a stage for what’s big today and tomorrow in the IT world. What stole this year’s spotlight at both events and created the most buzz was virtual reality.

Virtual reality (VR) is a trip to an altered or augmented world. One can immerse in the digital world while our senses feel as if it is the real thing. It is a man-made cyberspace and environment we can enter and experience without physical travel and labor, such as traveling in space. Imagine whatever is happening on screen actually panning out before your eyes and interacting with you. The immersion and engagement won’t be comparable even with the most advanced high-definition display technology. You would have to experience it to realize how big it could be.

Virtual reality has been a concept long sought after and worked on, but it may finally be realized. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in a surprise appearance at the Mobile World Congress presentation by Samsung Electronics of a Gear VR headset compatible with its Galaxy S7 series phones, declared virtual reality was the “next platform” and announced a partnership for VR content with Samsung. When the video processing capacity of a smartphone has advanced and the wireless infrastructure shifts to next-generation 5G technology in the coming two years, VR content will become the main feature of a mobile device.

VR could be explosive as its industrial applications are still immeasurable. Due to its unimaginable growth potential, it can be the best bet for future growth. When applied in classrooms, the education experience can become fun and intriguing. Our pastime activities would become entirely different if we could tour the Amazon or space. Top-end theater performances, so far limited to an exclusive audience, can become accessible to anyone through VR video. The spectrum of medical service, e-commerce, construction, defense and sports would be enlarged and advance through incorporation of VR technology. Moreover, the applications could evolve as widely and broadly as imagination can be.

A perpetual and limitless blue ocean could open up. The commercialization of VR-embedded devices and services would give new life to traditional industries and create new ones to roll out all kinds of quality jobs. From the industrial perspective, a new world could arrive.

There is another reason for hype about the rise of the VR era. The industry hinges on an ecosystem of a supply chain of content, platforms, networks and devices. Since it involves a hardware, software, system and device platform, industrial and economic repercussions could be enormous. It also means the supply chain of the ecosystem must work and evolve in balance for sustained growth.

Only a handful of countries are capable of building that kind of habitat. Korea, along with the United States, Japan and China, are those few. Korea is a powerhouse in information technology devices and has proved its ability in producing quality content and running platforms. Korea was late in the VR race initially, but it could soon catch up with the frontrunners.

Being a latecomer, we should strategically focus on content services rather than hardware. What will determine the VR future is content. The government and corporate sector should join forces to establish platforms and channels to carry Korean-made content to the global audience.

We should also keep close watch on the movements of our competitors. The United States has made big strides in VR, drone, 3-D printing and financial technology because it encourages bold ventures and leaves the market to determine the outcome. We lack entrepreneurship to pioneer new fields and are often late in detecting opportunities and changes in the global market. VR could enrich our lives, revitalize our economy and foster hope for our young people by offering all kinds of career opportunities. The cyber-world will not be a retreat from reality but a relief and savior to our reality. We must prepare for our future with conviction and vision.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 26, Page 29

*The author is a professor at Sogang University and chairman of the Korea Virtual Reality 54Industry Association.

by Hyun Dae-won

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