Twenty years ago, only visionaries could imagine the ways we use digital devices today. Then, we made calls and sent texts. We created alphanumeric emojis and our “cell phones” had a battery life measured in minutes, not hours or days. We played Snake, casually flipping the cover of our Nokia open with a sassy wrist-snap; the physical display of adoption and immersion in the “digital-age” equivalent to an ape beating his chest.
Now, our devices respond to our voices. They recognize our faces and our fingerprints. They act as assistant, navigator, investigator, communicator, and distractor. They’re just as likely to calculate a tip as they are to explain why 42 is the answer to “life, the universe, and everything”. Just ask OK Google, Siri, or Cortana what constitutes machine learning, and whether or not AI is possible. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
When I asked the OK Google Girl (or GiGi, as I like to call her) about AI, she told me “artificial intelligence is the only kind of intelligence I know”. Though GiGi refused to offer further opinion on the debate between “artificial” and “organic” intelligence, she did seem to have a sense of humor. I DID laugh when, in response to my persistent questions about the nature of AI, GiGi quoted Madonna’s 1984 hit, “Material Girl”.
From Cellphones to VR: 20 Short Years
Virtual reality (VR) is today’s “cell phone” of the 90s. VR as a concept has been alive since the 50s, but never gained ground as a viable technology — until recently. Hyped as an immersive experience in a fantasy world, recent decades saw VR restricted to a great idea by hardware constraints, slow processing speeds, and data transmission limitations. Still, VR acolytes kept the flame alive through the 80s and 90s, when the only real hardware available was clunky and the graphics were pong-like.
In 2010, Palmer Luckey, creator of the Oculus Rift, kindled the guttering VR flame. Luckey, a natural-born engineer and tinkerer with a technology fetish, prototyped a VR headset — at 18 years old! Then, the world (and the VR acolytes) got lucky when gaming giant id Software used Luckey’s prototype to demonstrate its hit game Doom during the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2012. That turning point signaled the arrival of VR as viable tech. Luckey’s 6th generation device, named the Oculus Rift, was crowdfunded as a do-it-yourself kit on Kickstarter. Since then, VR has become part of the common lexicon.
Follow the VR Money
In 2014, Facebook bought Oculus Rift for the tidy sum of $3 Billion US dollars. Tech giants Google and Apple have also invested serious money in VR. Google’s virtual reality motto, “VR for everyone”, is a clue to the current outlook towards VR applications. Google’s Tilt Brush lets product designers and artists create in 3D, while Earth VR users can travel the globe in 3D (without the hassle of airport security). On the hardware side, the Oculus Rift remains a strong bet while the HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality System are up-and-comers.
It’s not just tech giants exploring this intriguing new field. Visionaries in education have adapted it far beyond gaming. Colleges teach classes in VR design, use VR to enhance the educational experience, or to showcase art. At the retail level, you can visit a VR café for a workout session, or a vacation-style relaxation excursion. The promise of VR as an immersive fantasy world, and next-gen revenue stream, is quickly taking shape.
Virtual Reality Testing Challenges
Today, we’ve reached the point where it’s easy to develop a VR app, but much harder to test it. However, proper QA testing is possibly the most critical piece of VR app development. Why? Because unlike other apps, the immersive nature of VR demands it be a full body experience.
The physical nature of immersion via wearables can have negative impacts on the user not found in standard apps. Motion sickness, headaches and vision difficulties are some of the unwelcome physical effects of a VR experience. Therefore, it’s necessary to test for functionality and user comfort. Both test areas present challenges that are more complex than standard SQA testing.
VR Testing Constraints
User immersion in VR can cause serious physical consequences. Headaches, seizures, motion sickness, eye strain, and other bodily harm (remember Pokémon Go players walking into lamp poles and falling off sidewalks?)are common scenarios in VR, and need to be accounted for. Though full immersion is the goal, it’s also a great idea to limit the discomfort of the user as much as possible and, by extension, limit your company’s liability.
Real VR Testing Requires Real Testing Professionals
VR depends on specialized hardware. The only way to properly ensure app functionality is to test these products using the devices listed in the requirements. You certainly don’t want to trust your app to the gamer-next-door with a VR headset. Why? First, see above. Then, think about this: the neighbor kid might be a whiz at gaming in VR, but represents only one hardware configuration tested from a single perspective. Likely, not the motion-sick perspective, either. Successful VR deployment depends on an app working across a spectrum of VR headsets while providing an enjoyable user experience. You just can’t get that sort of QA without a test lab.