You attach your lightweight, comfortable box-helmet to your head, hold the remote in your hand and press a button. A hovercraft rises into the air, buzzing over the bustling city streets. Through the glasses you see what the hover sees: a clear 360-degree view of ruined houses and uprooted trees. When you look down, you see what's under the hover. The full-color image does not stop. There is nothing hidden. You are actually transferring yourself by digital means to a natural disaster site.
At least that's the goal. Digital telephoto traffic, as they define this field, does not yet exist. But proponents of this technology, which some call Live Delivery, believe that in the coming years a virtual reality mix, high-speed wireless networks and machines like skiers and small vehicles will allow people to embed themselves in a real, real-time environment. "Live transfer is a new tool that reinvents how we experience the world, and allows us to be at the point where things happen," said Mark Karl-Billiard, senior director at Accenture Labs, which advises virtual and laminated reality businesses (VR and -AR).
While virtual reality presents the user with pre-recorded scenes, live virtual reality - which appears in study rooms and operating rooms - allows users to experience what is actually going on. Companies are already pinning down simple versions of VR to hover to give users the feeling of being elsewhere.
Since last May, Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border have been using a skimmer system for tracking explosives and enemy fighters in defined areas, and intercepting flying objects they launch, according to the IDF. Dangerous without endangering soldiers' lives.
For Extend, the manufacturer of this system from Tel Aviv, the battlefield is just the beginning. Ultimately, the company wants to build an easy-to-use 360-degree 3D video transmitter for a VR helmet that will embed the user anywhere in the world it wants to fly. Xtend founded by Mateo and Spring Shapiro, Intel gained the brothers behind Ripley Technologies, which allows viewers to watch VR sports events in 2016. The other founders are aeronautics expert Adir Toby and Robbie Liani, one of FPV's founders of the "Racing League in Israel" - a non-profit that promotes and organizes skating competitions.
"Serious safety and privacy concerns"
Significant technological obstacles are on their way to the big vision. The amount of data needed for a live 360-degree 3D video does not allow for significant uninterrupted transmission over time on existing wireless networks, says Jacob Chakersky, director of the Immersive Communication Lab at the University of Alabama. He says the helmets are cumbersome and expensive and the systems need more graphic cards and cables. Fifth-generation cellular networks and computing that will allow data processing closer to devices - and not the cloud - can help, but fifth-generation services are still in their infancy, especially in the US.
Today, there are some startups already developing live virtual reality without skating. Students at Fordham New York University, on two campuses, can use a service called Chimera developed by Pagoni VR of New York for sitting in a classroom on the second campus. Florida Immertec has partnered with J&J to develop a stream of real surgical procedures performed in dozens of US hospitals, including Baylor Scott and White Surgical Hospital and the Vitruvio Institute for the Advancement of Medicine in Dallas.
Living virtual reality can also give people access to places that cannot physically reached. Pyrus Medical from Seattle is developing a system that gives medical surgeons a look into patients' blood vessels. The system uses a head box and sensors connected to the catheters that are inserted into the body during surgery. This look into the body should reduce the need for surgical X-rays and minimize penetration procedures. The company has not yet tested the system on humans and has not received FDA approval.
Integrating live virtual reality with skiers is the next step. The technology comes from some small but growing world of professional skate racing. The "pilots" wear glasses during the races, giving them a "first hand" view of the skater's progress along the track. This system is hard to learn: the pilot needs full attention just to tip the skimmer. "Inexperienced pilots 'crash' most times," said Nicholas Horbachevsky, CEO and founder of the Skateboarding League. Pilots often prefer black-and-white photography because it allows the highest data transfer speed, but it does not detail this method enough for military use or other unsatisfied uses.
The large processing chips required for live streaming of assimilation scenes are burdensome on small hovercraft and require large battery power, said Millie Radovich, an analyst at "Insider Industry Insights" (DII). Many governments restrict skiers in populated areas, requiring operators to pass rigorous certification tests for flying out of sight, she said.
"There are serious safety and privacy concerns and a lack of awareness of the commercial value of hovercraft, so in many urban area's residents are still not receiving them," Radovich said.
But startups are moving forward: NewBeeDrone from San Diego is working on a skimmer box for consumer use, with a first look at the pilot and HD pictures. "This is now more proof of concept," said Daryl Huang, CFO of the company. "But it shows people what it's like to fly."
45-minute flight capability at 160 mph
The Israeli Xtend Skylord system for military use includes a wireless headset and a semi-autonomous four-rotor Frisbee plate controlled by a hand-held device similar to a laser beam flashlight. According to the hovercraft company, it can fly 45 minutes at speeds of about 29 mph, reaching 160 mph or more. Soldiers can learn how to use it in a few minutes, and not in a few months, as required by a full manual skimmer.
"The panoramic capabilities of the Skylord system allow the IDF to scan a large geographical area and quickly neutralize threats without the need to deploy troops," said Lt. Col. Assaf Oren, commander of the IDF's optical warfare arm.
Xtend plans to sell a model in early 2020 that offers a 180-degree display that can change with operator head movements. "It would be like turning your head to look out a car window," said Matau Shapiro. The company also plans to add expanded reality components, such as a virtual cockpit to help reduce headaches' dizziness by reducing the need for movement, and providing a sense of orientation and balance.
Chinese skate giant DJI sells 150-degree video helmets with a time lag of just seven milliseconds, according to the company. The system also allows others who are not the operator of the skimmer to put on their glasses and enjoy the airline experience.
However, the technological advances needed for teleportation in the widespread use of skiers are still far from us for many years, Chakersky said. "Skimmers look like the best camera deployment technology that allows digital telephoto traffic," he said. "But the process of data collection and dissemination needs to redesign so that virtual reality will truly reach its potential and have a social impact."