Game guru Tim Sweeney: VR is exciting, but AR will be ‘the device for a billion users’


Epic Games founder and Chief Executive Tim Sweeney is at the forefront of the virtual reality revolution thanks to his company’s work on Unreal Engine 4, which powers a wide range of VR games and experiences. But he thinks augmented reality will be an even bigger deal for the broadest base of people.

Sweeney looked ahead to the future of the VR industry in an in-depth interview with Glixel this week. The technology is “good enough for gaming,” he said, but for VR to reach very wide adoption, the hardware will need to reach a point where it can accurately simulate a real human. Sweeney believes that’s not so far off.

“The great thing about VR is we don’t need to simulate [people],” Sweeney told Glixel. “We’ll have cameras pointing at actual people, picking up their facial motion and their body motion. We’ll simply be able to sample that data, reconstruct it with computer models, and display it to you. So it’s a problem of motion capture rather than artificial intelligence.”

A number of developers have already combined motion capture with Epic Games’ Unreal Engine to create more lifelike human characters. At Game Developer Conference 2016, Epic Games demonstrated the effectiveness of this technique using Ninja Theory’s Hellblade as an example.

What about AR?

Virtual reality and augmented or mixed reality sometimes get lumped together, but Sweeney notes that the two mediums are very different, and he believes that while VR will be more popular in the near term, AR will eventually be “the device for a billion users.”

“I think it’s going to be years before AR really takes off – maybe five, six, seven,” Sweeney said. “We’re not talking a lifetime. VR is going to lead the way for the next several years, and the key innovations are going to happen in VR before the AR revolution starts.”

Sweeney believes that within 12 years, AR devices will be something “resembling Oakley sunglasses” that are tethered to iPhone-like devices with no screens in our pockets. The tethered device will provide the raw compute power, which requires a beefier battery than a pair of glasses can handle, while the AR device itself will provide the display and input controls.

Although he has some high expectations for VR and AR over the next decade, Sweeney is quick to note that as with any long-term predictions about technology, his ideas could could be way off. “Some of our ideas will work, and some will fail in hilarious ways,” Sweeney said.

You can read the full interview with Tim Sweeney at Glixel.

Image courtesy of Epic Games