George Rebane: Nevada County’s economic development – augmented or virtual? | TheUnion.com

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George Rebane: Nevada County’s economic development – augmented or virtual?

On April 7, the Economic Resource Council held its annual soiree on Nevada County's economic development Executive Director Jon Gregory and his team put on a fine affair at the GV Veterans Center that continued with a VIP dinner at the Holiday Inn Express.

This year's event, moderated by The Union's publisher Jim Hemig, was a marked improvement over a similar affair in January of 2015.

The outcome of last week's ERC "economic summit" was the announcement and launch of the Green Screen Institute which is to become an incubator and accelerator of high-tech ventures that focus on the exploding augmented reality and virtual reality markets. These A/VR technologies, applications, and uses are expected generate $150 billion of annual sales by 2020. And many in Nevada County believe, that just as we became a world class center and source for video processing and handling technologies, we can segue now into the A/VR technologies and become equally prominent in that sector.

First, what are these augmented and virtual reality concepts? For a start, think of augmented reality as an audio/visual add-on to what we see and hear in the real world. It may be implemented by a special pair of glasses, an app on your smartphone, or ultimately a new kind of contact lens. When you drive around town or shop or go to a meeting, you will see additional information presented about the real things you see and hear. In your visual field this information will be either superimposed on the objects or displayed nearby, and you will be able to program when and how much you want to be "augmented" with this information.

Nevertheless, we have significant problems to overcome ... our ingrained NIMBY attitude toward developments like housing and commercial spaces, our educational system that underperforms in STEM subjects, and a reputation as a remote rural community that is visibly permissive of drug abuse and indigent living.

Early applications may include smartphone information displays you access by pointing its camera at a building, car, scene, or item in a store. More advanced applications could enable presentations at a meeting where the presenter can invoke or draw charts, graphs, pictures in the air that will immediately appear to all attendees on their personal AR headsets.

Virtual reality is different in that VR takes its user into a totally alternative world which looks and sounds (and ultimately will feel and smell) different than the real world environment of the user. The user wears a headset that generates her entire visual field, and is sensitive to the direction she looks and where she focuses. The user will be able to travel and explore wholly different places, and interact with other similarly equipped people or avatars who are nearby or across the globe. The VR equipment may also include handsets that let the user manipulate virtual objects, instruments, weapons, and drive or pilot vehicles. The latter uses of VR are already implemented in immersive video games and training applications for law enforcement and the military.

Promising uses of A/VR in education, training, and on-the-job performance are limitless. These technologies when combined with smart software can provide a literally unbounded amplification of human capabilities in ways that we can barely conceive today. Think of a low-skilled worker able to perform a sophisticated automotive maintenance task on his first day on the job when he dons the repair shop's AR headset, and the computer leads him through the work sequence, showing and telling him exactly what to do in which order.

So the future economic growth for our community is bright if we can attract the right kind of people and funding to staff and launch the ERC's Green Screen Institute. Nevertheless, we have significant problems to overcome. These include our ingrained NIMBY attitude toward developments like housing and commercial spaces, our educational system that underperforms in STEM subjects, and a reputation as a remote rural community that is visibly permissive of drug abuse and indigent living. These are all the things that young families, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists will also consider as they admire the natural beauty and off-the-beaten-path lifestyles of Nevada County.

George Rebane, PhD lives in Nevada City.