The virtual reality war is set to be a battle of financial endurance

The eventual champion in the race for VR supremacy is likely to be the company that can last the longest without making a profit, according to a report published yesterday by a leading technology intelligence provider.

The report, which was published by Current Analysis in response to HTC’s reveal of its updated Vive VR headset and custom controllers,  acknowledged that content availability was likely to determine which headset – Oculus’ Rift, Sony’s PlayStation VR or the Valve co-created Vive – would come out on top initially. However, it argued that it would take far longer for high-end VR headsets to become mainstream, meaning companies may need to run at a loss for some time.

“Whoever gets the largest commitment to the best content is likely to garner the lion’s share of early adopter purchases, but mainstream adoption and profitability could still be a long way off,” wrote Avi Greengart, research director of consumer platforms and devices at Current Analysis.

As a result, the companies with the deepest pockets are likely to have the biggest advantage, giving the Facebook-owned Oculus a serious edge.

“Oculus should stress to developers that no matter who gets the best start, Facebook gives it the resources to survive long enough to succeed,” added Greengart.

Image courtesy of Oculus.

Image courtesy of Oculus.

With pre-orders for the consumer edition of the Oculus Rift opening later today despite no word yet on price or precise release date, the company looks set to get an early march on HTC, which will not be releasing the Vive until April.

However, Vive’s newly announced features, which include a built-in camera, could persuade some to wait, particularly as those who’ve managed to lay their hands on the updated headset are making some very positive noises.

“We demoed the system at CES and were impressed. It still has screen-door effect, but images are much higher contrast than before,” said Greengart.

“The camera allows the software to alert you to real-world objects in the room, which makes gameplay safer. The system was significantly more comfortable to wear and was not disorienting – or nausea-inducing – to enter or exit.”

Image and featured image courtesy of HTC

Image and featured image courtesy of HTC.

If the long-term success of virtual reality headsets does prove to be down to money, neither HTC nor Facebook is in a particularly poor position. Both have considerable cash to spare, and could certainly afford to keep the products afloat for several years.

However, for Facebook the Oculus Rift is an opportunity to get ahead on an emerging form of communication, something that is likely to be immensely valuable for the long-term success of its social media network. As a result, it’s likely to want to make the Rift a success no matter what the cost.

By contrast, HTC has far less crossovers between the Vive and its other products, meaning if the battle proves to be a long, loss-making slog, it could well find its shareholders unwilling to keep funding the headset.

Russia announces testing of country-wide drone control network, paving way for commercial boom

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, has announced that it will begin testing a vast drone control network that will run across the nation.

The network, which is based on the country’s extensive existing satellite system, will allow small UAVs to safely operate in massive numbers within Russian airspace.

Once established, it will likely lead to an explosion in the commercial use of drones in the country, with drone deliveries in particular becoming viable on an unprecedented scale.

The announcement was made at Navitech 2017 in Moscow yesterday by experts from Russian Space Systems, a space hardware company owned by Roscosmos. Outlining the details of the system, they said that testing would begin this year, but did not provide a precise date for its start.

Each drone in the network will follow a route determined by the system, with ground-based infrastructure continuously receiving real-time data about its location and flight parameters.

This will immediately be processed and disseminated across the network, to ensure that large numbers of drones can be safely flown at any time, without interfering with both each other and traditional airspace traffic.

The network will not require the establishment of major new infrastructure, as all data will be transmitted through a combination of existing systems: FM transmitters, the country’s established cellular communication systems and GLONASS, Russia’s global satellite navigation system, which has provided 100% coverage of the country since 2011.

The system will also provide real-time data about no-fly zones, allowing routes to be adjusted immediately in response to changing information, and will offer a “platform of integrated applications” to UAV operators, content providers and insurance companies.

Roscosmos believes that the system will significantly reduce operating costs for drone owners by limiting the risks involved with running a commercial drone operation, as well as creating the conditions for new industries to emerge.

Among the industries the space agency expects to blossom through the adoption of the network are drone insurance, cloud software that would increase the capabilities of drones and what it calls “convenient services” – a term that likely refers to drone deliveries.

If the platform does deliver on this hope, it is likely Russia would become the first country with an extensive drone delivery network, realising a dream that was first brought to prominence by Amazon back in 2013. However, the US-based company is unlikely to become the main player in the Russian market, having as yet shown little interest in the country for its Prime Air operations.

As with many countries, drone deliveries are currently a rare occurrence in Russia, with notable exceptions including DoDo Pizza, a Syktyvkar-based company that began delivering pizzas to local residents back in 2014.

NFL players’ union signs historic deal that will enable players to sell their own performance data and make them “healthier and wealthier”

The NFL players association (NFLPA) has signed a landmark deal with human performance company WHOOP that will give players access to, ownership of and the option to sell their individual health data.

All current and future NFL players will be issued with a WHOOP Strap 2.0, which allows them to, without interference from their clubs, monitor their own performance, recovery and sleep.

WHOOP’s strap contains five sensors that measure data 100 times per second and automatically transmit it to accompanying mobile and web apps. WHOOP has also developed a Team Dashboard, which it says has “27 levels of privacy to ensure sharing data is completely secure and comfortable for all parties involved”.

“Our mission at WHOOP is to empower athletes. This partnership with the NFLPA is truly the first of its kind in that athletes will finally become both healthier and wealthier by collecting, controlling, and ultimately having the ability to sell their own health and performance data,” said Will Ahmed, founder and CEO at WHOOP.

“We applaud the NFLPA’s vision and share its commitment to work with athletes to better monitor their recovery and enable longer careers.”

Image and featured image courtesy of Alan Kotok

The partnership between the NFLPA and WHOOP is the first of its kind and was secured through the OneTeam Collective, which is an initiative designed to give companies like WHOOP the opportunity to leverage the NFLPA’s exclusive player rights.

WHOOP has hinted at seeking further partnerships with players’ unions in future.

In addition to owning their own data, as part of the agreement NFL players can design custom licensed bands for the WHOOP Strap, which will be made available commercially and allow players to further monetise the arrangement between the two parties.

“Every day, NFL players produce data that can translate into physiological and financial opportunities. We see partnering with WHOOP as the first step in harnessing this exciting technology,” said Ahmad Nassar, President of NFL Players Inc.

“We are excited to have WHOOP and its innovative, holistic monitoring technology serve as our first OneTeam Collective deal. Together, we’re paving the way towards a new frontier where athletes are empowered by data.”

Russell Okung playing for the Denver Broncos in 2016. Image courtesy of By Jeffrey Beall – Own work, CC BY 4.0

Along with the commercial opportunities WHOOP will offer players, the partnership also promises to help players optimise training and recovery, improve performance and reduce injuries.

The NFLPA and WHOOP will both study the effects travel, sleep, scheduling and injuries have on recovery and generate reports for players aimed at boosting athletic performance.

“WHOOP and the NFLPA are putting the power of data directly in the players’ hands. I want to recover faster, avoid injuries, and have a longer career. This partnership has the potential to contribute to my health, which is imperative to my career in football,” said Russell Okung of the Los Angeles Chargers.