Valve warned us that supplies for its Index VR headset would be limited when it went back up on sale this week. And it wasn’t kidding.
Within less than an hour of going back online, the full Index kit is backed up to shipping after eight weeks. In fact, people on Twitter report that that was the case around 30 minutes in to them going back on sale. Some users also had trouble completing their orders, which may have lost them an early unit. The headset on its own ships between eight to ten weeks and Index controllers are scheduled between three to five weeks. Base stations by themselves are totally sold out, too.
Meanwhile, Facebook’s Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S also remain heavily backordered. In quite an unprecedented situation for VR, it’s now practically impossible to buy an Oculus or Valve VR headset through an official online retailer…
Basically, if you are waiting to purchase an Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift S, or Valve Index, you’re going to be waiting for several more months. The only VR headset that has not been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic is the HTC Vive, which is manufactured in Taiwan. In fact, this global public health crisis might actually lead to more business for HTC.
Dozens of real-world conferences and events are being postponed or cancelled because of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, but the upcoming IEEE VR 2020 virtual reality conference, which was to have taken place March 22nd to 26th in Atlanta, Georgia, has done something unprecedented.
Out of an abundance of caution surrounding COVID-19, the decision has been made to convert the in-person component of VR 2020 into an all-digital conference experience – VR 2020 will now be an online event. Therefore, VR 2020 will no longer take place in Atlanta, Georgia and will instead take place virtually. The conference dates remain the same – 22-26 March 2020.
We are excited to support many more attendees now that the conference is being held online, which will be provided free of charge for non-authors. More details will be available soon for online registration.
IEEE VR 2020 is moving to be exclusively online, and to a very different financial model to support the publication, presentation, and sharing of your research in light of the venue cancellation. The general chairs and steering committee have chosen to use a simplified model of a flat-fee per published contribution ($450). This is to support maximum attendance at the online event, allowing non-author registration to remain free of charge.
The purpose of this form is to let us know how you want to allocate your registration payments to your associated published research contributions (e.g. poster, paper, demo abstract), and to determine any refund that you are due. Note that refunds are not guaranteed until all fees are fully covered for your contributions. Each published contribution requires a fee of $450. Please work with any of your coauthors to determine who is going to pay these fees.
By the way, the organizers are actively looking for volunteers to help pull this off, so if you’re interested, here’s the form to volunteer. I’ve already signed up, and I hope to see you online for the conference!
The recently-concluded Educators in VR 2020 International Summit was proof that you can indeed run an entire six-day conference in social VR! So I thought I would use this space to promote another VR conference which, while not being held completely in virtual reality, will have an online component via social VR. And the best part is, the online experience is completely free! All you have to do is register.
As part of the IEEE’s long term goal to increase the sustainability and accessibility of the conference, this year IEEE VR 2020 is hosting a collection of online social virtual spaces for people who cannot travel to Atlanta during the week of March 22-26th. These web-based 3D spaces will be accessible in traditional web browsers on most devices, and in VR via WebVR. This experimental track is IEEE VR’s first step toward future conferences adding even more meaningful remote experiences for people who are not able to physically attend the conference.
The conference organizers will be live streaming video of the technical paper sessions and keynotes (information will be available on the VR website closer to the conference). Taking advantage of these streams, they are creating 3D social spaces for remote participants to co-watch the talks with others, socialize and meet each other. They also plan to use these 3D social spaces to host a virtual poster session (for a subset of the posters whose non-attending co-authors would like to present remotely).
All of the online activities this year will take place synchronously with the real-world conference, which will generally be 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EST during the week of March 22-26th, 2020. (And let’s hope that the coronavirus epidemic does not scuttle those plans!) A complete program overview is available on the official IEEE VR 2020 conference website.
The IEEE will use a customized version of the Mozilla Hubs social VR platform to host a collection of virtual rooms for people who cannot physically attend the conference. Participants can join the Hubs rooms from any web browser, using 2D screens or immersive VR displays. The conference site is located at https://hubs.ieeevr.online, and will be available to all registered conference attendees.
These rooms will include spaces to co-watch the conference video streams in small groups, visit a virtual poster session running synchronously with the live poster sessions at IEEE VR, and social rooms for remote attendees. Anyone may register for the remote experience and join other remote viewers in the shared 3D spaces, discuss the talks and posters and meet other remote attendees.
The IEEE’s goal is to increase access to the conference for remote participants who would otherwise be unable to attend due to mobility impairments, chronic health issues, temporary travel limitations, or a choice to reduce their impact on the environment due to carbon emissions from long distance travel.
Participants access the Hubs rooms by visiting https://hubs.ieeevr.online, and logging in with the email address they used to register for the conference (see information below on how to register). The IEEE will require all remote participants to register for IEEE VR on the main registration site (at no cost) to gain access to the hubs virtual spaces.
The IEEE is using their regular conference registration system to register for the Online Experience. Please note that registration is required to gain access to the Hubs server (at https://hubs.ieeevr.online) and the VR 2020 Slack server (used by both local and online attendees to chat about the conference).
To register for the online experience, use the main registration website for the conference. Fill out the registration form via the “Click here to Register” button on http://ieeevr.org/2020/attend/registration.html and select only the “Online Experience” on the final page (Registration Items). Some of the questions (such as whether you need a Visa Letter and Dietary Restrictions) are only relevant for people attending in person, so you can select “No” for the Visa Letter and ignore the Dietary Restrictions selections.
The IEEE will be uploading the registration list to the hubs.ieeevr.online system and to the Slack invitation system (https://ieeevr-slack-invite.glitch.me/) at regular intervals leading up to the conference. They will post updates to the http://ieeevr.org/2020/online/ website about social and training sessions with the online system, over the next few weeks.
In addition, the IEEE VR 2020 conference is looking for volunteers to help run the social experiences. If you are interested in remotely participating, and would like to help make this a great experience for everyone, please consider volunteering! To sign up as a possible volunteer, please fill out this form:
Although I said I would no longer write daily updates about the Wuhan coronavirus (now officially called SARS-CoV-2), I feel that now is a good time to talk about how a potential global pandemic could impact the still-nascent virtual reality market.
The world may be facing a situation not encountered in 102 years, when the 1918/1919 Spanish influenza pandemic swept around the globe in three successive waves in 18 months (in an era before commercial air travel), infecting one third of the world’s population and killing over 50 million people, more than the total number who died in World War I.
Residential lockdowns of varying strictness — from checkpoints at building entrances to hard limits on going outdoors — now cover at least 760 million people in China, or more than half the country’s population, according to a New York Times analysis of government announcements in provinces and major cities. Many of these people live far from the city of Wuhan, where the virus was first reported and which the government sealed off last month.
Humanity has no natural immunity to this coronavirus (despite the hucksters taking advantage of the situation to sell you various “immunity boosters”). There is no vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, and there will not be one for at least a year. The World Health Organization has already stated that existing pneumonia vaccines are useless against the specific kind of pneumonia caused by SARS-CoV-2.
In other words, you really can’t prepare your body for this infection. It is true that some people seem to have very light or no symptoms at all (but are still able to infect others). The virus appears to be deadlier to older people, overweight people, and people with pre-existing health conditions, such as asthma and diabetes. (In other words, I am a sitting duck.)
Researchers are still trying to calculate the infectiousness (R0 or R-naught) and case fatality rate (CFR) of this new viral outbreak, and experiments with various treatment options are currently being conducted on infected patients to see what works and what doesn’t. However, all the preliminary reports suggest that the SARS-CoV-2 is about as easily transmissible as the regular, seasonal influenza we see every year.
As an interim measure, it is possible (some would say, likely) that we will begin to see the same kind of social distancing and quarantine policies currently seen in China being implemented by governments around the world. Travel between countries has already been and will continue to be negatively impacted. Major international conferences, such as the Mobile World Conference, are already being cancelled.
All of the preceding discussion is merely preamble to the point I am trying to make: that a potential pandemic will both help and hurt virtual reality.
How will a potential coronavirus pandemic help VR?
I believe that this truly unprecedented combination of circumstances might actually drive more people to embrace virtual reality technology and social VR platforms as a way to safely attend conferences, training sessions, and other events, where it is not physically possible due to pandemic quarantines and social distancing policies. In other words, more people will be exposed to VR, and sooner than predicted, due to the impact of SARS-CoV-2.
This situation might even lead to a boom in the use of various social VR platforms (and perhaps even non-VR virtual worlds such as Second Life). We will probably begin to see many more conferences held partly or completely in virtual reality, such as this week’s Educators in VR 2020 International Summit, where presenters and attendees can share ideas and mingle without the worry of being exposed to an infectious virus!
How will a potential coronavirus pandemic hurt VR?
Many factories have shut down production of goods in mainland China, where many of the computer gadgets we use everyday are manufactured. While a potential pandemic might strengthen demand for VR headsets, it might also make it much harder to get your hands on one.
So, the coronavirus is a double-edged sword with respect to virtual reality.
Good Sources of Information on SARS-CoV-2
Here is my updated list of good, credible, authoritative resources to learn more about the Wuhan coronoavirus (formerly called 2019-nCoV and now officially called SARS-CoV-2; the disease the virus causes is now called COVID-19):
P.S. Effective today, I have created a new blogpost category called Virtual Reality (General), under which I will put those blogposts that talk about VR in a general way that don’t fit under a more specific existing category. I will try to go back and add this category to older blogposts, but obviously, at 1,700 blogposts written to date, I can’t go back and do them all!