Matrix Information Services, Inc. (MIS) recently finished an extensive survey of emerging VR programs, firms and application areas [MIS:91a]. Some 40 sites have been identified. The claim is, however, that the actual number of new VR initiatives is much larger since many large firms do not disclose any information about their VR startups. The first generation of commercial VR products identified by MIS include applications in medical imaging, aerospace, business, engineering, transportation, architecture and design, law enforcement, education, tours and travel, manufacturing and training, personal computing, entertainment, and the arts. In fact, when Bill Bricken, HIT Lab's Chief Scientist, was asked to estimate the VR market some 20 years from now, he replied: ``Just the Gross National Product.'' Statements like this are clearly made to amplify the current VR hype for fund-raising purposes. Nevertheless, the diversity of emerging application areas might indeed suggest that VR is capable of embracing a substantial portion of today's computer market in the next decade.
Furmanski often met such enthusiastic opinions during his VR trip in the summer of 1991 [Furmanski:91g] with representatives of BTGL through the West Coast labs and companies. However, the same companies admit that the real VR market in the U.S. as of today is-virtual . The bulk of their sales is in Japan where the investments in VR R&D are an order of magnitude higher than in the U.S. We don't hear much about Japan's progress in VR since their approach is very different. Still, some of their latest achievements, like commercial products with nonencumbered, machine vision-based VR interfaces have found the way into the media. In the U.S., this technology has been researched for years in the academic and then small business mode by Myron Krueger, a true pioneer of artificial reality.
There is much less VR hype in Japan and the VR technology is viewed there in a more modest fashion as a natural next generation of GUIs. It is intended to be fully integrated with existing computing environments rather then an entirely new computing paradigm. It is therefore very plausible that, due to this more organized, long-range approach, Japan will take the true leadership role in VR. This issue has been raised by then-Senator Gore, who advocated increasing R&D funds for VR in this country. One should also notice that the federal support for virtual reality needs to be associated with similar ongoing efforts towards maintaining U.S. dominance in the domain of High Performance Computing, since we expect both technologies to become tightly coupled in the near future.