Like other virtual-reality gamers, HP’s gaming and VR product manager John Ludwig loves the immersive experience of VR — which is why he always hated the annoying cord dangling down his back that connects the VR headset to a computer.
Unlike his fellow gamers, Ludwig could do something about that.
The result? HP’s first-ever VR Backpack — a lightweight yet heavy-duty computer with rear straps that swing onto your shoulders and a cord that skims your collarbone to connect to the VR headset — banishing the fear of tripping over the cord when fighting off robots in Raw Data.
It’s an innovation that promises breakthroughs in areas beyond gaming, with potential applications in health care, media and industry. IDC projects that, driven by both commercial and consumer demand, the global augmented-reality and virtual-reality market will hit $11.4 billion in sales in 2017 — and then soar to nearly $215 billion by 2021.
The backpack’s development is a lesson in how random innovation can be. “Honestly,” says Ludwig, “at the start, I was split on whether it was a terrible idea or a great one. But we wanted to have some fun, and our partners were interested, so we decided to just build it to see.”
For Ludwig, the idea seemed like an entertaining project with low risk — which is what innovation can be: taking a flyer, not knowing whether you’ll have a hit or a miss, but knowing that by trying out ideas, you’re learning.
So when Ludwig’s team started brainstorming about the challenge of a VR backpack more than a year ago, they considered several approaches, including wireless connectivity. But given the amount of data that needed to move through the air to render the experience, that was a non-starter. Instead, they came up with the backpack idea. Once they had a prototype, they decided to produce around 100 developer kits, put the product out in the world and get feedback.