Investor, Founder & CEO. MIT graduate. Co-Founder of Mesmerise VR, Marsfields, ARQ and Repeat.
As organisations’ strategic positions continue to change drastically in light of the pandemic, business survival has become the number one priority and reason to invest in emerging technologies. All enterprise ecosystems focus on one thing when it comes to injecting cash into new strategic operations - return on investment. The returns generated on the initial investment of emerging technologies are the driving factor behind implementing them. Its monetary value should be higher than the initial cash injection, and its business value should promise its survival.
VR, AR and MR technology content investment worldwide 2016 - 2019: (Statista)
Before investing in the emerging technologies of augmented, virtual and mixed reality, it’s imperative to understand the value of each one, and how they can improve efficiencies, increase the likelihood of survival, and importantly, generate returns. Therefore, the most appealing option between AR, VR, and MR critically depends on your business goals. Let’s take a look at what each one has to offer.
Augmented reality (AR) is an emerging technology, but it’s nothing new. In fact, most people are likely to have interacted with AR in some capacity in their everyday lives. In short, AR generates digital elements that are superimposed onto a user’s view of the real world through a mobile or AR-enabled device. Think Snapchat filters, Google Maps navigation, and more recently, ‘try before you buy’ features on mobile apps that let prospective customers envisage their own use of a product before they even leave the house.
AR takes traditional media far beyond conventional screens and even magazine coverage. Photographic images, video content, and computer-generated graphics - which sometimes provide a 360-degree view within the user’s field of vision - as a new communication and interaction medium that can be used across your company.
From marketing and sales to communications and user experience, AR is all about augmenting or enhancing the world in which we live by generating real-time and useful digital data as and when we need it. In fact, there are few markets whereby data visualization isn’t key, and AR delivered a comprehensive way to manage, manipulate and visualize data across all settings.
There are two main ways in which a business can bring AR experiences to life; the first, is through portable devices, and the second, is via smart glasses and AR headsets.
AR is unsurprisingly the most accessible technology on the market since people can use their smartphones and tablets to access AR apps. The ubiquity of mobile devices means that AR is within the reach of virtually everyone. AR apps utilize the phone camera to capture the real world, and virtual objects are then overlaid on the view.
The other way to create AR experiences is to use specialist smart glasses or AR-enabled headsets to project digital data, graphics, and images right into the user’s eyesight. Unlike VR, this technology doesn’t fully immerse the user into a new world but provides convenient real-time data as and when they need it.
The necessary hardware is minimal and the costs of developing an app are effective, the returns on generating consumer interest in your product or service could be high using AR. Use cases for developing and AR app, for instance, extend from marketing, to customer service, employee training and internal data management. Keeping costs relatively low with augmented reality broadens the scope for high monetary return.
Similar to AR, virtual reality depends on the software that generates digital elements and merges them with the real world. Less ubiquitous than AR, but a rising star, virtual reality is set to transform the way millions of companies do business. In short, VR is an artificial digital environment that completely replaces the real world.
Within a VR environment, users experience artificial sounds, sights, and feel - just as though they were in the real world. They can move around this environment and interact with objects in it. Special VR headsets are used to immerse users into virtual reality. For instance, PC-connected headsets and standalone headsets.
These VR headsets are connected to a computer that generates the virtual experience. Thanks to the huge processing power of computers today, the digital worlds they create are realistic and persuasive. As such, PC-connected VR may well be the most engaging of its kind. Some of the most popular and business-adopted include HTC Vive, Samsung Odyssey, and Oculus Quest.
As things stand, PC-connected VR headsets don’t exactly fall within the budgets of many businesses. Using a standalone VR headset offers another way to experience VR. Most of which, only require a smartphone screen to provide the virtual experience. Once again, thanks to the ubiquity of mobile phones, all a user has to commit to is inserting their smartphone into a VR headset to enjoy. Some examples include Samsung Gear, Google Daydream and Google Cardboard.
Since standalone devices are a lot more common and affordable, VR is made an option for virtually any business. It is naturally more useful and thus the most appealing option for businesses who want to create an immersive experience - either for their customers or employees.
Both VR and AR are excellent tools for data visualization. There’s no doubt that some people may still prefer the good old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet for dumpster diving through data; most of us are welcoming in new methods of graphic representation. Visualizing data in 3D allows users to uncover trends and foresee patterns that are difficult if not impossible to detect by looking at 2D datasets.
AR/VR data visualization has been taken up by startup Pasadena that created a platform called Virtualitics. It’s an immersive platform that combines machine learning, big data, and VR. Artificial intelligence identifies key insights in the data, simply requiring users to drag and drop to run different routines like smart mapping. The software then generates immersive data visualizations that can be accessed to view on desktop, or with VR in a collaborative virtual space.
Now the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality is clearer, there should be mentioned the other type of digital reality available. The hybrid nature of mixed reality overlays digital content onto the real environment - just as with AR - but is anchored to and interacts with the environment too. In many ways, MR is a more immersive and interactive type of AR.
Mixed reality goes a step further by enabling the user to see and interact with a completely virtual environment overlaid on the real world around them. For instance, a user can immerse themselves in a totally digital environment whilst still being in their room. To avoid bumping into real-life physical objects, an MR headset must be able to track the real world and adjust the virtual environment. In fact, some types of VR have the capacity to track and trace the physical environment too.
Mixed reality too can be delivered through different types of devices, including holographic devices and immersive devices. Holographic headsets have translucent glasses that allow the user to see their surroundings. As per the name, virtual experiences are generated through holograms - which is how Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 works.
Immersive devices do not sport translucent glasses, but completely block out the real world, and use cameras for tracking. MR offers a host of opportunities for businesses and the possibilities are endless. Bring data to life by creating a visual representation of abstract data that’s beyond the limited cognitive abilities of the human brain. Incorporate MR into the design, productivity, and training.
For instance, the Australian airline Qantas deployed its mixed reality solution to reduce the time it takes to assess and repair grounded aircraft. MR superimposed electrical wiring onto the MR goggles to allow engineers to identify the problem without having to disable the body of the plane to find out.
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