The state of XR: AR/VR/MR
Whether we see it as playful and fun or in a more professional context, XR is becoming more important in daily life. Nevertheless, this does not mean that these technologies are far from reaching the pinnacle of development and massive market integration.
Even though there are differences between VR, AR and MR in this field, there are also different levels of integration depending on the context of application and integration.
The implementation and improvement of AR/VR applications on our current devices will be joined by advancements in new devices, peripherals, and software in order for these technologies to reach their true potential of ubiquitous use and market penetration in both personal life and industry.
The process of accelerating the development of these technologies promotes their already out-of-date last devices and platforms, but very quickly also presents us with new developments and features in shorter periods of time.
One way to understand the full potential of these technologies in the near future is to look at the total expected investment that will be made in each one. According to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Semiannual Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide, worldwide spending on augmented reality and virtual reality is forecast to reach USD 160 billion in 2023, up significantly from the USD 16.8 billion forecast for 2019.
Another perspective that shows XR technologies have the potential to deeply impact the global economy can be seen in the PwC “Seeing Is believing” report (2019), “VR and AR have the potential to add $1.5trillion to the global economy by 2030.”
If this amount of investment and impact is expected, where can we find AR/VR/MR in the “real” world today? In the next section we will show some examples of how they are already impacting many different industries, sectors, and our daily lives.
Where can I find AR/VR/MR?
So, where can you actually find XR technologies in daily life? How do they impact jobs and workplaces? We will lead you on a journey from education to journalism, passing by manufacturing and tourism, to show you the real integration of XR technologies today.
Education and workplace training
Education and training is one of the areas where AR/VR has the biggest impact, allowing enterprises and organisations to reduce the costs of training. It also reduces the risk of harm in situations where training could be dangerous, while also enabling the development of training experiences that are otherwise very difficult to offer. AR/VR also responds quickly to the need to update collaborator skills and competences. For example, with AR it is possible to provide more meaningful training by using AR glasses that project technical manuals or specs when interacting with devices.
As another example, Labster makes it possible to interact with highly complex virtual science labs without needing to invest a considerable amount of money in equipment and with the ability to do it from home on your own device.
Many companies today are investing in VR and AR solutions to provide training and opportunities for their collaborators. Particularly in high-risk jobs dealing with remote or expensive equipment, AR and VR training is instrumental. Utilising digital twins (like a machine in need of repair) and other environment simulators, workers can train for real-world scenarios safely and cost-effectively, even in remote settings.
Advertising, marketing and shopping
Early adopters of VR and AR technologies have been able to incorporate them in their core business, giving their clients the opportunity to experience immersive situations for marketing strategies or even their customers the chance to try before they buy.
IKEA is a clear example of how the power of AR can transform and enhance client experiences, giving them the opportunity to try how furnishings look in their home even before going the shop.
GAP released an app called Dressing Room that allows customers to try clothes on virtual people (Gap Dressing Room AR APP By Avametric). Sephora uses AR to allow their clients to try lipstick and eyeliner so they have a clear idea how they will look. Another area impacted by VR/AR is real estate. With these technologies, clients can explore properties and get a first impression without needing to travel.
In the field of healthcare, we can find several examples of how VR and AR are reshaping the area. For example, using AR to project health indicators on AR glasses helps doctors to access immediate data about their patients. VR is also being used to help patients in mental therapy or to face different types of trauma, such as post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD), phobias and addictions. This is through VR experiences that would otherwise be impossible to recreate, leading to new kinds of therapies. AR can also be used to assist in surgery or to test pre-surgery models and VR can help improve surgeons' skills with training simulations that allow them to plan and rehearse.
Perhaps the area where XR is most well-known to the general public is VR games. This is one of the areas of greatest investment and development in extended reality.
Many people are familiar with the mobile game Pokémon Go. Launched in 2015, it uses smartphone location-based AR technology to create a simulated experience of seeing Pokémon characters in the real world. This mobile app game encourages users to get outside and interact with their real environment as well as the virtual game world. With over 500 million downloads in its first year, it remains a global forerunner in the space of mobile gaming augmented reality.
VR/AR is also creating momentum in other areas of leisure and entertainment. For example, more and more museums and other cultural and science spaces offer VR and AR experiences to visitors in order to allow them to have a deeper immersive experience – so the visit has a greater impact. Movies and other forms of storytelling are also embracing VR, providing new forms of experience. Examples include The Book of Distance and Everest Virtual Reality.
Architecture, design, prototyping and manufacturing
This was one of the first areas to adopt the power of AR/VR. Having the possibility to project an architectural model and experience it as immersive virtual reality or integrating it with the real world in a digital format creates the opportunity to perfect it before it is built. AR/VR provides architects, designers and builders with new tools to project future buildings and other infrastructure (inside and out) like never before. It improves the interaction between clients, architects and designers. They can show the final product before it even exists, and detect and correct any errors. With AR, for example, it is possible to enter a building that is under construction and project the electrical or plumbing systems; it is also possible to project other elements before they are physically put in place. In prototyping, it takes the drawings from paper and realises them digitally.
The industrial technology company ABB utilises AR and VR in a variety of contexts. From remote diagnostics and equipment repair as seen in their Remote Insights program, to utilising VR programs in order to train robots in simulated situations, their use of virtual technology is present in many areas from training, to product development, to manufacturing, and maintenance.
Tourism and travel
The current limitations on travel and visiting other places due to the pandemic mean that VR and AR experiences are being presented as one of the solutions. Another possibility that has been adopted and explored is using VR and AR to allow tourists and travellers to have a “taste” of their next holiday before they go – this is a strategy to engage with clients and give them one more reason to acquire that experience.
Several institutions provide VR and AR experiences of local and remote places. For example, National Geographic allows us to walk with elephants or stay near lions without the need to physically go to these places. These experiences do not have to happen in the present – several companies are creating immersive experiences that allow us to travel and experience past places and events. But even if we have the opportunity to visit places in person, VR/AR can act as a companion for an array of situations. For example, with Google Lens you just have to point your smartphone at text in any language and it will translate. Google Maps adds layers of information while you use it to go from point A to point B. Smartify gives us the chance to point our smartphone at a work of art and be presented with additional information.
AR, VR and MR are impacting every area and component of our lives, so it’s no surprise that the military is also taking advantage of the functionalities given by these technologies. The military is integrating VR/AR/MR in order to achieve higher performance in the use of military devices and in the training of troops. A clear example is a training battlefield simulation where the danger of injury and other consequences is reduced – while also allowing the reproduction of a scene as many times as required. In the field, the use of AR could provide soldiers with very useful real-time information.
VR and AR give journalists the power to bring their stories to life, allowing viewers to experience direct contact with the story, characters and places. Reporting stories will gain a new dimension, the power of offering immersive experiences that break free from the limitations of 2D. One clear example can be seen in the VR video “Clouds Over Sidra” where we enter the shoes of a young refugee and experience their life in the camp. Another example is the AR experience from the NYT: Explore InSight, NASA’s Latest Mission to Mars.