Being well at the backend of 2018, Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality have well and truly surpassed the murmurs to find that they’re currently at the tipping point of becoming mainstream use. So, lets take a look at what each of these technologies brings to the table and what opportunities come with utilising each of them.
While both Augmented and Virtual Reality seem to be the heavy-hitters at this point, Mixed Reality is still yet to be fully understood and realised, yet in my opinion it holds the most potential for the direction everyday technology is currently heading in.
Australia, looking to have a greater impact on the tech world, has been quick to move on these latest advancements in reality technology. Making Australia one of the pioneering locations that will set in motion this next era of reality based technology being incorporated into regular life. That’s right, everything from Education, Travel, Healthcare, Advertising, Real Estate and just about anything in-between can be enhanced by having these technologies built in.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, lets breakdown these three forms of reality tech in easy and digestible terms.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual Reality is a completely immersive experience, as users are presented a total virtual environment that is generated by a computer, mostly in the form of a headset visor with additional headphones. Advanced VR experiences can even provide the user the ability to move about within the space and explore rather than be passively presented to. To add to the freedom of movement, there can also be handheld devices issued, so that users can have an even greater interactive experience.
This technology has been a part of pop culture for decades, in the past it simply wasn’t where it needed to be in order to be taken seriously, as it was often portrayed in film as complete science fiction. These days Virtual Reality has become actualised due to a great uptick in groundbreaking technological advancement in recent years.
Some of the leading VR options include Oculus Rift, Playstation VR and Google Cardboard, the last example being Google Cardboard has been strongly incorporated into viewing YouTube’s 360-degree videos. These videos are increasing in popularity as viewers are enjoying feeling as though they are truly a part of the experience as opposed to just watching a standard video.
Real-Life Applications of Virtual Reality
When talking about Virtual Reality, most people associate it with the gaming industry, and for good reason. A lot of early stage VR games have only just begun to scratch the surface of what the technology is capable of and still, people are blown away by the interactive experiences it can provide.
However this is not the only context in which VR is enhancing user experience, some examples include;
- Education, becoming more engaging for students with visually enthralling VR learning sources.
- Travel & Tourism, creating a “try before you buy” experience for inquisitive travellers, creating destination and hotel simulations that allow for viewers to assess where they would like to go and where they will stay.
- Marketing, bridging the gap between in-store experiences and online shopping, with product heavy simulations to help users gain a better understanding of what the actual purchase will look like.
- Real Estate, providing potential buyers the opportunity to virtually walkthrough both occupied housing and properties that are yet to be developed.
- Healthcare, creating a more interactive surgical training program along with non-invasive ways to educate patients on their anatomy health.
Augmented Reality (AR)
Unlike Virtual Reality being a fully immersive experience, Augmented Reality layers projected digital images over the top of real world images, via a camera’s display. Users interact with the real world while digital content is overlaid for an enhanced experience, these virtual objects can be an image, video or interactive data. Think Pokemon Go with all of its location based gameplay, it relied on the users to go to real world environments in order to find projections of specific Pokemon and hopefully catch them.
Currently the most common device for an AR experience is the smartphone, as it has a backend camera which can be displayed on the phone’s screen in real-time while also adding digital content over the top. This also means that AR is the most accessible reality tech of the three, as an AR experience can be just an App download away from most people and it will always be on their person as opposed to a VR headset that restricts users to the safety of their own home as they will become blind to any real world danger with every VR experience.
Real-Life Applications of Augmented Reality
Much like VR, you’d be forgiven for thinking that AR is mostly tied to the gaming industry due to the breakthrough success of games such as Pokemon Go, and while the potential is most definitely there for some unique gaming experiences, AR is the answer to all those times that you wish you had a visual aid to help you with decision making, navigation, further comprehension of a subject and so on.
AR isn't just an experience, it enriches standard day to day activities, some examples include;
- Retail, allowing online shoppers to project would-be products in their homes for a better understanding of what their purchase may look like around their house or even worn on their body.
- Advertising, creating unconventional ads for viewers to interact and engage with while being mobile.
- Navigation, projecting seamless and effortless instructions for viewers to help them find their destination quicker and easier.
- Manufacturing, generating AR assists for workers to help reduce human error, save time, save money and increase efficiency.
- Maintenance and Repairs, helping provide further comprehension on an item’s required maintenance or repair, avoiding any potential further damage and the need to hire a professional at the same time.
Mixed Reality (MR)
Now for the most recent and misunderstood reality tech, Mixed Reality. There’s often confusion between people on what exactly MR is, so to break it down into the most basic definition I can; Mixed Reality falls between the spectrum of VR and AR offerings.
Stay with me here, whether a Mixed Reality experience sits closer to VR or AR, the defining factor is that all digital elements in the experience are stitched and anchored to real world elements, this means users can engage with these elements on a greater scale than either AR or VR.
If this still isn’t making sense don’t worry, a lot of people simply refer to MR experiences as “Advanced AR” or “Advanced VR” and they’re not wrong, that’s essentially what MR is.
Just to really help convey my point, I will give two examples. The first example of MR which sits closer to the VR side of things, would be, if you were to be in your room with your headset on, and the technology has scanned your environment and seen that you have tripping hazards on your floor. It can then be converted into the mechanics of your experience so that you know to step over or around an object.
While an example of MR that sits closer to an AR experience would be, if you could look through your phone or holographic glasses to see a real life table be converted into a piano with fully interactive keys. You touch the table where the keys are visualised and it responds by playing the note.
Mixed Reality is something that has been largely played up in Science Fiction but is now in its early stages of helping advance areas of civilisation. So what industries can mixed reality be used in? As MR tech hasn’t been fully realised yet, here are a few industries with huge potential for MR prospects.
- Communications, enhancing the ability for individuals to collaborate on subject matter, being able to share eye views, pull up documents and highlight real world items while talking to each other.
- Education, providing enhanced versions of AR and VR’s interactive contributions in study.
- Manufacturing, facilitating manufacturing processes through incorporating ready to use checklists and real-time assists, much like AR.
- Maintenance & Repairs, providing an alternative to hiring a professional within an area that requires expertise and precision, through having a fully interactive walkthrough with a professional, saving you time and money.
The forecast in expansive use of reality technology in the near future has accumulated a predicted worth of over $148 Billion worldwide by as early as 2021. This leads to some people overhyping these emerging technologies, while others greatly underestimate their value. Unfortunately both of these parties perpetuate a vicious cycle of both blinding and deterring the opposing side from truly identifying where reality technology is heading. A simple rule of thumb in avoiding the messy debate antics, is to look towards major developers and tech leaders to see what their stance is.
Take for example Facebook, recently buying out the world-leaders in VR technology, Oculus. Coughing up $2.75bn in order to seal the deal. Facebook’s objective in more recent years has been to adopt early stage tech and integrate it into the lives of billions in order to advance the efficiency of everyday life.
This isn’t just the case for VR as Jason Juma-Ross, the head of tech, entertainment and connectivity for Facebook explains, “Over a year ago we announced we were starting to deploy a platform called AR Studio… Facebook’s augmented reality camera now reaches 1.5bn people irrespective of whether they are on Android or iOS.” So, what is AR Studio? Much like Facebook’s Game Centre allowing for HTML5 game’s to be developed and distributed through their platform, AR studio allows non-techies, without detailed programming expertise, to create AR experiences, by dragging and dropping 3D effects and sounds, making AR more accessible and approachable for clients and agencies.
In defiance of Facebook, Snapchat has continued to run independently in the field of AR, introducing their Lens Studio and Shoppable AR lenses, which has garnered the attention of ad buyers, specifically with AR budgets as their Shoppable AR lenses incorporate redirect buttons for users to be sent to a video, website or App Store.
Ad buyers seem to be the most receptive to the developments in reality technology. The moment social media giants start to adopt these technologies, Advertising and Marketing is not far behind.
AR and VR are slowly moving mainstream, but while the majority of marketers foresee an uncertain future ahead for VR ads, they aren’t saying the same about its effortless, more accessible cousin - AR ads. Ad buyers say they are seeing an increase in spending when it comes to AR ads, and with new AR features coming from Facebook, they believe budgets will only expand.
VR will most certainly follow, its biggest challenge currently being the lack of content for an expensive piece of technology, but as the "chicken and the egg" dilemma eventuates in an influx of quality content, the consumption will also bring down the price point to something more approachable for the masses.
In summary, if the experience requires special hardware to view (such as a headset), it’s VR. If it uses camera vision to read in real world information, it’s AR. If it involves both scanning the environment for data and displays through a headset for deeper immersion, it’s MR.
Get familiar with all three of these as they will very much be a part of your future soon.