Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR respectively) are some of the closest embodiments of Arthur C. Clarke’s famous proclamation that “any sufficiently sophisticated technology is indistinguishable from magic”. The ability to overlay our world with a digital simulation would have seemed like the fever dream of an overly ambitious computer programmer only 3 or 4 decades, but for 2019 and 2020 these new technologies are becoming ever more present – here are 7 different applications for AR & VR you might very well see in the next few years.
The level of infotainment and safety technology that new cars come fitted with is enough to make the Apollo 11 moon-lander look about as advanced as a horse and cart. Augmented Reality is something that major manufacturers are pouring large amounts of resources into implementing into their new cars.
Volvo, for example, has always been a marque that prides itself on innovative safety technology. Currently, the Swedish automaker is in the trial stages of an Augmented Reality feature that can allow the driver to see ‘through’ the car in front. Front-mounted cameras and a highly sophisticated algorithm allow the software to essentially ‘photoshop’ out the car in front and display this on a dashboard-mounted screen.
As well as using AR/VR for safety purposes, Volvo has also been trialling implementing Microsoft’s HoloLens in their production lines. With the headset on, workers putting together new XC90s and S60s can follow the instructions and animations overlaid onto the real world, with the overall intent of maximising build quality and cutting down on lost time spent away from the task in hand.
Autonomous cars are a very popular talking point at the moment, and major manufacturers (Tesla, Ford, GM, and many more) are pouring colossal amounts of time and money into developing viable self-driving cars. Giving drivers (part-time drivers?) feelings of security is paramount, and heads-up displays with Augmented Reality tracking other vehicles in traffic could be a way to achieve this.
The internet, despite its flaws, has the wonderful ability to connect people and to keep in touch with friends and family around the world with almost-zero delays. But there is an inevitable limit to the level of interaction that can be had with conventional methods of online communicating. Virtual Reality offers a way to bridge the gap between screens and make social media more immersive and closer to reality. WeChat, a major social network app in China but available to users globally, has been investing in utilising the tech to allow for online interactions that feel face-to-face.
Of course, you’re also not limited by the constraints of the real world with VR and AR. VRChat, a hugely popular application available through the game marketplace service Stream, allows a wide degree of freedom for users to experience a fantasy world where you can be anything or anyone. Snapchat filters represent the very beginning of the VR social world that is being rapidly constructed.
Initially, the adoption of Virtual and Augmented Reality into the world of home entertainment was ambitious but slightly rocky. But as the hardware and software become more sophisticated, the teething pains that come with making any new technology mainstream and affordable for the general public are quickly subsiding. The Pokémon Go app that ignited a craze a few years ago was perhaps the most mainstream and effective application (pardon the pun) of Augmented Reality for fun, but the trend hasn’t stopped there.
Companies like Oculus, one of the early trailblazers of VR headsets, and Microsoft are pushing forward with ramping up the size and quality of their displays, ironing out connectivity issues, and working to make engaging VR experiences. Specially designed games and pieces of media for VR are being developed, with companies such as VR Gorilla producing interactive immersive films for headsets.
As well as new content being tailor-made, existing media is also being adapted to the platform. More games are being released on different platforms – PC, Xbox, PS4 – with VR headset compatibility, allow players to ditch the controllers and use their hands to play instead. With ever-more industry backing by major games developers, the number of titles released with VR capability is on the up, as is the level of refinement.
One exciting area where we are already seeing AR/VR in action is in marketing. As the High Street continues to struggle, retailers are aware that experience is everything, and what better way to bring that experience to customers than through augmented or virtual reality?
It doesn’t even need to be that high tech! Hendricks Gin have worked with the agency Space to create a scented tunnel wrap in Kings Cross Station that brings commuters a sensory and augmented experience just by walking through it on their way to change platforms.
Amongst car manufacturers the struggle continues between creating footfall at their showrooms and having stores in places where footfall is higher, such as a shopping centre. One way that Audi are trying to combat this is to provide Customer Private Lounges where you can experience an Audi configured to your exact requirements without having to get up from your seat using VR.
Other car makers, including BMW, Nissan and Toyota are following suit. Here VR gives them the chance to show customers exactly what they are getting, and a chance to see new features in depth, without having to constantly ensure that the latest model is on show on their forecourt.
Virtual and Augmented Reality also has huge potential for educational and training settings. For occupations and skills where training in reality might be highly dangerous or expensive, VR and AR hardware could be used to allow students to learn in a safer, controlled environment.
Much like flight simulators have allowed trainee pilots to experience a facsimile of a real flight for years, VR headsets could be used for even greater immersion. Aeronautical giant Boeing have partnered with researchers at the University of Central Florida to incorporate Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets into their pilot training schemes, looking into the potential positive effects of mixed-reality simulations.
Military training, a high-risk profession where technology can and does save lives on a regular basis, is another avenue developers of the hardware are taking. The US Army has partnered with Microsoft to utilise their HoloLens headsets for combat simulations, displaying critical information in a soldier’s eyeline, reducing the need for unnecessary verbal communication and optimising performance. Given that the US military is the most well-funded in the world, this could be a catalyst for quick development of ever-more complex and capable AR systems.
The ability of Augmented or full Virtual Reality to completely immerse someone in a dangerous yet entirely simulated situation without any of the actual risks is what makes it so appealing for training purposes. It allows someone to try again should they fail, when in the real world this might be expensive, impractical, or even impossible.
Digital technology has been a huge boon for architects, allowing them to produce detailed plans and models of their creations in a fraction of the time compared to the analogue pen and paper method of old. But now, Augmented Reality could be used to allow architects and potential buyers to actually ‘experience’ what it’s like to live in their future home before a single brick is even laid. Google SketchUp, a 3D model-making programme, has begun to utilise plug-ins for AR, with a mobile app using the ARKit framework that lets you experience your creations in a way that is simply not possible from a monitor.
As much of an entertaining experience it is to wander around the maze of an IKEA shop and try out all the model rooms, the Swedish homeware giant has utilised Augmented Reality to let you try before you buy. If you don’t have the time or opportunity to visit one of their labyrinthian stores, the IKEA Place app allows you to drag and drop a new bookshelf or desk chair onto a shot of your house, letting you see how it would mesh (or not) with your existing décor.
Modern medicine and healthcare have been built upon a foundation of scientific and technological development and innovation, and Augmented Reality may very well be a boon for this industry as well.
The ability to overlay digital images with a live-feed of video through a headset could be potentially hugely advantageous for surgeons. In operations, anatomical imagery and scans could be layered over the patient’s body to aid the surgeon, and a heads-up display means that the time spent looking away at monitors or screens is minimised.
In an environment where important digital information is often scattered across an array of machinery and physical files, having a headset that can gather and display a patient’s vital info seamlessly could be life-saving. Allowing healthcare professionals to work more efficiently, and minimising human error, would be beneficial to both staff and patients alike. Much like 3D printing is being trialled as a way to produce artificial joint replacements and so on, Augmented Reality could be a notable step forward in the progress of modern healthcare.
Like Artificial Intelligence, Augmented/Virtual Reality has such broad uses across a whole host of industries that we will likely start seeing it pop up in every-day circumstances. With such scope for encouraging creativity, providing more effective training, and boosting efficiency, it’s no wonder that organisations – whether tech companies or not – are giving their backing to funding these new innovations.
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