Facing reality – how can AR and VR take your business to new realms?Any business with an eye on the future will be contemplating this question: how can we embrace augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)?
Before you can really explore the possibilities, however, it’s important to be clear about what AR and VR do. After all, clarity is what this technology is all about.
What exactly is AR?
AR is a real-time view of the world around you, overlaid with computer-generated add-ons that look, sound, feel, smell and possibly even taste as if they are really there. The computer literally augments reality by adding to, subtracting from or simply altering what we perceive around us.
For example, you want to decorate your living room in a new colour. You look through the colour charts, buy a few match pots, paint some sample patches on the walls and try to imagine what it will look like with the whole room done.
With AR you can take out the guesswork. Simply hold up your device to video the room and ask your AR paint sampler app to overlay colours on the walls. The tech will take into account light and shadows in the room, giving a realistic impression of what the finished effect will look like in any given colour and saving you the time, expense and annoyance of getting it wrong first time.
Another application of AR that is growing in popularity is indoor navigation. We’ve been used to satnavs showing us where to go in our cars for years, but what about finding your way around an unfamiliar building? An airport, for example. You’ve got 10 minutes to catch your plane but you need to buy sunglasses.
AR apps enable you to use your device as an indoor navigation tool, showing the building that you see around you with overlaid directions, route maps, estimated journey times and information about the facilities, such as shops selling sunglasses. Rather than rushing around like a headless chicken and missing your flight, you can relax, buy your sunglasses and step on board as cool as a cucumber.
What exactly is VR?
VR takes the computer-generated factor a step further, creating a perceived environment that isn’t there at all, through the manipulation of the senses. Video headsets, sensory gloves, soundtracks, odour sprays and artificial flavourings can all combine to create a wholly make-believe world that feels very real indeed.
With VR, you can make a person believe they are going over Niagara Falls in a barrel when in reality they’re lying in a hotel bed. Or, as in the film Total Recall, believe that they’ve been cast out onto the surface of Mars when in reality they’re strapped to a gurney in a reform institution. Or are they?
A natural application for VR is gaming. If you want a complete escape from reality into a world of shoot-em-ups and car chases, or even mythical monsters, don the headset and dive into the full immersive experience. Just make sure there’s no-one within arm’s reach when you’re wielding that axe!
Ask what AR and VR can do for you?
Gaming, decorating and finding your way around may not be the most essential use cases for new technology, but they help to grasp the essence of what AR and VR can do. With a little imagination, you can start thinking of ways to use this capability in a more valuable business setting.
Much has been written about the use of AR in retail, for example, to enhance the customer experience by giving real-time information about the items they’re browsing in-store. The use of AR and VR in the military is also well documented, helping to identify friend from foe, to navigate and to strike with greater precision. But in order to imagine practical uses of this technology in your business, you need to think beyond shopping and warfare. To get you started, here are some more examples of how AR and VR are being applied today.
VR is being used as an educational tool, enabling trainee doctors and surgeons, for example, to simulate operations and practise treatments in a very real way. But it has also proven effective in the treatment of patients, particularly as a distraction from pain. Burns victims, cancer patients and birthing mothers, for example, have shown positive responses to the distractions provided by VR, and this has extended into mental health, where the technology has proven beneficial in the treatment of PTSD and phobias.
Could you use VR to train your employees or alleviate an anxiety for your customers?
The business world has embraced remote working, yet a common complaint is that online meetings are a poor substitute for everyone being in one room together. Networking software developers including Microsoft and Cisco Systems are working on remote conferencing tools that use AR to augment the home setting to resemble a meeting room, common to all participants, in which every member of the team is recreated as a digital twin and represented as a hologram.
Could you use AR to enhance the way your teams collaborate, or deliver their services to customers?
You’ve probably experienced a job interview, either as candidate or hirer, in which the interviewee is presented with a hypothetical scenario and asked how they would respond. With VR, you can create that scenario and see how the candidate responds. Lloyds Banking Group started using VR in its recruitment process in 2017, and now present candidates with computer-generated environments and puzzles that could never have been recreated in a traditional interview. This not only gives Lloyds a clearer idea of the talent they’re taking on, it also gives the candidate a better idea of the working environment they’re applying for.
Could you use VR to give an advanced taste of a service or product you’re trying to sell?
From sketches to wireframes to clay models to CAD drawings, the quest for designers to convincingly visualise their creative ideas is centuries old. But now a software company in the UK called Sketch is developing a VR design tool that can place automotive designers inside their own computer renderings so they can feel what it’s like to drive! This will take out several stages of the design process, saving huge amounts of time and money and paving the way for some groundbreaking designs.
Could you streamline your processes by using VR to experience your concepts in action?
World famous chefs like Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal have been toying with diners’ senses for years, using a science dubbed ‘molecular gastronomy’ to conjure visual and aromatic illusions that make diners think they’re eating something completely different to what they see. Now an organisation called Project Nourished, which describes itself as “a public benefit platform”, is using VR to take the illusion a step further.
Diners wear a VR headset through which they see, for example, some sushi, and as they bring it to their mouth, an aromatic diffuser sprays the scent of sushi. The result is the diner tastes sushi. But it isn’t sushi, it’s reconstituted seaweed.
The idea is that if a diner can be convinced they’re eating something rare and delicious when, in fact, it’s widely available and nutritious, Project Nourished can tackle the world’s food crisis without spoiling our dining pleasure.
Could you bring about change by turning your products into something they’re not?
AR and VR technology is still in its infancy but, as with all technology, the more it is adopted, the faster the evolution will be. The immersive experience of VR gaming and the informative experience of AR indoor navigation are already impressive enough to light up the synapses with new ideas for ways in which this technology could be applied over the next five, ten, twenty years. When you look to the future, what exactly do you see?