In Deloitte’s seventh annual Tech Trends report, there are eight trends that are identified as being likely to disrupt businesses in the next 18-24 months. Augmented reality and virtual reality are highlighted as being one of the trends. (Briggs, B., 2016)
In the next 2 years, augmented reality and virtual reality technologies are set to transition from science fiction to the practical realms of business and government. Samsung, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, HTC, Motorola, Sony, and other leading technology companies are offering solid use cases for the consumer AR/VR market. Magic Leap, Lensar and NantMobile and others are also in the process of researching their own product and launching them in the near future.
AR and VR should be an extension of an organization’s digital strategy to transform customer engagement and employee empowerment. Both technologies can potentially create efficiencies and drive innovation that create value for investors. Harnessing these while consumer hype is high may help cement a CIO’s reputation and throughout the enterprise as a purveyor of futuristic solutions grounded in business realities. Consider these with regards to AR and VR:
- Opportune time – The consumer market is becoming crowded in both categories. Big players may emerge, but it takes time. Once the big players emerge, surrounding companies can build their own companies and have their stake in this ecosystem. The market is sure to evolve, and companies can then move to allow portability, and reevaluate the field to determine the next move. For now (and probably for a while), the market may be volatile, but it may drive quick feature expansion, lower prices, and arrangements with vendors who are eager to link with leading organisations.
- Tools – Designing for both AR and VR requires new enabling tools and services to bring the experiences to life and make them work. It is a wholly different design vocabulary. High-definition 3D image capture and mapping equipment are growing and they accelerate developers’ abilities to recreate real-world physical environments within new AR/VR tools. Unreal, Unity and other gaming engines are being used to create simulations and virtual environments for AR and VR interaction.
- Side technologies – As AR/VR are being deployed, other technologies like beacons, sensors, or QR tags around facilities and equipment to guide the context of the augmented reality experience are needed. Wireless and cellular infrastructure may need to be built to support AR/VR in less accessible areas. Thirdly, emerging platforms can help abstract device-specific interaction from the underlying data and set rules.
- New horizons – As we have learnt from during the first technology wave, systems designed around previous-generation technology can’t just evolve simply to a new form. It took many years for organisations that were constrained by incrementalist thinking to evolve from a “mobile maybe” to a “mobile first” mind-set. “Mobile only” transformation had been the most compelling example of this shift. AR and VR, thankfully, start on a more imaginative platform.
Executives that grew up with George Lucas and Michael Crichton are at once curious and dubious to know what augmented reality and virtual reality are and how they impact business. AR and VR are already here, and their benefits to business will likely outpace consumer adoption cycles. The market may swell to $150 billion annually by 2020. It is now time to invest in these technologies. Given that these are emerging technologies, experimentation is needed, but well worth the investment (Kunkel N., Soechtig S., Miniman J., Stauch C., 2016).
The future of augmented reality
AR is fast becoming an important technology in business. In a recent pilot project, DHL equipped its workers with AR-enabled smartglasses that guided them in packing for orders. There were fewer errors and a 25% increase in efficiency. Delivering needed information to workers in any circumstance is essential for the companies to maintain a competitive edge. Potential benefits in service, marketing, maintenance, customer support and other areas could be reaped with the use of AR technology.
There are a few notable technologies in the broader landscape of emerging trends that bridge the physical and digital experiences, with AR being one of them. The landscape looks includes mixed reality (MR), virtual reality (VR) and extended reality (ER). Mixed reality and virtual reality have already been discussed in the chapter “What is augmented reality?”. ER refers to human directed devices in real-time, for example, drones, remote undersea exploration craft, or surgical robots.
Smartglasses for hands-free cases will increasingly define the AR market. Smartglasses are wearable computers capable of running AR applications that overlay or integrate digital information with the real world and enables a user to interact with the information. Many industry observers are optimistic about the adoption of smartglasses during the next five years. Microsoft Hololens is already out in the commercial market, with other players like Magic Leap still researching and getting ready to launch their offerings. The smartglasses market, however, is still in its infancy, being highly fragmented. There are different operating systems, diverse hardware, different data formats, and wide-ranging capabilities.
Smartglass vendors include Atheer, castAR, Daqri, Epson, IMMY, Meta, Sulon Technologies, Vuzix, Google with its investment in Magic Leap and Microsoft with Hololens.
Besides smartglasses, there are other key technologies that will shape AR’s future. 3D capabilities, authoring and interaction. Sensing, tracking, orientation, interaction, modelling, and display all happen in 3D in AR. Desktop computers already provide powerful 3D capabilities, far more advanced than AR displays. Progress is needed across tracking, processing, and display to ensure the virtual world and the physical world match accurately and change in real-time according to user movement. Progress is needed such that accurate integration of 3D audio, charts, images and video in the display leading to intuitive, seamless responses to user actions.
AR solutions are pushing human-computer interaction (HCI) beyond the usual keyboard, mouse and touchscreen modes. Gestures, eye-tracking, audio and other interactive methods are being explored to improve the user experience.
Wearables for the future
The future for augmented reality, mixed reality and virtual reality lies in new hardware being developed for greater user experience that does not limit to a rectangular mobile device or the desktop. Optics are likely to be the way to go. Google glass was a project that did not reach full potential due to technology and the fact that the market was not ready yet. This year, augmented reality reached a new high with the launch of Pokemon Go and in the next few years to come, these technologies will likely blossom with the advent of new optical wearables. This section presents a closer look at these wearables.
Beyond point, click, type, touch, swipe and talk kind of interaction on mobile devices, developers are focusing on gesture, mood and gaze type interaction on smartglasses like Meta 2. The possibilities are mind-blowing.
Source: (Metavision.com, 2016)
Meta 2 promises that holograms are now touchable and interactive. In fact, it holds a lot of promise from different angles. There is a 90deg field of view so that you can have a peripheral vision. High resolution display will give VR headsets a run for their money. Its hand tracking technology is promised to be state-of-the-art, and users can interact with the holograms like how they interact with real objects in the real world.
Source: (Atheer | World’s Most Advanced Smart Glasses, 2016)
Atheer is focused on solving industry supply chain problems, for greater efficiency. Using gestures, head motions, and voice controls, the field worker can scan information on different products in real-time, and even interact with the information. Data gets updated immediately. All these are done hands-free and paperless, resulting in lower human error and high efficiency.
Investments in augmented reality
The only publicly known media investor involvement to date is Thomas Tull’s Legendary Entertainment’s investment in the Florida based startup Magic Leap. ILMxLabs, an offshoot of Magic Leap’s team is hosted at the LucasFilm San Francisco compound’s ILM division, containing Disney’s brightest minds in VR and AR. Perhaps the upcoming Spielberg movie “Ready Player One” already has a real-life VR and AR experience to accompany it.
Microsoft’s Hololens and Meta do have entertainment value, but the former is being marketed as an enterprise tool, while the latter is still not proven. AR’s potential depends on the long-awaited Magic Leap’s launch in good time, with a big splash. Many investors, including Google, have stacked their expectations and the longer Magic Leap remains secretive, the shakier AR’s consumer forecast becomes. Tim Cook, however, has said that AR is a key focus for Apple (Blake and POLIDORO, 2016). Apple has been acquiring AR outfits in recent years, in the likes of Metaio, Faceshift, Emotient and Flyby Media. With Apple’s interest and entrance into the AR headset market, venture capitalists could bet big that this is the way to go.
The nearer term investment opportunity in augmented reality exists in lighter use cases like Magic Leap and Hololens. Snap Inc Spectacles, from Snap, the company that produced the Snapchat app using Looksery’s technology, is a new wearable camera that looks like a pair of fashionable sunglasses (Murphy, 2016). Their purpose is more for socialising than for more advanced AR applications. Intel’s RealSense and Movidius divisions could push something more for the smartphone ecosystem for AR as well. There are also a bunch of startups toying around with SLAM-sensitive smart-device cameras for interior decorating, apparel sales and toys-to-life entertainment (e.g. LEGO). Innovative, mobile-first startups that take advantage of depth-sensing computer vision are also on venture capitalist’s list.
The intersection of AR/VR and artificial intelligence is an area worth looking at for venture capitalists too. There is great potential in combining real-life human performance or likeness in 3D and then using the neural networks and machine learning applied to autonomous vehicles or chatbots on various messengers to give VR/AR a mind of their own (Dhillon, 2016).
- Briggs, B., Tech Trends 2016 | Deloitte| Technology Services | Insights. Deloitte. N.p., 2016. Web.
- Kunkel N., Soechtig S., Miniman J., Stauch C., DU Press. Augmented and virtual reality go to work. 2016. Web
Baya V., Sherman E., “The Road Ahead For Augmented Reality”. PwC. N.p., 2016. Web.
Augmented Reality – Home | Meta Company. Metavision.com. N.p., 2016. Web.
“Atheer | World’s Most Advanced Smart Glasses”. Atheerair.com. N.p., 2016. Web.
Blake, Paul and RONNIE POLIDORO. “Why Apple CEO Prefers Augmented Reality Over Virtual Reality”. ABC News. N.p., 14 September 2016. Web.
Murphy, Mike. “The Most Genius Thing About The Snap Spectacles Is Their $130 Price Tag”. Quartz. N.p., 30 September 2016. Web.
Dhillon, Sunny. “What A Venture Capitalist Sees In The Virtual And Augmented Reality Market”. Recode. N.p., 5 Oct 2016. Web.