After 50 years of being almost exclusively confined to academic, corporate R&D, and military research labs, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR), known collectively as immersive virtuality (iV), are now available at a consumer-friendly price. This shift is driving a market projected to reach $120 billion by 2020, according to the 2016 projections of Digi-Capital, a Silicon Valley consulting firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions in the iV, mobility and gaming markets.
iV is starting to prove itself in entertainment, but most observers do not yet fully grasp its business value. That is about to change. Low-cost head-mounted displays will allow any employee, not just those fortunate few with access to an iV lab, to virtually teleport themselves anywhere and to work in ways and on projects that are limited only by the imagination.
But what about today? What can these advanced technologies do right now that will have an immediate impact on business?
THE GREAT COMMUNICATOR
Immersive technology’s greatest benefit is not so much to help experts understand their own work, but rather to help them easily communicate that work to others.
For example, an architect can already see his creations within his well-trained 3D mind. VR does not offer much value to that architect in isolation. However, by using today’s technology, he can show clients spaces and vistas that don’t yet exist, such as the view from the top of his newly designed skyscraper, allowing him to clearly communicate his vision. Similarly, aircraft designers can get early customer feedback on seat spacing by building the interior of the aircraft virtually rather than with physical prototypes and letting people walk through the space in VR.
The new head-mounted VR and AR displays aimed at consumers have their limitations. For example, most of them don’t yet support hand tracking. The experience is like waking up without hands, limited to sensing the world with the eyes and ears.
Once quality hand input becomes more widely available – HTC has already introduced it for the Vive, and its competitors are close behind – the business value of immersion will increase exponentially. Experiences will not be limited to passively viewing an animated world, but will allow users to reach out and intuitively manipulate data in complex ways, similar to how we work in the real world.
Fortunately, users are starting to see the value and are demanding that hardware manufacturers and developers advance toward these more interactive experiences.
APPLICATION DESIGN: ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
Although the answers are typically not obvious, the iV community has many years of published research and many well-designed applications that can be used as starting points to learn from, experiment with, and iterate upon. Examples include building toy machines with Northway Games’ Fantastic Contraption, drawing in 3D with Google’s Tilt Brush and two-handed modeling with Sixense’s MakeVR.
Although these examples might not apply directly to your business goals, they offer valuable learning opportunities. Immersion is a visceral experience that cannot be described or planned with words alone, or even with pictures or video. Only by diving in can we be inspired with a vision for how we might adapt the technology for a specific business or application.
So play a video game, try iV exhibits at trade shows, or find a partner already experienced in these technologies and brainstorm how they could be applied to helping your customers.
MANIPULATING THE FUTURE
Like the real world, virtual worlds will be most empowering through active experiences. Anything else will simply be a spectator sport.
Tomorrow’s next-generation, high-quality input technology in conjunction with great application design will not only enable us to observe our creations, but to reach out and manipulate those creations. That is the future.