VR and AR tools in business are now more important than ever, but what does it look like in practice? How can these virtual tools be used day to day? What are VR and AR?
Let’s start at the beginning.
‘Virtual Reality’ (VR) as a term arrived into the tech world in the mid 1980’s. The founder of VPL Research, Jaron Lanier introduced the term in the way that we are still using today, although prior to the term emerging, technicians were already creating simulated environments. Lanier’s use of the term came about when his company started developing the gear (headsets and gloves) to provide a person with the tools to be immersed in virtual reality. It came to fame via the gaming industry.
Augmented reality (AR) came along as a term a few years later, coined by Thomas P Laudell, although much like VR it had already been in development for several years beforehand. The first ‘successful’ AR project enabled the overlay of sensory information on a workspace to improve human productivity. Before we see how AR & VR can be used in business, we’re going to define these terms in order to see the differences between them.
What is Virtual Reality?
One definition of the word virtual is ‘near’ and reality is defined as ‘the state of things as they actually exist’, so we could say that VR can be defined as ‘near reality’. Through using VR, we have the opportunity to explore and interact with real-world environments in a virtual way. A host of technologies are used to produce VR, including 360 photography and 360 videography.
Virtual reality can transform a traditional video. It can allow 360 movement, have info points and hot spots on screen to touch, it might have menu buttons, navigation tools not to mention voice-overs or presenters.
To experience VR in full, to be fully immersed, users are often required to wear VR headsets to help transport them to the chosen ‘destination’. VR headsets completely take over your vision in order to give you the impression that you are somewhere else, whether that’s chasing monsters in space or enjoying an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.
In recent years tech providers have also been exploring how else to take interactive and immersive experiences to the next level. How to make an experience more in tune with human sensors to enhance the sense of realism, something more real than what’s experienced through a headset. Think sensory gloves or an omni-directional treadmill.
Ultimately, the best VR experiences will make you feel as if you are truly present within them and that’s exactly what many tech and software developers are looking to create.
What is Augmented Reality?
If we think of VR as replacing your real-world experience, augmented reality adds another dimension into the mix. AR technology is designed for free movement, whilst projecting images over what you look at. The computer generated option is most widely available on smartphones where the software is used to recognise your surroundings and provide additional information. It can place ‘sofas’ in your living room, allow you to ‘try’ sunglasses before buying or add external objects to any given video or image for example. It can also display hologram presenters (such as Sir David Attenborough in his latest AR app) floating in the centre of your room or add in 3D decor around you.
Take Smart-glasses for example. In appearance they’re transparent and look relatively normal, but as a user you would be able to put them on and see a layered version of reality. Whilst looking at the path ahead you would also see data on that day’s weather, notifications from your phone and perhaps see augmented objects added to your view. The possibilities for AR seem endless.
Could AR & VR be the next big thing in business?
Whilst AR and VR are still heavily associated with gaming, this undermines their potential. It’s great technology to use in gaming, but they can be used for so much more. We believe that AR & VR have the potential to revolutionise operations across a wide swathe of businesses. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed these technologies to the forefront whilst the world has been in global and national lockdown. But can this technology transform industries? And if it can, what does that look like?
In the world of Medicine and Healthcare, AR & VR are being increasingly used as a force for good. Companies are creating programmes to train doctors and surgeons, and there are tools that now exist to plan, train and educate medical professionals. AR & VR can help deliver more personalised care – and this began happening during the pandemic. Due to this, investment into this area is rapidly increasing, with some seriously big figures on the cards. The projection for the market of AR & VR in healthcare will reach $2.4 billion by 2026.
Thanks to the use of VR & AR in the travel, tourism and leisure industries, we have been able to escape our domestic environments over the last year and a half! We have opportunities like never before to visit museums, world heritage sites, new countries, restaurants, and underwater wrecks. It feels like the use of VR & AR in this industry could be limitless and we’re excited to see how it develops further.Even though people are looking forward to travelling in real life and going on holidays again, AR & VR make travel and tourism convenient, accessible and more affordable.
The retail industry was hugely impacted by the pandemic, with all non essential shops in the UK closing. For those not already online, there was a scramble to do so and a choice of options – business websites, selling through social media, or existing platforms such as Ebay and Etsy. But for those with a digital presence already, it was about building on that to provide the customer with a fuller richer experience. Digitalization of selling is now imperative to ensure retail success. Gucci have launched virtual sneakers for a budget pleasing $12.99, which a virtual avatar can wear in other apps. Ulta’s GlamLab enables customers to try on makeup from anywhere in the world. This has been hugely successful for them, with engagement increasing sevenfold.
Adding AR & VR to your business may once have sounded very strange, but now it’s a vital tool in your toolkit to ensure the success of your business. As AR & VR make digital experiences near to real or add in extra elements, the impact on customers and clients is much greater as they feel a greater sense of connection with the company.
What type of AR & VR have you enjoyed using in a business setting? Was there anything about the experience that didn’t work for you? Have you got any questions about how you can add AR & VR into your business? If you have, we’d love to try and answer them for you.