Virtual reality has been around for two decades, but advancements in visualization technologies are only now bringing high quality VR to the mainstream market. Augmented reality, VR’s less virtual sibling, overlays useful information onto the user’s view of the real world, conveying information, educating and connecting people – for big business benefits.
Comparing and contrasting the ‘realities’
Recent tech developments like the Oculus Rift and Google Glass have added the terms virtual reality
, and to a lesser extent augmented reality
, to most people’s vocabulary. But what divides the two concepts?
“Virtual reality refers to a completely virtualized visual and aural environment,” explains Andy De Meyer, XR lead at delaware. “In a VR setup, the user doesn’t perceive the outside world. In augmented reality, however, people see the world through a device that overlays images onto their view. The real world stays visible, with added information.”
Another important term is mixed reality, which is when the AR device recognizes details about the environment, such as walls and surfaces. This enables precisely placed virtual objects and schematics to interact with the real world, remaining fixed and properly rendered in terms of lighting and occlusion as the user’s perspective changes.
From immersive gaming to productivity gains
Most AR and VR devices rely on one of two engines, which were originally developed by the gaming industry: Unity and Unreal. “Working with one of these established engines is beneficial because XR – which covers AR, VR and MR – is a volatile market. It’s important to invest in solutions that can be deployed across available hardware and platforms. That way, you only have to make these investments once while keeping future tech innovations in mind,” Andy explains.
In addition to providing thrill seekers with more immersive gaming experiences, Unity and Unreal-based devices can offer realistic simulation, training scenarios and collaboration opportunities. Plenty of industrial firms see big potential and are already jumping on the bandwagon.
“XR enables on-the-job training, support and guidance, for example. This means that training and travel costs can be reduced, and higher-profile personnel can assist more junior profiles remotely in providing maintenance services,” continues Andy. “XR is also popular for collaborative design and prototyping, making it more efficient and cost-effective, or for learning: medical students, for example, increasingly learn via XR instead of in operating rooms. In these operating rooms, by the way, XR is also gaining inroads, providing surgeons with contextual information during operations.”
Preparing for an XR-driven paradigm shift
With the introduction of this new medium comes a shift in the way companies visualize and leverage information.
“It’s much like the shift we saw when we moved from using mice and desktops to mobile devices with touchscreens. The paradigm turned inside out, and companies had to adapt,” Andy says. “I’m convinced that monitors will be rendered obsolete by emerging XR technologies. And as more companies and consumers buy in, the more dramatically the costs will fall, making it widely accessible.”
The current pace of evolution in the XR market is incredibly swift. “There has been a huge change in just nine months,” Andy elaborates. “The AR devices went from being ‘gadgets’ to actual tools driving concrete business cases. Customers from a wide range of industries are asking us whether their AR visions can be translated into realities using tech that’s available today. In many cases, the answer is yes.”
Challenges and predictions for the future
Despite the potential of XR technologies for industry, hardware certification, safety and infrastructure/hardware costs are still barriers to widespread adoption. Safety standards and use policies must also be developed. Solutions need to be comfortable to wear and operate and provide battery life that supports real-world use.
“Even more, an effective XR solution must be properly analyzed and implemented, as well as easy to maintain in a dynamic IT landscape,” Andy affirms. “To be successful, it’s important to choose an experienced implementation partner able to combine skills in 3D, audio and imaging with expertise in hardware/software integration and innovative technologies such as AI, machine learning and IoT.”
With these obstacles overcome, Andy’s visions of the future of XR look like science-fiction: “Imagine being able to manipulate data with your hands or feel a physical impression when you touch virtual objects,” he explains. “Imagine getting information about objects, environments and people when needed, or embedded chips that allow blind people to see – this is the XR of the not-too-distant future.”
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