Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are becoming an actual reality for business. The adoption of AR and VR for professional use is growing rapidly and expected to add significant business value. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that by 2030 VR will boost gross domestic product by $450.5 billion and AR by more than $1 trillion.
The public knows VR mainly as a gaming platform and AR mostly through smartphone apps. VR is expected to become increasingly associated with business, healthcare, marketing, manufacturing and other non-gaming applications, while AR will go mainstream via glasses, rather than smartphones. And this changes everything.
AR vs. VR
Both AR and VR applications will be important for business, but ultimately AR is the business's "killer app." Because virtual objects and information can be overlaid in AR via goggles and eventually glasses that are roughly indistinguishable from ordinary glasses, the business applications are endless. AR glasses will deliver hands-free contextual 3D information and visualization.
That said, we shouldn't make too big a distinction between AR and VR. The media will be combined in some applications, with 360-degree immersive video, including livestreaming video, tossed in the mix as well. Imagine, for example, a heavy-equipment operator controlling a vehicle in a dangerous remote location, where they can see, hear and "feel" (through haptics) the operation of the equipment, and in that 360 video, conjure up contextual information as if it were AR. This scenario combines VR, AR, video and remote control into a single powerful application.
And when you can manipulate virtual objects, or if virtual objects interact with physical objects in the real world, then you have something called mixed reality (MR).
How AR and VR are transforming industries
The business appeal of augmented and virtual reality is that it enhances the full spectrum of business activities, including product conception, product design, manufacturing, warehousing, fleet management, marketing, service and retail. AR and VR applications will drive—and also be driven by—the coming revolutions in ultra wideband 5G and multi-access edge computing (MEC), which could be key enablers of applications that require high performance and low latency.
Here are some of the many ways these new technologies will drive business benefits.
Communications and collaboration
As business communication becomes increasingly visual, AR and VR bring data to life, enabling immersive data communication experiences that everyone can connect with. This is especially true with the description or visualization of proposed buildings, cars, and other objects or products not yet built. Prototypes can be examined from all angles and in multiple sizes, colors and configurations. Early virtual prototypes save time and expense in creating actual physical prototypes. AR and VR could usher in an era of virtual meetings where participants could appear as holograms in 3D space, so everyone can actually make eye contact with whoever is speaking.
AR apps or in-store experiences enable potential customers to interact with products virtually and also learn about products in a fun and engaging way. They can even allow buyers of clothes or accessories to "try them on" without physically doing so. Enhanced visualization turns dull shopping spaces into fun theme parks where consumers enjoy spending time engaging with brands. In the real estate industry, prospective buyers can tour homes before they're even built.
The use of AR for advanced packaging applications has been around for years, with product labels coming alive with virtual characters and extra information.
AR, VR and 5G are ushering in a revolution in healthcare, enabling virtual doctors' visits and even alternatives to invasive exploratory surgery. VR is ideal for training surgeons, creating the experience and feel of life-or-death surgery without putting a real patient at risk. VR has been demonstrated as an effective tool for treating depression, dementia, phobias and a range of other illnesses. It has also been shown to help children with autism acclimate to new scenarios they are likely to encounter once outside the safety of their school.
Field and remote service
When it comes to emergency response, hazardous materials handling, driving large vehicles and more, AR and VR could enable training in a safe realistic environment and could power hands-free applications for navigation and service.
As with manufacturing, the ability to call up hands-free contextual instructions and information during service calls could help workers in remote service save time and improve productivity.