Virtual reality has been around for decades, but it’s recently come into the mainstream through relatively low-cost VR headsets generally used for gaming, such as Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR. The VR industry is exploding like crazy: A $5 billion industry in 2016, VR is expected to hit $150 billion by 2020. Meanwhile, augmented reality, the younger cousin of VR, is still taking its baby steps.
To understand the distinction, the Cramer branding agency says to think of the difference between going to the aquarium (AR) and scuba diving (VR). You can swim with digitally created sharks — or have a shark pop right out of your business card. VR replaces the reality you see and hear to take you somewhere else. AR augments what is already there. Collectively they are known as XR, or extended reality.
To get a sense of how XR is changing the business world, we talked to Wes Kennison, creative director at Launch Media, a video production company in Baton Rouge. Here’s what he sees on the horizon.
People are increasingly looking to extend XR’s application beyond video games, Kennison says. The power of AR is that it allows the user to not just look at things but to interact with them.
Imagine a surgeon who operates on a patient with a digital overlay on their body showing the location of the tumor. Or hands-on instructions for factory workers learning a new process before they actually get behind the big machines. Or attending a meeting where some of the people sitting at the table are holograms.
Kennison points to Meta, a company making headsets, as an example of a forward-thinking AR application. They have a product called Workspace that is a spatial operating environment that can be customized by users. For example, several engineers could work on a 3D model together.
“Without AR, that conversation has to happen across maybe three different offices, or three different computers. But this allows it all to be in the same virtual space, where everyone can touch it and interact with it and make changes,” Kennison says.
Audiences have a deeper connection to content that pulls them in and makes the issues you’re talking about come to life. It’s one thing to read an article or hear a speech, but being immersed in the sights and sounds is likely to spur a deeper level of engagement.
In Louisiana, Kennison said a group called Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition is using VR effectively to get its environmental advocacy message out. They have produced a gorgeous video that can be viewed with a VR headset that literally puts the issues right in people’s faces.
“The storyline takes viewers on an immersive tour of the wetland communities where coastal erosion is changing the landscape, an otherwise impossible thing to see first-hand without going there,” Kennison says.
The group has been deploying the VR journey at public events and reports a huge uptick in engagement as a result.
Augmented realities also hold potential for people with disabilities to better interact in a work environment when they have a difference in their sight or hearing. AR and VR can extend their ability to absorb and share information with one sense to boost another.
Nuheara, for example, creates wireless earbuds with augmented hearing that blends ambient sounds with augmented speech and alerts. Kennison notes that much of the emphasis of XR has been on the visual field, but the audio frontier holds just as much applicability for business settings.
People with visual impairment can have information instantly translated into audio text, and the same for those with hearing disability to have speech turned into readable text. This would allow them to interact with their colleagues in real time with fewer barriers to effective communication.
XR has the most immediate potential for seamless communication without being tethered to a computer. Just last month, the first wireless VR headset, Oculus Go, was released. For now, companies are still figuring out the applications.
“Who could have imagined what the internet was going to do 25 years ago, and what having access to this network of information that’s worldwide was going to do for humanity, and the broader implications,” Kennison says.
“AR and VR are going to allow people to not have to have a phone or a computer. They’ll be able to do it all right there in the cloud. Imagine bringing the cloud into wherever you happen to be. That to me is a really powerful dynamic for business, and I think the possibilities are really endless.”
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