Don’t believe the hype when it comes to the rise of augmented reality and virtual reality. As a technology, mixed reality is something that science fiction fans and gamers alike have coveted for quite some time. As a concept, hacking or modifying reality is a power that is increasingly relevant, whether for politics, entertainment, or business.
However in terms of the Gartner Hype Cycle, these technologies have passed the peak of inflated expectations and are in the depths of the trough of disillusionment, ready to make their way up the slope of enlightenment towards the coveted plateau of productivity.
Outside of enthusiasts and hardcore gamers, it’s hard to find consumers who are excited about VR or AR, let alone willing to spend the money to properly set themselves up. News reports of Best Buy shutting down demo stations in stores, and Oculus Rift cutting prices in hopes that might spark demand illustrate the struggles this young industry faces.
Yet where consumers may be expressing disinterest, there’s considerable developments and substance to the way in which mixed reality technologies are finding a home in industry and in the enterprise.
In particular, AR and VR are a natural response to the explosion of data and the broader concept of digital transformation. As organizations gather intelligence about their operations, there is increasing desire to use that intelligence in effective and efficient means. Documents, spreadsheets, and even analytics dashboards are all examples of old technology being stretched to address new capabilities.
VR and AR, on the other hand, allow for a more intuitive and substantive relationship with data, facilities, and organizations than existing tools.
Take, for example, the building industry – i.e. the fields of architecture, construction, and BIM, or Building Information Modeling. These are large industries, with sizable budgets, and have a clear need for representing complex information in smart and accessible ways.
Architects are embracing VR as a means of both designing and displaying their concepts for buildings and spaces. Companies like IrisVR make it relatively easy to convert existing files and design documents into VR ready formats. Being able to view, explore, provide feedback, and alter designs within a fully immersive 3D environment helps architects produce better buildings. It helps their clients to understand and participate in the broader design process.
Similarly, AR offers a means for the construction of those buildings to be as efficient and precise as possible. Blueprints can be viewed in 3D, superimposed upon the site and building in process so that tradespeople can see and understand their tasks, both in isolation, but also as part of the larger design.
Daqri is a company that produces smart helmets designed for work and construction sites that enable the use of AR as part of the building process. In addition to smart helmets, the company also produces smart glasses and broader display media to make it easy for people to connect the intended design of the final product so that increasingly sophisticated specifications can be delivered.
Once construction is finished, AR and VR can then be used to help manage and maintain a building. By leveraging BIM, companies can track both what is in a building, like cables, services, and facilities, and as how a building is used. Being able to look and see how infrastructure needs to be upgraded is easier than having to read a 2D version of the same information.
Another sector in which this kind of technology is already being used is in natural resources. The field of geosciences involves an increasing amount of data and information, especially as the extraction industries strive to be surgical, combining both resource efficiency and environmental responsibility.
Using 3D and VR to represent and engage geography is intuitive, and once on site, using AR to aid in smart extraction and operations can have a huge impact, both with regard to efficiency, but also when it comes to safety. For example mining companies are already using VR to help train workers, and then AR to help workers remain safe while increasing productivity.
Health care is another sector that is embracing and finding all sorts of interesting ways to apply both VR and AR to real problems and achieve significant breakthroughs. Remember Google Glass? The company’s first attempt to create an AR device?
While Glass was regarded as a failure among the general marketplace, it was a hit among health care professionals. Surgeons started using them as a hands free display, offering valuable and important info in a convenient manner. Similarly, VR is being used for a wide range of therapies, whether treating PTSD or as part of physical therapy and overall rehab. Health care professionals are generally excited about 3D technologies, not just because the body is 3D, but said systems can also make the practice of medicine more accessible to the patients.
Therefore while consumer versions of VR and AR may be premature and not ready for prime time, the industrial and enterprise applications are both mature and poised for significant growth. Further, as the hardware and technology advances, becoming more accessible, easier to use, and potentially available without cumbersome headsets, it will be these commercial applications that will continue to lead the way. Whether conferencing, collaboration, or continuing education and professional development, the business prospects for VR and AR are bright.