Trends to Watch in Augmented and Virtual Reality

October 12, 2020

Trends to Watch in Augmented and Virtual Reality

Last year saw considerable growth in the virtual reality and augmented reality sectors. This, however, was before COVID-19 swept the world. With many stuck at home, attention has increasingly turned towards home entertainment and remote working approaches.

In 2020, Apple has also shown more development interests, recently purchasing NextVR as well as registering numerous patents for VR and AR focused technology.

While entertainment is a strong focus, VR and AR are also expanding into numerous other sectors. Some interesting trends include sectors such as the marketing, education, consulting, and medical sectors.

Here we look at some of the most interesting and potentially life-changing trends of VR and AR, including where things are likely to head next.

VR has been around the longest of these two sectors and has already proved quite popular with the gaming sector. However, the use of VR has expanded far beyond simply being an entertainment technology.

Education

VR is almost a perfect for offering education, especially for places or systems where access is not easy or not possible. In this sense, enhancing education with VR technology can help students to gain a deeper understanding of the way things work. This can be anything from the internal workings of the human body, to what makes up a star. With VR, the student can see live representations, see multiple layers, and interact with the environment.

In Myanmar, UNESCO reported, “more than 5,000 of the country’s 500,000 teachers have had a chance to become acquainted with the technology”. In this case, VR is being used in normal classroom scenarios in an affordable way that brings the subject to life. THEAPPSOLUTIONS also predicts that “Education is expected to be the 4th biggest sector for VR investments”.

It is also perfect for training staff, particularly when dealing with potentially hazardous or dangerous situations. The need for learning the ‘theory’ and then applying it in a real-world situation is removed. Instead, students can learn the theory and then practice in a VR world. Whether a soldier or a chemical waste disposal expert, being able to practice in a VR situation is a great opportunity for ‘almost’ real experience.

COVID-19 has added extra fire to the idea of distance learning, new and intuitive approaches to VR learning are coming out for ‘normal’ education. This can allow students to study partly or fully from home, but also gain socialization and even experience group learning in VR environments via educational platforms.

Weight and Freedom

When it comes to headsets, size and weight make a big difference to the experience. Devices need to include the technology to provide a ‘realistic’ and believable experience. However, they also need to be wearable for considerable periods and comfortable.

The weight of devices has decreased, while also allowing for more power and other included technology such as stereo sound. The increased ‘onboard’ power has allowed for devices such as Facebook’s Oculus Quest to be self-contained. As tech progresses, the need to be connected to processing devices may reduce or even vanish.

Merging Tech

As things progress, VR devices are also gaining some AR characteristics. This is achieved via video passthrough. The device can display both what is being ‘seen’ by its cameras, as well as what is created by the software.

To make this possible, there have been significant advances with devices and the incorporation of a high-res display, motion tracking sensors, high-end cameras, and more. The result is a visual environment that includes the ‘real world’ view while being able to alter it in any way programmed. It gives a highly realistic and immersive experience.

Ecommerce

How we shop, or more importantly where we shop is going to change. For many, shopping from home is not a new idea and so the idea of virtual shopping isn’t that much of a stretch.

However, with VR and AR, that shopping experience can be taken to an experience and interactivity level not previously possible.

Shopping experiences will change, such as car sales potentially being almost entirely online. Shoppers could potentially experience a vehicle in full 360-degree views, get the specs, and interact with aspects of the car. It might even be possible in the future to remotely test drive a car. AR is already allowing you to ‘see’ the car in your actual environment.

As a slightly newer technology, augmented reality is gaining momentum. It is predicted to dramatically exceed the market sector of virtual reality by 2025. AR is getting some interesting uses, both in the gaming world and the business sector.

For many, Pokemon Go was one of the first experiences of AR. This technology merges and alters the real world view. This combination of the real world with augmented objects is what makes it so versatile.

One of the useful features of AR is that it doesn’t necessarily need special hardware to use it. A mobile phone or tablet can be used to display the visual and audio aspects of AR. However, for a more subversive experience, specialist headsets can also be used.

AI is Changing the World

AI has changed many aspects of our daily lives, almost without us noticing it. From phones that adapt to user preferences, to fully-featured personal assistants, AI is changing how we interact with the web and how we run our lives.

In regards to VR and AR, AI is providing a level of interconnection and ‘understanding’ that previously wasn’t possible or wasn’t easy to achieve. An example of this is how AI apps can understand what they are seeing. This results in more accurate augmented experiences, such as that with camera filters and animations that perfectly apply to what is seen by the camera. Instagram and other fun camera apps are good examples of this technological merger.

AI is not only applied to fun apps and games. AI is already changing how we travel in some areas, such as in airports that provide apps that integrate with numerous ‘data providers’ of the airport to provide everything from augmented navigation to the latest customer updates.

A major example of this use is seen in Gatwick Airport, although over the next year it is expected that there will be more airports adopting similarly modern approaches. AI can help with navigation, flight information, contacting customers or staff, and even helps with immigration control, such as with facial recognition technology.

AI and AR have the potential to change how businesses and customers interact, providing each with a customized experience, and smoothing the processes for all. As AI capabilities expand further, it is likely that what is possible to achieve with AR will also grow.

Healthcare, Commerce, and Industry and more

These developing technologies are providing interesting solutions to healthcare and other industries. AR, for example, could help to guide and support doctors by overlaying information or even showing inside a patient.

With remote technologies and data rates improving, remote consultations are possible. There are already designs and prototypes of healthcare pods, where the patient can get basic scans, tests, and even consult with a doctor from wherever the pod is deployed.

However, the uses of VR and AR go far beyond consultations. Treatment of phobias can be performed in safe virtual environments, AI could combine with AR to assist with surgeries, and with the assistant of machines, it is expected that in a future that surgeries could even be performed entirely remotely. Who knows, maybe the surgeon could even be an AI.

In regards to industry usage, similar applications are limitless. From remote controlling devices or robots to simulating dangerous environments for practice and training, how we do business is sure to evolve with these technologies.

AR is also helping people to shop and enjoy the experience. Interactive AR features provide a ‘fun’ novelty to a normal shopping experience. A recent report showed that “Nearly 61% of customers chose shops that offer AR technology over normal shops”.

Mobile Power

One aspect that is increasing the use of AR apps and games is easier access to powerful mobile devices. Devices have become both more powerful and more affordable.

While the top brands may ask around $1000 for their latest flagship model, there are lesser-known brands producing high-spec phones for a fraction of the price. This increased availability means that income isn’t so much of a divide and that most areas of the world are connected with mobile technology and web access.

Increased specs also result in more enjoyable user experiences and allow for more sensors, camera lenses, graphic processing, and memory for AR apps and games. As mobile technology continues to develop, what is possible as far as VR and AR are likely to grow accordingly.

Browser Powered AR & VR Experiences

While this has been around for a while, developments in supporting technologies are expanding what is possible with the ‘immersive web’. With this technology, there is no need for people to download specific experiences but instead can experience them almost live via supporting browsers and mobile devices.

The type of experience can range dramatically, from full 360-degree videos to visualizations and graphics augmentations of the real world. It is everything from the real world recordings to a fully virtualized experience.

AR development platforms are also helping to expand things further, providing developers with the tools that they need to create amazing content. Even Apple recently released access to their tool called ARKit, hinting at more to be coming from them soon.

The benefit of entirely online web experiences is convenience and expanded audience. This is, even more, the case as compatible technology becomes more affordable and more powerful.

As 5G enters the scene, what is capable via the internet is expected to expand considerably.

The possibilities of 5G

5G will allow faster and larger data transfer rates than were previously possible. This means more can be ‘instantly’ accessed from the cloud, as well as the possibility for almost instantaneous communication from anywhere connected.

This connectivity changes how we can access data and what is achievable within the restraints of bandwidth. With rates as those announced by Telekom.com “A speed of three gigabits per second was measured. Under ideal conditions, the 5G speed should in future reach up to 10 Gbit/s, the equivalent of a 20-fold increase”, what we can do in the cloud is going to evolve significantly.

For example, processing power could potentially be moved to large cloud-based centers, VR or AR content could be cloud-based without lags, and international connectivity could allow for self-driven autonomous vehicles or even remotely driven vehicles to become a reality. All of this could lead to the centralization of the processing aspects, significantly reducing the hardware requirements of devices (and therefore, their related costs should also reduce).

The Future of AR and VR

We expect this technology to continue growing. It could end up with devices supporting both technologies in some cases. AR is likely to expand beyond VR, as it has many more possible ‘real world’ applications, especially where the business uses and commerce are concerned.

AR offers an enhanced experience of the real world we live in. As AI and IoT develop and merge with this technology, possibilities expand.

Education and training are also likely to adopt using VR/AR in many areas, from training military personnel, to homeschooling or bringing history to life. There is a potential for how we communicate and socialize evolve, as we have seen from mobile phone usages and expansion. As this technology shrinks and processing moves to the cloud, it is even feasible that AR and AI could be delivered through contact lenses or other compact devices.