Virtual and Augmented Reality: The Most Disruptive Technology of the Next Decade
January 14, 2021
Historical eras are often defined by the technological developments of that period in time. For example, the 1400s were largely defined by the invention of the printing press, which made it easier to widely disseminate information to the masses. The 1800s were marked by several new technologies, including the development of the railways and the invention of the steamboat.
The modern era has largely been defined by the internet, personal computers, smartphones, and social media. These technologies have completely changed everything about modern life, including the way that people access information, work, and communicate.
But experts predict that two new technologies are set to take center stage over the next decade. In fact, virtual and augmented reality are expected to be the “most disruptive technology” of the next decade, according to IDTechEx. Here’s what you should know about the future of these innovative technologies:
Augmented vs. Virtual vs. Mixed Reality: What’s the Difference?
The terms “augmented reality,” “virtual reality,” and “mixed reality,” are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Before learning about these disruptive technologies, it’s important to understand what makes them unique.
Virtual reality is technology that allows users to completely immerse themselves in a simulated environment. Headsets such as the Oculus Quest or Google Cardboard are used to shut out the physical world and transport users to either real or imagined worlds.
Augmented reality is technology that allows users to superimpose various digital elements on their real world environment. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality does not transport the user to a simulated environment. Instead, augmented reality gives the user the power to alter their existing world by adding digital elements.
Mixed reality combines both augmented and virtual reality technologies. This technology can be used to create a hybrid world where digital and physical objects interact with one another. Mixed reality is still fairly new, so it is not as widely used as virtual and augmented reality technology.
How Are Augmented and Virtual Reality Technology Currently Used?
Both augmented and virtual reality technologies are currently used in a wide range of industries. Some of the many ways these technologies are used today include:
- Product Design
- Online Retail Sales
- Virtual Tours
- Fun & Games
- Interior Design
- Navigational Assistance
Augmented and virtual reality technologies are already used to improve the efficiency of the product design process.
In the automotive industry, for instance, manufacturers used to create clay prototypes of new vehicle designs. If someone made a change to the design, the team would need to build a new clay prototype to reflect the change.
But now, many design teams use these technologies to create digital prototypes. Multiple changes can be made in real time, which means the design can be finalized and put into production much faster.
Online Retail Sales
Dozens of online retailers now use augmented reality technology to help consumers make purchase decisions.
One of these retailers is Sephora, an international cosmetics company. Sephora’s Virtual Artist tool, which is powered by augmented reality technology, allows users to try on different shades of lipstick, eyeshadow, blush, and other cosmetic products. This makes it easier to shop for cosmetic products online and ensures that consumers aren’t disappointed by the way a product looks once it arrives.
Many cosmetic, apparel, and shoe brands use augmented reality technology in this manner. But these aren’t the only industries to use augmented and virtual reality technology to make online sales. The automotive industry also relies on these technologies to help consumers make smarter purchase decisions.
Automotive manufacturers use virtual reality technology to offer consumers the opportunity to take virtual test drives of new vehicles. Some manufacturers also use augmented reality technology to allow consumers to project digital images of a vehicle into their real world environment.
This way, consumers can explore the vehicle just as they would if they were at a dealership. In other words, the technology allows automotive manufacturers to create a virtual showroom for consumers to browse.
The manufacturing industry has also embraced augmented and virtual reality. Some companies use virtual reality technology to provide virtual training sessions to employees. Providing this type of training is more convenient for employees and less expensive for employers, so both parties benefit.
Augmented reality is sometimes used to help workers on the assembly line. If a worker needs help, they can use augmented reality technology to project step-by-step instructions or a how-to video onto their surroundings. There’s no need to consult an instruction manual or ask someone for help—they can quickly get the information they need thanks to augmented reality.
The real estate and travel industries both rely on virtual reality technology to provide virtual tours to consumers.
In real estate, this technology is used to offer virtual home tours to buyers. This allows buyers to explore a home on the market without having to visit it in person. This is especially useful for buyers who are relocating to another city or state, which makes touring homes in person even harder.
The travel and tourism industry uses virtual reality technology to provide consumers with virtual tours of hotel rooms, landmarks, and other attractions. These tours help consumers decide where to travel, what to do when they arrive, and where to stay.
Fun & Games
Augmented and virtual reality are often associated with the gaming industry, and it’s not hard to see why. Countless apps, video games, and computer games are powered by augmented and/or virtual reality technology.
One of the most popular augmented reality games is Pokemon Go, which is an app available for both Android and iOS devices. The app is designed to project digital images of Pokemon characters onto your real world environment. Users must track down as many characters as they can find to earn in-game currency and beat each level.
Both augmented and virtual reality technologies are currently used to enhance the educational experience for students of all grade levels.
Teachers use virtual reality technology to transport students to simulated environments related to the curriculum. For instance, a history teacher might use virtual reality to transport students to ancient Rome or Egypt. However, an astronomy teacher might use this technology to virtually transport students to the surface of Mars.
Augmented reality is useful in the classroom, too. Geology teachers can use this technology to project digital models of crystalline structures for students to examine. Biology teachers can use augmented reality to project digital diagrams of organs and cell structures. History teachers can use this technology to introduce digital renderings of ancient artifacts to students.
These are some of the countless ways that augmented and virtual reality technology can be used to improve the educational experience.
It can be hard to visualize what furniture, rugs, and décor will look like inside a room. Fortunately, developers have created a number of augmented reality apps to help users overcome this challenge.
The apps allow users to project various digital pieces of furniture and décor into their real world environment so they can see what each item would look like in their home. This makes it possible for users to visualize what everything will look like together so they can design a space with ease.
Augmented reality technology is also used as a navigational assistance tool. For example, the Google Maps app uses augmented reality to project digital elements such as arrows and street signs onto the user’s real world environment. These digital elements help the user figure out where they need to go in order to get to their final destination.
Some automotive manufacturers have also designed vehicles with navigational assistance tools supported by augmented reality. These tools project digital elements onto the driver’s windshield so they can see where they need to go without looking down at their phones or GPS devices.
The Future of Virtual and Augmented Reality Technology
It is expected that businesses will continue to find new and exciting ways to use virtual and augmented reality technology in the future. Some of the ways that these technologies could be used in the future include:
- Remote Workplace Transformation
- Promote Social Good
- Available and Affordable Healthcare
- Improve Quality of Life For the Disabled
Remote Work Transformation
Facebook has already announced plans to utilize virtual and augmented reality technologies in an effort to transform the remote workplace. Few details have been released, but so far, the company has revealed that remote workers will be able to type on their physical keyboards while working on a virtual three-monitor computer.
The concept, which is still in the early stages of development, would help overcome common remote work issues such as lack of space or equipment. As a result, this use of virtual and augmented reality technology could help more workers successfully shift to remote work.
Promote Social Good
Many businesses use virtual and augmented reality to sell their products or services, but some experts believe that these technologies may also be used to promote social good in the future.
For example, virtual reality technology can be used to transport people to different areas of the world so they can see what it’s like to live in poverty or in the middle of a war-torn country. The technology can take people to the Arctic Circle so they can see the effects of climate change with their own eyes. Some experts believe that this use of virtual reality technology could help raise awareness of global issues and inspire the public to take action.
Available and Affordable Healthcare
There are a number of ways that these technologies can be used in the future to make high quality healthcare more available, accessible, and affordable to the general public.
For example, these technologies may make it possible for physicians to offer vision testing, psychiatric care, physical therapy, and other services remotely. Being able to offer these services remotely will not only make them more accessible, but more affordable as well.
Improve Quality of Life For the Disabled
Some experts predict that another future use of virtual and augmented reality will be to improve the quality of life for the disabled.
Many people are forced to give up their favorite activities as a result of a physical disability. For instance, a person with a physical disability may no longer be able to run, bike, or swim. But virtual reality technology can give these individuals the opportunity to virtually enjoy the activities they once loved.
Being able to participate in these virtual activities could drastically improve their quality of life.
What Factors Are Driving the Growth in Virtual and Augmented Reality Technology?
Experts predict that the market for augmented and virtual reality technology will experience exponential growth over the next decade. In 2020, the global virtual and augmented reality technology market was valued at roughly $12 billion. However, the market is expected to grow to nearly $73 billion by the year 2024.
There are a number of factors that are expected to drive this significant growth, including:
- Better devices: Many consumers weren’t initially interested in these technologies because the headsets and glasses were bulky and uncomfortable. But now, the designs are becoming sleeker, lighter, and more comfortable to wear, which could attract a wider range of consumers.
- COVID-19: The global pandemic caused a massive decline in foot traffic, which forced businesses in a wide range of industries to shift their focus to e-commerce. Many businesses used augmented and virtual reality for the first time in order to attract and sell to consumers who weren’t able or willing to visit a store in person. This increased the demand for augmented and virtual reality technology, and will continue to drive this market’s growth for the next several years.
- Substantial investments: Over $4 billion was invested in the virtual reality and augmented reality market in 2019 alone. These investments will most likely translate to massive growth in this industry over the next decade.
- Integration into existing apps: More augmented and virtual reality features will be built into existing apps, which will expose more consumers to these technologies and drive growth in the market. One example of this is the integration of augmented reality into the Google Maps app.
- New applications: The augmented and virtual reality industry will continue to grow as long as companies continue to discover new and exciting ways to use these technologies to do business.
Augmented and virtual reality technology have come a long way since they were first introduced to the world, but there’s no doubt that the best is yet to come. Over the next decade, these technologies will continue to change the way people communicate, shop, learn, travel, and make basic decisions in their everyday life.