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The future and challenges of augmented and virtual reality

Blog published by CW (Cambridge Wireless), under Augmented, Virtual & Mixed Reality

Earlier this year, the CW Future Devices & Technologies SIG were joined by five mixed reality experts, each of whom presented their ideas for what the future of augmented and virtual reality technology could be, and what was stopping a rapid rise to success.

View event resources

The first of the modern generation of virtual reality equipment landed on the market in 2012. The idea of the Oculus Rift took the world by storm and soon major hardware manufacturers were racing to create alternatives that hit shelves shortly after in the form of the HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and others. It was at about this time too that smartphones became capable of delivering basic manipulations of the camera feed in the form of augmented reality experiences, and Google Glass entered the fray before exiting quickly.

At that time, the optimism around virtual and augmented reality experiences was palpable. But many years on and despite the investment of companies with already large user bases, consumer adoption remains low. Last November, only 11% of US adults reported owning VR hardware and/or software, up from 7% in August 2017 (YouGov).

So what does the future of augmented reality and virtual reality look like now, in 2019, and what are its challenges? The CW Future Devices and Technologies SIG gathered five experts for an event in London and here’s what we learned.

CW puts on almost 50 events a year like this one. To get access for you and all staff to any of these events, why not consider CW membership? Prices start at £165 per company for the year.

Virtual reality will be for more than just gaming.

Interior design and corporate training experiences are target markets for companies Unit9 and Immerse.  Not to be heavy handed with data, but James, the CMO of Immerse, casually referred to a 2017 report by ABI that expects the market for virtual reality training to be thirty times larger than its 2018 level. And apparently Immerse has seen a market pick up in the past twelve months which corroborates the estimations.

Elsewhere, Unit9’s Project HYPER reduces the design cost of complex interiors, like the 1st class section of an airplane, and engages high-profile customers in plans throughout the project process. They have found that immersive technology such as virtual reality is a highly effective way of demonstrating interior designs before a single order for paint, furniture or lighting is placed.

A 2018 market report from IDC believes that worldwide spending on AR/VR will be led by the commercial sectors, with key industries being personal and consumer services, retail and discrete manufacturing. However, gaming is still the largest use case racking up an estimated $4Bn consumer spending in 2019.

Marketing and communications teams are embracing the technology

Nadia, an Innovation Consultant at Unbounded Future, is confident about the future of augmented reality in marketing. With an emphasis on Facebook and Snapchat, she identified successful augmented reality campaigns that have already taken place (such as Kylie Jenner’s cosmetics filters and Burger King’s “Burn the Ad” campaign in Brazil which saw half a million customers engaging and getting a free burger as a result.

The trick for marketers is designing an experience that can be shared (to boost brand visibility) or converted into an action (such as getting someone into your shop). Nadia sees social media influencers as a complementary tool to augmented reality campaigns.

The other option for marketers is to not just create your own augmented reality experience, but to advertise within somebody else’s creation. Unity (the popular game engine for mobile developers) now offers an augmented reality advertising platform, so as AR experiences become more popular they can become a new channel for entrepreneurial marketing teams.

More than sight will be stimulated

Playfusion is an expert in the use of artificial intelligence and IoT technology in the creation of augmented and virtual reality experiences. Schuyler Simpson, their VP of Strategic Partnerships and Operations, spoke about how right now their engine “blends visual, audio, haptic and intelligent components to create highly personalised, immersive and most importantly, valuable experiences for organisations and their audiences”, but that in the future they hope to develop an easier way to deliver an experience where the audience’s perception of reality is more than just what someone sees.

Touch in particular is seen as important, and is to some extent possible using ultrasound to project sensations.  This is something particularly important to the Unit9 team working on their interior design projects.  For them, tangibility “works like a physical mirror” for our presence, reinforcing our perceptions of what is real. To create a fully immersive virtual reality experience, touch needs to be added to the sensory stimulations, along with sight and sound.

Experiences will be personalised for extra immersion

Personalisation has become the accepted trade-off between companies gathering data on individuals, and their users.

When you take one of Immerse’s training sessions, they gather 30 data points per second on your engagement. This helps the developers understand what elements of the training works and what needs further production. It also ensures that the sponsoring organisation understands the effectiveness of the learning experience.

It is already possible to create interactive storylines within virtual experiences. While Aki, a Senior Experience Researcher at the Digital Catapult, will remind you that these are very complex to design effectively, it is expected that in the future the users’ virtual experiences will be tailored to the individual. This could be in the form of one’s virtual appearance (what colour do you want your nails painted?) or in the choices presented to you within the game (a low risk person may not be taken to a cliff-edge).

High quality content is expensive, but novice-friendly tools are arriving

And there are techniques available for lowering the cost of production. While the Head of Emerging Design at Adobe may hold quite off-putting opinions such as​:

“Designing for the future with AI-powered spatial computing requires a great diversity of skills and a deep understanding of human behaviour by everyone involved.” ​

Aki from the Digital Catapult found that very affordable techniques such as “brownboxing” – laying out cardboard boxes in the real world to help you plan your virtual environment - can help to reduce development hours by almost a quarter.

And for augmented reality experiences, Facebook has its Spark AR platform which magically packages up facial and emotional recognition algorithms, camera vision, graphics design, scripting, build and deployment technologies for easy use by people without any coding experience.

Is anyone confident enough to invest?

The continued challenge with virtual and augmented reality becoming mainstream is the slow investment by businesses in new content and by individuals in the hardware.

For content, Playfusion finds that augmented reality experiences are rarely part of a company’s long-term strategy (yet), and those that do invest often underestimate the amount of time it takes to develop a high quality experience. Current financiers tend to be innovation departments, or a marketing team’s slush fund. Up until the point where immersive experiences consistently prove their ROI, investment will continue to be slow; and investment may also depend on the uptake of hardware by consumers. However, consumer investment in hardware could be seen as slow because of the lack of content, so the industry is very much in a chicken and egg scenario.

The easy access to hardware is one of the reasons why many firms see augmented reality as the much larger market opportunity. Already reports such as e-Marketer suggest that 12% of the US population experience augmented reality on a monthly basis, compared to just under 3% experiencing virtual reality.

James, of Immerse, comments that lack of hardware isn’t an issue just for consumers. It is often overlooked by companies interested in using virtual reality for training. While HR teams can see the way that VR could boost the way that their staff learns, the practicalities of deploying the experience at scale is a complicating factor. High end headsets have a lot of component parts and some require external sensors to track the space – this may not be in a company’s skillset to deploy across multiple sites, especially when taking into account the need for a high-end gaming PC and a good internet connection.

CW puts on almost 50 events a year like this one. To get access for you and all staff to any of these events, why not consider CW membership? Prices start at £165 per company for the year.

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