Over the past three decades, digital transformation has moved at a lightning-fast pace. Nearly every technology used throughout the 80s, 90s, and early 00s evolved into the devices we use today or became obsolete as other technologies, such as smartphones, absorbed their functions. Ultimately new tech also emerged, such as Virtual Reality, VR, augmented reality, or AR. While the first iteration of this technology was developed in the early ’90s, it wasn’t until 2010 that the technology gained traction. Since then, it has found its feet with applications across business, gaming, and entertainment. According to Aaron Franko, VP of Immersive Technology at Saritasa, this technology still has considerable room to grow.
Companies like Saritasa customize AR, VR, and software development solutions for businesses. Aaron is sitting with us today to discuss the business applications of both technologies, where the technology has evolved from, and which direction the technology is likely to evolve in the future. Read on to learn more.
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Let’s start by distinguishing the difference between VR and AR and their applications within the business. Does VR have an advantage over AR or vice-versa?
Aaron: VR refers to a virtual environment, which means it’s entirely immersive — a completely virtual version of reality. On the other hand, AR is an enhanced – or augmented – version of the world. Both technologies have very different use cases, so any business advantages one might have over the other function of the experience each creates. VR excels at creating lifelike experiences and memories that make it a perfect fit for training. At the same time, AR benefits because most people have a smartphone, which means the technology is more accessible and widespread.
What is the current landscape of VR and AR within the business? Is this technology being widely adopted?
Aaron: Widespread adoption hasn’t occurred just yet, but it is coming. I believe we’ve just passed a turning point and are seeing many large businesses considering immersive technology in their future business roadmaps and plans. While many of the current projects Saritasa is working on are small pilots or proofs-of-concept, it’s clear that VR is no longer seen as a novelty but a viable business tool that can save money and deliver tangible returns. On the other hand, AR has seen more success as a marketing and promotional tool. Still, I believe as new supporting technologies, such as AR-capable glasses, begin to emerge, this will change rapidly.
How is the technology currently being utilized in business? What benefits or advantages are there for businesses that are using this technology today?
Aaron: Because our minds experience VR as ‘real,’ studies have shown significantly higher recall after six months for those who participate in VR training over a video training course. For this reason, the overarching use-case for VR is skills training. In addition to its effectiveness, VR as a tool for training is accessible and financially viable for businesses in the long term. Trainees can experience impractical or dangerous simulations with no risk. The technology, time and time again, is used until the information within the training becomes outdated.
AR benefits businesses by creating an exciting or enjoyable experience available to billions of people via their smartphones. Although marketing and branding are the more obvious use cases for AR technology, leveraging this technology to provide real-time information is an area that is currently growing. An example is using a smartphone to scan a part in a manufacturing facility to see instructions on how the product can be disassembled to perform maintenance or repairs. Healthcare also uses AR technology, with products such as the HoloLens 2, which assists surgical training.
Have any catalysts driven the adoption of VR or AR technology?
Aaron: A significant catalyst in VR adoption is the number of people bringing low-cost, powerful headsets like Oculus Quest 2 into their homes. After the experience of VR for fun, business-savvy users typically see the potential for the use of the technology in their companies. The pandemic has also been something of a catalyst for adoption. Despite production delays, people spending more time at home has driven the demand for entertainment such as VR. Several businesses are also exploring VR technology to address the issue of training employees who are no longer coming into an office or traveling.
In light of the increasing shift towards remote work due to the pandemic, do you see applications for remote workers – a completely remote virtual office complete with avatars, for example – in the future?
Aaron: Right now, the primary use case for remote workers appears to be collaboration. We already have the technology to create meetings in virtual reality so that teams can connect in VR. Despite avatars looking like robots or cartoon characters, the sense of togetherness in these settings is remarkable. Due to this, I believe that we’ll see a considerable amount of VR technology developed that focuses on collaboration. The main factor in this, however, will be the availability of comfortable and affordable headsets. Once these are readily available, I can see the traditional Zoom meeting replaced by a VR collaboration platform.
Looking towards the future with a broader lens, do you think the technology has reached its full potential? What might the future of AR and VR look like?
Aaron: Despite mainstream adoption of VR and AR technology, the technology is still in its infancy. Although billions of people own smartphones, holding the device or viewing the experience through a five-inch screen is limiting. On the other hand, the immersive experience of VR is restricted since there are relatively few headsets, and prices can be restrictive when considering a large-scale rollout across a business or organization.
The hardware is the bottleneck that is holding this technology back from mass adoption and use. In five to ten years, we should begin to see the availability of high-quality, low-profile, and affordable pass-through VR and AR glasses. When the technology is combined into a single device that also supports most of the functionality of our mobile phones, we will begin to see massive adoption and technological evolution. In short: when the average person can put on a comfortable pair of glasses that allow for a rich VR experience and then seamlessly transition into glasses that overlay information and objects upon the world in front of us, we will be ready to realize the potential of this technology.