Going beyond the real existence of our life, the physical reality of our surroundings, has always been a human fantasy; something transcendental; the realm of fairy tale. A captivating piece of music or an evocative work of art is known to inspire such emotion in us. Though, such feeling is purely an exercise of our fertile mind; something that we can sense only with closed eyes. But not any more. Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have made living that fantasy possible with eyes open. All thanks to the latest development in reality technologies. And it is changing the world of business and commerce rapidly.
Quick brief on VR and AR
Though both of them are tech-induced reality; but there are intrinsic differences in expression and scope.
Virtual reality is a digitally simulated experience created through manipulation of different multitude of senses like, sight, hearing, smell, touch. At the basic level, this technology uses headsets or head-mount display units to project 3-dimensional imagery with sound in 6 degree of freedom. That means wearing the headset one can move back and forth, left and right and jump up and down to perceive the displayed imagery in exactly similar way one could have done in physical reality. More complex VR systems leverage vibration and other senses through use of hand-held controller devices; know commonly as haptic system. Comparatively, VR is a mature and established technology today; it has been in the process of development from last few decades and has been extensively applied in the field of gaming and entertainment.
Augmented reality on the other hand does not create any completely different reality; instead it adds digitally generated realistic elements within existing physical perception. One can enjoy live view of the physical world along with augmented elements. Like VR, AR can also manipulate different senses like, visual, olfactory, auditory and others.
In a nutshell, while VR creates an altogether new reality, AR enriches ones existing physical reality with digitally generated and projected elements within the field of view.
How it is changing our world
Initially, the major inspiration behind reality technologies was purely entertainment; however, with rapid improvement in hardware and software, different new scopes of application are emerging. The strength of reality-tech like, VR and AR lies in their capacity to engage people in 3 different, yet interconnected, ways. They are:
- Engagement through multiple senses
- Engagement at intellectual level
- Engagement at emotional level
These capacities not just create rich engagement but also ensure lasting recollection of the experience, which means better learning. For this reason, VR and AR are going to overhaul some of our regular experiences completely.
- Training – Skill, re-skilling and up-skilling have always been huge challenges for businesses. The conventional tools are becoming ineffective to keep pace with today’s fast changing world of disruptions. Today we need training solutions which offer rich engagement, mass scale and affordability. Traditionally, these requirements contradict with each other. You cannot achieve high engagement without compromising either of the scale or the cost. However, VR and AR technologies magically build synergies among all the 3 factors. Digital technology offers replicability of training content; and thus allow immense scale without increasing costs proportionately. Multi-sensory engagement offers huge recall value increasing effectiveness. So, end result is completely win-win.
- Co-working – Remote working always involved more independence and less real time team collaboration. With reality-tech, co-working from remote locations has become extremely easy today. People are contributing to projects in real time from different locations and exchanging feedback just like, they are sitting across the table. These have also afforded remote-conferencing with new dimensions. This is going to save unnecessary wastage of time and money on travels. Also, businesses will no longer be limited by physical unavailability of suitable resources in any geography.
- Online shopping – This has already become an integral part of our life. However, e-commerce still suffers from one of its biggest shortcomings and that is the lack of opportunity to experience products while purchasing. Marketplaces are trying to overcome this by offering free-of-cost return policy; but that involves increased cost and often promotes unscrupulous shopping practices. With VR and AR tools, shoppers can now have realistic experience of products of their choice. For an example, with AR app a shopper can virtually apply different shades of cosmetics, like, lipsticks, before purchasing one. Online shopping is going to become a true competitor of brick-n-mortar establishments.
- Virtual tourism – In tourism we often rely on descriptions and reviews before zeroing on any destination or hotel rooms, resorts. With VR based applications, you can digitally experience different options before making the choice. There will be less ambiguity.
- Designing & Prototyping – This process traditionally involved building mock-ups; testing their fit in real world and reworking before coming up with final solution. AR technology can make this process a lot easier and the least tedious. Adaptability of new machine within an existing production line can be shown with augmented reality and the impact on productivity can also be displayed. It opens up a completely new way of designing and prototyping in B2B segment.
- Virtual healthcare – For physicians often it becomes very difficult to explain some of the complications to patients due to obvious limitations on visualization. Virtual and augmented reality can radically change patient education and training in the field. That means more enriching healthcare service.
What is the way ahead?
Despite all the explicit advantages of reality technologies, we are still not in position to grasp full future potential of these tools. New advancements are happening in the field making VR and AR devices and applications more and more capable as well as affordable. Scientists are now working on mixed reality, which will even help digital reality to interact with our physical perceptions; opening up a completely new world before us. There is no lack of consensus in the fact that people are openly and eagerly accepting reality technologies in everyday life, beyond their obvious applications in gaming and entertainment. Changes are coming in every sphere of life; and that’s for good only.