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Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality Are The Emerging Realities

The Reality technologies are undergoing a reality check at current level of technologies and are likely to become new realities in a decade

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Slowly but steadily, the related technologies of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are moving from the lab to the commercial space. They have started capturing the imagination of the general public and the corporate world. Like any other emerging technology their perceived benefits are checkmated by legal, technological and economic hurdles.

Definition

Virtual Reality
Refers to interactive simulated computer generated experience where in a user is cut off from the real world and is immersed in the digital world mostly composed of artificial sounds and sights. At current state of technologies, it requires a Head Mounted Display (HMD) and content changes with movement of eyes as well as the body and the user can interact with the virtual world.

Augmented Reality
It appeared after Virtual Reality and here the real world is augmented by the digital world. The user can observe his or her surroundings. It can be experienced using smartphones and tablets, besides the HMDs. Due to users’ inhibitions to be completely cut off from the real world, it can generate more use cases than Virtual Reality.

Mixed Reality
The term is of recent use and refers to an enhanced version of Augmented Reality. Mixed reality augments the real world with virtual objects that aim to look as if they are really placed within the real world. It carries more intelligence as it locks the position of digital objects in relation to the real objects. In future, it may overshadow its other two cousins.

Benefits

Games
Many people associate AR/VR with gaming and that remains its important application. One popular application of Augmented reality was demonstrated in the game Pokeman Go in 2016 where players targeted to search for virtual creatures on their smartphones. Playstation VR is a popular console for playing Virtual Reality based games.

Training
Training of all types is the most important potential use of AR/VR. It could be high end training of aircrafts, military and space environments; industrial training of manufacturing processes and equipments or school and college level training. While former can reduce costs, interactive and immersive trainings can make school and college curriculum more interesting. French government has already introduced AR/VR based trainings in schools. Yes another application especially of Mixed reality is for training the doctors on human anatomy as well as surgeries. One unrelated use case in healthcare is to treat phobias of various kinds using stimulated environments.

The extended meaning of training can include to give assistance to manufacturing workers from AR gadgets to reduce human error, save time, and increase efficiency. Companies like General Electric and Boeing are already using it. Oil and gas companies are helping technicians working on a drilling rig in the middle of the ocean, who can send a video feed of what they see, and the experts can add to the 3-D world displayed on the Mixed reality headset. In future rather than using manuals for maintenance and repair of vehicles and equipments, people will use Augmented Reality based application which are more interactive.

Tours
Travel industry can help the tourists to take virtual tours of the places they want to visit later. Google StreetView is an example of an application which can help in this. Real Estate industry is using such tours to provide immersive view of properties using Virtual Reality.

Retail experience
The experience of online shopping can be improved by AR/VR as users can view or even try the product under the context it will be used say a piece of furniture inside their room. This is being used by many companies including Swedish retail giant, IKEA. This can reduce marketing costs as well as returns. AR/VR can also be used for more engaging and immersive advertisements and marketing campaigns.

Challenges
However there are multiple challenges to surmount before any of the Realty technologies are adapted on a large scale.

HMDs
Currently, all Reality technologies suffer from form factor. All VR and some AR use cases need HMD which are bulky and may need to be connected by wires to computers or gaming consoles. For example VR HMDs e.g. HTC Vive, PlayStation VR and Oculus Rift need to be connected to a machine while standalone ones e.g. Google Carboard exists but have smaller market share. This can reduce the movement or in a complex environment, mesh of wires can become security hazard. Microsoft’s Hololens is an important wireless innovation in the field of Mixed Reality. Oculus and HTC are planning to bring cordless versions. 

Also HMDs offer a FOV (Field of Vision) which is around 900. FOV of human eye is 1900 horizontal and 1200 degrees vertical and hence HMDs need to improve. Brightness and resolution of display, battery power are additional issues to tackle.

For Augmented Reality, tracking is important and HMDs should be able track without external sensors. One startup, Chirp Microsystem is using ultrasound sensors for this.

Networks
Faster Wireless communication is another requirement for AR/VR acceptance. The required speeds is in Gbits/sec and cannot be provided by 4G networks, so deployment of 5G networks will be a key enabler. Even in 5G the required speeds will be achieved at frequencies of few tens of GHzs. Reality technologies especially Virtual Reality work effectively at low latency since they trick the brain into believing something unreal. User experience not only worsens but people may feel nauseated in case of poor latency. Latency of 4G networks are at least 10 times worse than that of 5G. Some of the data processing can happen in the cloud but speed and latency requirements will favour fog or even better edge computing.

Artificial Intelligence
Augmented Reality needs virtual world and the physical world match precisely and change in real time according to user movement. Advanced image and video processing technologies based on deep learning are needed to dynamically and accurately recognize walls, floors, tables and other objects. 

Other issues
Overall cost of any AR/VR set is in few thousands of dollars and hence an entry barrier. There are security related issues e.g. if a HMD is stolen and misused. Legal frameworks for use of these technologies need to be established. Also there are not many “must have” applications which only these technologies can create.

Predictions
As per Gartner Hype cycle, both Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality will reach “Plateau of Productivity” in the next 10 years implying mass adoption will take off. As per one of IDC’s report, worldwide spending on AR/VR products and services will experience five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 98.8% during the 2017-2021 forecast period. According Goldman Sachs’ base case scenario, AR/VR market will touch $80 billion in 2025 from less than $10 billion in 2017. The numbers vary based of what is included in the data i.e. hardware, software or services but all forecasts point to exponential growth rates.

The Reality technologies are undergoing a reality check at current level of technologies and are likely to become new realities in a decade.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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Sandeep K Chhabra

Sandeep K Chhabra is a software professional working as General Manager at Ericsson India Global Services Pvt Ltd (EGIL). He has more than 23 years of experience of working in IT industry. He is a B Tech in Computer Science and Engineering from IIT Delhi and has cleared CFA Level (III) exam. He is active on social media and mostly writes about current trends in Science and Technology.

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