The reality of AR, VR and MR
Other sectors Healthcare Maritime Oil and gas Power and renewables

Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality are various ways of layering digital information into either completely digitalized (VR) or partially digitalized environments (AR/MR). The applications for VR focus on creating new environments for those not conveniently accessible (such as subsea, outer space, or hazardous) or which require an entirely new spatial metaphor (such as virtual offices). Augmented reality usually applies information in the visual space, but is not tightly associated visually to anything physical in the image. However, advanced sensors such as those in the Microsoft HoloLens or Magic Leap, now enables information to be mapped to specific physical contexts, leading to Mixed Reality (MR) such as is seen in the popular Pokémon GO app. There are challenges with their application, most notably motion sickness in some VR users, costly hardware for both VR and MR applications and streamlined integration into natural physical movements.

The current state of AR, VR and MR

Virtual Reality has been on the market for many decades, but as the hardware continues to shrink in size and weight and the software continues to create more realistic experiences, adoption will increase. Currently the largest players are focused on entertainment and gaming, but enterprises are seeing possibilities to leverage the technology for training employees for a variety of experiences, although the actual improvement on training is unproven1.

Augmented reality is rapidly gaining adoption in smaller portable hardware like mobile phones and wearables, including glasses from Google and Snap. Applications in the automotive industry can also be seen, where providing real time information in the driver’s immediate view helps to reduce distractions and the likelihood of accidents. Augmented reality provides both rich, in-context experiences, and Heads Up Display (HUD) capabilities (transparent display that presents data without requiring users to look away from their usual viewpoints) and is already implemented in the defence industry. However, these experiences are limited by heterogeneous devices in the field, where experiences can only be as closely “attached” to the context as the sensors on the device allow. Furthermore, these experiences are typically deployed on mobile phones that require at least one hand holding and aiming the device, preventing use in many industrial contexts.

Mixed reality has the greatest potential to transform the workplace, with its ability to apply digital information directly to a worker’s physical experience. There are already applications of this technology in engineering and construction, where the headset provides up-to-the-minute insights, as well as enabling more accurate work in the field. The design allows workers to have their hands free, while the transparent nature of the devices allow users to maintain situational awareness.

Reality of future developments

As the price of hardware decreases, adoption will continue to grow for all three platforms. Given the relative newness of MR and AR platforms, developers, designers, and organizations are still exploring the potential applications of these technologies in the context of their business segments. Significant impacts can already be seen in remote assist scenarios with AR and MR, where the need to have expertise physically on hand can be reduced, as well as digital twin scenarios where all three technologies can be beneficial. Significant developments can be seen in digital offices and campuses, where users will no longer need physical spaces to collaborate, reducing capital expenditure on real estate and cutting travel costs.

These technologies continue to be deployed in a variety of contexts, but uptake in enterprises continues to be slower due to a lack of developer skills to design, build, maintain and operate the infrastructure required to power the content of these devices. Furthermore, the skillset required, such as UX skills, to develop these types of rich experiences are also in demand for the gaming industry as they use the same tooling and technology, so competition for these people is very high making it challenging for industry to attract this talent.

In some industries, such as oil and gas and defence, significant experimentation and deployment of these technologies is already taking place, especially as they become hardened for use in more extreme environments.

However, it remains unclear whether there will be growth in the markets needed to drive development of applications in these technologies, or the back-end production required to provide content for memory-constrained devices. The complexity of the hardware, with its integrated computing, storage, and sensing arrays, makes the price of more complex devices far higher than simpler AR implementations in phones, with MR devices ranging from $3200 per unit for a Magic Leap2 to $3500 for a Hololens3. Unless prices decrease, or exceptional business value can be derived from their application, this technology may stall and continue to be the domain of proof-of-concept.


Main author: Chris Pelsor

Editor: Tiffany Hildre

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