Extended reality (XR) is expected to reach a market size of $209 billion by 2022. In a world where the digital ecosystem continues to expand, immersive technologies that merge the real and virtual worlds are becoming more popular. The Covid-19 pandemic at the start of 2020 is accelerating how companies are transforming operations through XR technology.
The ability to improve productivity, reduce costs, enhance operational efficiency, and generate revenue, makes XR an appealing opportunity for organisations.
XR is an umbrella term for any technology that is immersive. The name derives from the fact that they can extend the reality people experience by blending real and virtual worlds. One report suggests XR will become a mainstream technology within the next five years.
To understand extended reality, you need to look at the three main components: virtual, augmented, and mixed reality.
In a virtual reality experience, the user is part of a fully digital, simulated environment. It is mainly popularised and known through gaming systems, although industries like healthcare, engineering, and construction are finding useful applications, which we will discuss later in this post. The 360-degree view of the artificial world puts people into situations that they may not otherwise experience. In the example below, a construction worker uses a virtual training scenario before going onto the site.
VR experiences tend to require headsets which are gradually becoming more powerful and less expensive. Companies are now findings ways for the technology to be affordable as the benefits outweigh the costs.
In an augmented experience, virtual information and objects are overlaid on top of the real world. Typically, you will access an AR experience using glasses or screens such as your tablet or smartphone. The most well-known example of AR is the Pokemon Go mobile gaming app, where the player catches digital creatures within the real environment.
AR is becoming useful in other industries where placing objects digitally has an application. For example, furniture outlets can let potential customers place items in the room before physically purchasing them.
As the name suggests, a mixed reality environment allows digital and real-world objects to exist together and interact in real-time. MR needs significant processing power to avoid latency and speed problems, compared to VR or AR solutions.
The Microsoft HoloLens 2 is branding itself as the ultimate mixed reality device. It allows users to gain an increased field of view, read text, and see the intricate details using 3D imagery. If you are in a room, you can move objects around and interact with them in ways that are not possible with standalone VR or AR products. There are several industry examples of MR in action that we will talk about later in this article.
Before looking at some real world case studies of XR, here are some ways to apply it at an industry level.
Gaming and entertainment
The gaming industry is one of the foremost adopters of extended reality. Sony PlayStation launched PlayStation VR back in 2016, and while you could argue it hasn’t progressed at pace, it does show the capability of the technology. Camera tracking and image rendering in real-time can create an immersive environment, allowing the user or player to feel like they are there.
Popularity in gaming is driven by the ability to go to places where we would never otherwise go. For example, you can swim with sharks, visit the moon, and go to events from the comfort of your own home.
Extended reality systems can let employees in high-risk industries go through training processes in lower-risk settings. For example, a medical professional can work through simulations before being thrown into real-life scenarios. The experience they gain from the digital worlds will help them to no end as compared to traditional studies.
Technicians can use virtual manuals and guides rather than having to work through paper documents. As well as mitigating the need to carry bundles of paper, organisations will save money and reduce downtime if employees can provide remote support.
In a healthcare setting, surgeons using XR platforms can study organs in 3D and see the complexity of a situation before diving into it. Surgeries can go through planning when it is more complicated so that surgeons can perform more effectively and safely.
Potential homebuyers can take a tour of properties virtually, enabling agents to close deals without physically being there. Prospective buyers even can move objects around and fully visualise properties. 77% of real estate agents prefer to use virtual staging to help potential buyers associate with properties they intend to buy.
In extended retail reality, consumers can try before they buy. For example, people try on watches to preview what they look like on their wrist.
At IKEA, using a mobile app, buyers can place items in a room to see how the room will develop. As retailers explore virtual reality more, they will see opportunities for similar applications.
Several companies are already deploying XR as part of their standard operations. Here are some examples that represent the varied applications of the technology.
Jaguar vehicle VR
Jaguar Land Rover Simulation Group Manager, Andy Richardson, says that his team generates 3D models of every car part, allowing them to visualise every aspect of the vehicle and fit it all together. The model will simulate how components and systems perform, optimising the processes and efficiency of the engine. Designers will reduce the number of substandard models produced.
Ford hologram cars
New technology at Ford using HoloLens allows designers to wear wireless headsets and see digital designs and parts as if they are already incorporated into the physical vehicle. The objective is to discover more design proposals and reduce time in the process which sometimes take years to complete.
The Coca-Cola augmented reality app allows users to point their camera phone at a can and make one of twelve stories come to life. Using animated characters, users can engage in exchanges where an outcome becomes more favourable by sharing a can of coke.
The objective of Coca Cola is to elevate customer experiences to a new level through extended reality applications.
Walmart employee training with XR
Walmart is using Oculus VR headsets to augment employee training. Putting staff through training with VR boosts the confidence and retention of staff, improving test scores by between 10 and 15%. More than 17,000 Oculus Go headsets were put in place within Walmart stores by the end of 2018, with all associates having access to the training modules. The three core areas for training are new technology, soft skills (customer service), and compliance.
Xerox field technicians with AR/VR
Prior to implementing AR, Xerox customers would call the company and notify them of any problems. A field engineer would then call the customer back and attempt to resolve over the phone. Instead of using only the phone, and with AR, agents can now help customers remotely and provide real-time instructions, offering either a solution or a workaround until they can be on-site. Xerox improved remote resolution rates by 76% within only four months of deploying this solution, as well as a 67% improvement in first-time fix rates.
BAE Systems MR
BAE Systems uses an MR platform to help improve the battery-building process by 40%. Holographic templates help factory workers to visualise the steps in the process. The interactive experiences using HoloLens were at a tenth of the cost of previous solutions; workers can assemble batteries in less time, and new people are trained more efficiently.
We can see through these case studies that extended reality offers innovative, efficient, and cost-saving industry solutions. However, organisations are still slow to adopt the technology as they face several challenges.
The first barrier could be with data, depending on the application. Virtual environments can see how users behave and collect information about their emotions in non-invasive and impersonal ways. Organisations need to work out how to protect data while using extended reality programmes and form relevant policies.
The technological cost is also a barrier for some companies. To cater for a fully immersive experience, companies need to have high-quality wearable devices. The HoloLens 2 costs $3,500, which is a major investment when there is a high volume of staff. When working remotely, people also need to have the right technology and infrastructure in place to get the most out of devices. Although there are long-term benefits, some companies simply cannot afford the short-term cost.
Connectivity in remote areas could lead to problems. The advent of 5G technology will change this, but until fully adopted, latency and speed remain issues for commercial extended reality applications.
Extended reality offers an innovative solution to many business problems. Although it is still maturing, industries and organisations experimenting with the technology find a wide range of benefits. As Covid-19 forces firms into digital channels, XR will have a significant role to play in the future of business, as long as they overcome the challenges mentioned above.
Disclaimer: The author of this text, Jean Chalopin, is a global business leader with a background encompassing banking, biotech and entertainment. Mr. Chalopin is Chairman of Deltec International Group, www.deltecbank.com.
The co-author of this text, Robin Trehan, has a bachelor’s degree in economics, a master’s in international business and finance, and an MBA in electronic business. Mr. Trehan is a Senior VP at Deltec International Group, www.deltecbank.com.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text are solely the views of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of Deltec International Group, its subsidiaries, and/or its employees.
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