Unless you’re into gaming, you’d be forgiven for thinking virtual and augmented reality (aka VR and AR) are a bit one-dimensional. Yes, if you want an immersive zombie shooting or Pokemon hunting experience, they’re great, but they’re basically a bit of a gimmick. And the stats seem to bear that out, with IDC recently reporting that shipments of AR and VR headsets were down 30.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2018.
So, does that mean VR and AR are on their way out?
Well if it did, this would be a very short post! In fact, IDC predicts that headset sales are set to rebound strongly, as it becomes easier to create the content to feed VR and AR, and as businesses start to exploit some of the less obvious commercial applications. And many early-adopters are already doing so, with some surprising ideas being trialled, tested and implemented as we speak. Here’s a few of the most impressive that caught our attention:
Training for a bear attack
VR and AR technology is being used in training for a whole range of jobs, scenarios and situations, via simulations that are scarily close to real life. It could be first aid or health and safety courses, training for pilots, trainee doctors, or even helping people to prepare for bear attacks, as one US company is doing. It’s even now possible to create a sense of touch as part of VR simulations, thanks to something called haptic feedback being pioneered by companies such as GoTouchVR.
Pain and stress relief
VR has also been put to good use in hospitals as a way of relieving pain and stress for patients. Headsets are used to distract individuals while undergoing painful or traumatic experiences such as IV insertions or blood draws, transporting them to another world via immersive and multisensory 3-D content. Hopes are that it will reduce reliance on chemical painkillers, which are not only costly and but can also have harmful side-effects. Numerous other medical uses for VR are also undergoing trials, for example rehabilitating stroke victims, helping surgeons prepare for operations and even providing visualisation during procedures.
Immersive theatre has been on the rise for a number of years, but thanks to VR and AR, production companies are going a step further, integrating the technology into their performances. Somnai, which opened in Clerkenwell earlier this year, combines sensory experience with VR technology to take visitors on a journey through their own subconscious. Meanwhile, the National Theatre is experimenting with AR to improve the accessibility of its performances for hard of hearing viewers, introducing headsets for real-time subtitling during performances.
3-D, mid-air design
VR and AR have loads of applications in the design sphere, enabling designers and engineers to visualise ideas and prototypes in 3-D right in front of their eyes, rather than on paper or a screen. One awesome example is Gravity Sketch, which launched its virtual reality sketching software last year. The technology enables designers to create and manipulate three-dimensional objects in mid-air. Pretty cool.
Trudging around flats and houses with estate agents has to be one of the least fun ways to spend your time. So why not do it virtually? The property consultant, JLL, partners with virtual reality companies to let house hunters experience properties in VR without having to leave the comfort of their sofa. One area where it is particularly useful is in showcasing spaces that aren’t even built yet, ensuring buyers can get the full experience before signing on the dotted line.
Trialling retail experiences
As retailers strive to attract shoppers by developing innovative in-store experiences, one company is using VR to test out concepts more quickly and efficiently than ever before. By creating a VR model of in-store concepts, Kantar Consulting helps its retail clients to see how shoppers respond to their ideas, with no physical construction whatsoever. VR headsets allow testers to track the shopper’s gaze, how they move around the store and what products they pick up. The so-called Retail VR Lab is already being used by company’s such as Unilever and L’Oreal.
Anyone who has ever tried to interpret a car instruction manual while broken down at the side of the road will appreciate this one. AR is now being developed to make solving car issues a whole lot easier, enabling you to overlay instructions over the problem area. Hyundai already has an AR app available for its customers, helping drivers to carry out simple maintenance tasks and providing general information about their vehicle.
A company called C4X Discovery is using VR to help it develop ground-breaking drugs for diseases such as cancer, chronic addiction and dementia, using VR to visualise the structure of molecules in front of them. Previously limited to working with models, scientists can now build 3-D moving molecules to see how they move, the shapes they can take and how they might respond to certain situations. Involving VR reduces the chances of error, speeding up the whole drug development cycle.
Who knew AR and VR had so many incredible and unexpected uses outside gaming? What’s more, we get the feeling that businesses have only just scratched the surface of what’s possible. We’re certainly going to be keeping a close eye on both technologies, to see what more amazing innovations come along in the future. Watch this space.