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Since 1992, NASA had been using a technology for replicating space on earth at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to train astronauts for spacewalks. Even the defence sector had been leveraging the same technology in ‘flight or battlefield simulations’ and ‘virtual bootcamp’ to create real-life experiences without actual danger to a soldier’s life. No matter how applicable augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) might have been in the past; but today, various industries are incorporating AR and VR into their regular products and services to enhance customer experience.
As technologies in AR and VR unravel in front of our eyes, understanding their purpose and functionality is essential. With AR, users continue to be in touch with the real world while interacting with virtual objects around them. Like the Pokemon mobile game in which users can fight and capture fictional creatures that are overlaid on their game screen. However, with VR technologies such as Oculus Rift and others, the user is isolated from the real world while being immersed in an entirely fabricated world. Like the flight simulators in an aviation school or the Google Tilt Brush application on the HTC Vive headsets (turning the world in front of your eyes into an interactive aeroplane cockpit or a 3D canvas).
As companies aggressively work on making these technologies more mainstream, our perception of the functionality of industries ranging from defence to gaming awaits a massive transformation. Here are a few examples of applications and use-cases of AR/VR technology that have been adopted by varied industries or sectors:
1. Education - California recently opened a VR learning centre for medical students where they can use an Oculus DK2 to travel inside the human body instead of just reading about red blood cells.
2. Healthcare - Recently, a doctor in Miami used Google Cardboard to plan for surgery on a baby who was born with half a heart and only one lung.
3. Automobile - Ford Motor Company uses VR to design cars before it makes a physical prototype.
4. Real Estate - These technologies enable customers to stand inside a house without visiting that place physically.
5. Gaming - Over 20 per cent of gaming companies were developing AR/VRbased games in 2015, up from seven per cent in 2014.
6. Sports - Baseball teams like the Dallas Cowboys and Tampa Bay Rays are already using AR/VR systems to aid in training.
7. Manufacturing - UK based Virtalis uses VR to allow manufacturers to give staff a real feel for the new constructions, be it a submarine or an apartment block.
8. Media and Entertainment - From the New York Times and ABC News to “Star Wars”, big media, entertainment and retail brands are testing the limits of AR and VR.
9. Tourism - Getting to visit a location in virtual reality could help potential travellers make decisions.
Guests staying at specific locations can use a Gear VR to visit places like Chile, Rwanda, and Beijing virtually. The combined global market value of AR and VR is projected to be above $110 billion by 2021 with AR taking a share of $80-$85 billion. In 2015, 864 million mobile phones became capable of running AR programs and content indicating a significant market opportunity for AR companies.
The primary challenge for the AR and VR technologies is the ability to go further mainstream with affordable and user-friendly industry-specific use cases. The VR market is currently taking baby steps in India with headset shipments crossing $3 million in Q1 2016. With the ever-increasing smartphone penetration in developing nations like India, effective marketing of entry-level VR headsets by smartphone manufacturers have increased the India’s VR usage. India has 80 – 100 start-ups operating in the VR space but only a handful of companies could raise any seed or angel stage capital from venture funds. A Hyderabad-based startup, LoopReality, has used indoor biking, virtual reality and Internet of things to create LoopFit. It offers a fully immersive cycling experience and can sync with all the wearable devices to track the vitals of the user. AR is nascent in India with less than 100 companies being operational in the sector.
(This article was first published in the July issue of Entrepreneur Magazine. To subscribe, click here)