Augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies are regarded as the fourth digital revolution, following the […]
Digital reality: from gadget to behavioural change
Augmented, virtual and mixed reality technologies are regarded as the fourth digital revolution, following the PC, internet and smartphones. The months ahead will see a huge shift where applications are scaled up, bringing about a lasting behavioural change in the way technology affects our daily lives.
The obstacles of digital reality
In technical terms the obstacles to digital reality (the collective name for VR, AR and Mixed Reality) are reducing rapidly. A number of technological developments make the general acceptance of digital reality possible. For example, batteries last longer, the app ecosystem is robust and hardware prices are falling. Consumers and businesses are also finding digital reality increasingly common. The fact that VR glasses are given as gifts with telephone subscriptions, and that a popular Dutch TV show The Voice of Holland offers a VR experience alongside its TV broadcast, all helps with acceptance. This has positive consequences for the market. Research by the International Data Corp. (IDC) shows that total expenditure on AR/VR products and services will rise from $9.1 billion in 2017 to nearly $160 billion in 2021; this equates to a compound annual growth of 113.2 percent.
What logical explanation is there for this explosive growth? Companies are increasingly shifting their focus from experimenting with AR/VR devices like ‘cool gadgets’, to building serious solutions optimising their business processes. There is huge growth potential for the application of digital reality in sectors such as telecom, education, automotive, aerospace, manufacturing and retail.
It’s now possible to display personal, context-specific information far beyond the frames of a fixed screen. Real immersive experiences are most effective when physical environments and digital components are combined. Consider for example an AR retail experience where all mannequins show the products in the customer’s size, or a supermarket where the visitor only sees the products that fit within his or her diet.
These are simple examples of possible use cases. For an insight into what else is possible, we have mapped out five strategic directions where you might apply digital reality:
Connecting: working together remotely
Digital reality helps employees to work together, share information and support each other, regardless of their locations. This far surpasses a faltering video conference with bad audio. Teams can collaborate on virtual whiteboards that are updated in real time. Another example might be an engineer on the other side of the world who sees exactly what’s broken on an engine and can supervise the repair – through video projection. You can also use VR for co-creation: show a model in 3D that people can walk around and you’re much more likely to identify the weak points. BMW already does this, for example, in its design process.
Knowing: quick access to knowledge
Digital reality applications let you give employees the specific information they need to complete a task, at the right time and in the right location. Consider smart glasses with which someone working in the construction industry can call in the direct help of a colleague, who explains how to run the electrical wiring and how to attach parts. Or a warehouse employee who can use smart glasses to see exactly which items can be found where. In this way you can conceptualise everything, from architecture to supply chain mapping, even right through to very practical matters such as the removal of language barriers. In our Denver studio, for example, we have developed a smart glasses concept using voice recognition to provide real-time subtitling when you speak to someone in another language.
Learning: contextual training
A number of companies already use digital reality to train employees in real-life situations. For example, KFC places new staff in a virtual escape room from which they can only escape if they complete the five steps of preparing chicken successfully. And in the Netherlands, regional airline KLM Cityhopper has started providing safety training through VR. Employees no longer have to wait for an aircraft in the hangar to practise on, but can maintain and train their safety skills at any time. With the great VR advantage that it’s not theoretical – your actions have the same effect as in the real world, maximising the learning effect.
Discover: test run something before you buy it
There are many consumer-focused tests and use cases where one can experience a new product or service before buying it. Think of taking a virtual tour around a cruise ship, a house for sale or the accommodation for your dream holiday. There are virtual make-up mirrors where you can test certain products virtually in real time.
In the IKEA app, you can project furniture into your own home to see whether it fits in size and style.
Play: experience rather than watch
Soon you’ll no longer just watch a video; instead you’ll undergo an experience that matches or even improves reality. Inspiring people with a PowerPoint presentation is difficult, but what if you could place your audience in the middle of your story? For example, you could create much more involvement and goodwill by sharing the new business strategy in an interactive 360-degree video. Storytelling in this form remains a powerful means of communication. But there are also numerous use cases involving gaming and live events, and these will only grow in the near future.
Yes, in your backyard
The five directions mentioned show that almost every company can come up with applications for digital reality. There is usually no lack of enthusiasm, but things often bog down because people are fixated too much on the technology. The starting point should rather be: what friction does the (internal or external) customer experience, and how can VR, AR or a combination of them remove it? You don’t have to optimise the entire customer journey right away – there’s nothing wrong with starting small and gaining experience by developing a prototype. You will soon gain a major competitive advantage by investing in expertise now and creating an environment stimulating the development of these technologies.
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