Augmented and Virtual Reality’s Impact on Business

Technology continues to improve and simplify our lives nonstop. Taxis are a thing of the past, and cars are starting to drive themselves. We can place orders for groceries instead of wasting time wandering the aisles. We are very close to consumers fully adopting to virtual and augmented reality into their every day. The two technologies have already crept into our lives without our noticing. Which begs the question: When will businesses adopt this tech?

What are Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality? And what’s the Difference?

Virtual Reality (VR): a simulation of a three-dimensional environment, created using interactive software and hardware, and experienced through the body.

Augmented Reality (AR): an enhanced image viewed on a screen or other display, produced by overlaying computer-generated images, sounds, or other data on a real-world environment.

To put it simply, Virtual Reality immerses you into a digital (virtual) world. Augmented Reality inserts a digital (augmented) object into your real environment. While the two are similar, they are distinctly different. VR creates an immersive environment and AR creates objects that interact with real life.

While we have only just begun discovering the capabilities of VR and AR within the past few years, their existence goes back decades. The first virtual reality invention was patented in the 1960’s by Morton Leonard Heilig. Turns out, there’s quite a history behind these concepts. Check out the Virtual Reality Society’s VR timeline and the AR history infographic by Augment.com. VR and AR concepts aren’t exactly new, but their technology has come leaps and bounds since Heilig’s sensorama.

Virtual Reality Today

The widespread adoption of smartphone technology has made VR and AR easily accessible to the average consumer. Google Cardboard was released in 2014 and allowed anyone with an Android phone to convert it into a virtual reality headset. A few scraps of cardboard, rubber bands, magnets, and lenses promised to transport you to a new world. Once the masses had access to VR, the flood gates opened for developers to create interactive apps and 360 video.

A lot of Virtual Reality’s success thus far has come from the entertainment industry; namely video games. Players are fully immersed into a digital environment through Virtual Reality headsets, adding a whole new dimension to game play. The Oculus Rift (one of the very first gaming Virtual Reality headsets) has seen steady growth since its inception and shows no signs of slowing down.

Samsung Gear VR on Six Flags Roller Coaster

Virtual Reality also found its way onto amusement park rides. Thrill seekers can transport themselves to another reality while riding through the twists and turns of a roller coaster. Six flags partnered up with Samsung to create this new experience.

Augmented Reality Today

Many of today’s most popular smartphone apps are using AR technology. Everyone remembers the release of Niantic’s Pokémon Go app. It was a huge success receiving a record number of downloads in a short amount of time. Snap Chat and Instagram have used a combination of face detection software and AR to transform users faces and add real time photo effects. These social media giants have discovered a way to make brand deals fun and engaging for the consumer.

The Smithsonian brings history to life in their museums. Visitors can observe and potentially interact with Augmented Reality exhibits with dinosaurs. You can even tour the National Museum of Natural History from your own couch.

Virtual Laser Projected Keyboard

Another emerging technology is projection-based Augmented Reality, which casts light onto real word surfaces which you can then interact with. A good example of projection-based AR are laser projecting keyboards. These replace the clunky old buttons of the typical QWERTY keyboard with a laser light shined onto your desk from a discrete projector. Now you can type by simply touching your desk top. Your finger breaks the infrared beam projected onto your desk and then produces the corresponding character on your computer. It’s a completely augmented keyboard.

Using VR and AR Technology in Business

This new technology has the potential to revolutionize every industry it encounters. Although the early purposes for Augmented and Virtual Reality was mainly entertainment, businesses are exploring ways to cash in. E-commerce sites in particular have a lot to gain with Augmented Reality. Customers can try products digitally before they buy online. Wayfair, for example, now has an AR feature in their app. Customers can place virtual versions of products into their homes before purchasing. This will be especially useful for selling big ticket items such as furniture, appliances, and even houses.

Some real estate companies offer 360-degree videos of properties they are selling. This way, home buyers can tour houses without scheduling an appointment. Contractors can use VR technology to bring blueprints to life. 3D rendering could help to sway a customer to buy.

VR and AR can also assist in job training. Pilots can train with flight simulators. Doctors and surgeons can practice complex operations without the risk of hurting anyone. Just about any profession can practice or train virtually. This could help reduce costs for businesses while increasing the skills of their employees.

The Future of VR and AR

We are just beginning to explore all the possibilities that exist with these technologies. There’s no doubt that other opportunities will emerge as AR and VR advance.

Virtual Reality may have been trendier first, but Augmented Reality is much closer to becoming more popular among big businesses. \ No headset, glasses, or cardboard is needed for AR; just a smartphone. The verge recently wrote that “AR has inherited all the promise and hype of VR.”

One application we may see in the future is an augmented view of streets and stores. As a tourist in a new location, it may be tricky to navigate through a city. Store information can appear in real time as people roam the street on their phones. Or, let’s say you’re grocery shopping. AR can help to point out sale items or reviews for food.

The future of VR and AR technology is promising. As it becomes more mainstream, it will become more affordable to develop and implement. Now is the time to discover how to capitalize on this advancement. By using AR/VR concepts, companies can deliver a unique and immersive customer experience, while focusing their efforts on their core strengths.

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