Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends (Part 4): Virtual & Augmented Reality

The fourth of ten strategic technology trends is virtual and augmented reality, henceforth referred to as VR and AR. In 2016, the AR game Pokemon Go was released and quickly recorded over one million downloads.

This game is a prime example of the application of AR in the consumer market. Granted, it is a game with fanciful characters, but it shows what AR can do for us even now. Imagine this technology being applied to firefighting. Upon arrival at a fire, the fire fighters can hold up a tablet or smart phone with an app that overlays the floor plan, gas shutoff location, etc. of the building. They don’t need to waste time searching for these important pieces of information. Also, with trackers on their fire fighters, the incident commander can see avatars of the fire fighters as they move through the building on the same overlay. He or she can then direct them toward certain rooms or areas of the building using the AR overlay. It’s the same technology that functions in Pokemon Go.

You’ve probably seen the commercials for the latest round of consumer VR technology, which consists of strapping your smart phone to your face. Some of the more advanced versions of this include hand-held controls and even a pad for you to stand on while you are in your VR world. This technology, which has been pushed hard by Samsung to accompany their Galaxy series of phones, is really the first time VR has been widely available to consumers for an affordable price. More common, but perhaps less thought of, are AR devices and apps. AR enables a blending of the real world and the virtual world. This is normally done through the use of a smart phone or tablet, but there are also devices like Google Glass which can be worn by the user in a similar way to VR headsets.

The applications of AR are immense. The image above shows how the AR technology used in Google Glass could be used on the windshield of a car. Not only is standard information displayed, such as speed and heading, but also displayed is GPS information and information about a nearby business. The image below shows another way in which this technology could be used. An overlay of the data for each of the road’s lanes is displayed as well as a turning zone in this case. Sensors can be used to show hazard warnings on the overlay. For example, if the pedestrian in the image were to enter the roadway, the blue zone would turn red and warn the driver to stop due to an upcoming obstruction (the pedestrian).

The practical applications of VR are not far behind those of AR. However, VR is more suited for communication than it is to cars. VR can facilitate the creation of entire interactive worlds within which people can communicate and interact. Applications of this technology are immense, but in my mind the most significant application is in communications. We operate in a global society with constant contact around the globe. Currently, there are various methods to accomplish this; telephone, text messaging, internet messaging, email, video conferencing, etc. The thing that most of these methods lack is communication through body language, which can make up the majority of interpersonal communication.

Imagine having the ability to sit in your office in New York and have a virtual face-to-face meeting with a coworker in China using VR technology. You put on your VR headset which has attached headphones and control handles or gloves that can provide tactile feedback. You enter your virtual meeting and shake your coworker’s hand, which registers through your gloves. The virtual environment replicates a conference room and your avatar looks just like you. You can speak to your coworker in English and the native artificial intelligence (AI) in the system instantly translates your words into Chinese before relaying them to your coworker on the other side of the world. VR can allow you to meet in an environment that looks and feels like reality, without the associated costs in time and money that it would take you or your coworker to travel around the world for the same effect.

VR and AR will have increasing applications within the world of homeland security in the near future. These technologies can enhance our ability to communicate with one another, share information, and make decisions in real-time environments. The costs associated with these technologies are continuing to decrease, and they have the potential to offset the costs associated with homeland security work, in both money and time.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of this series!

This is the fourth part in a ten part series on emerging technology trends and their application to the future homeland security environment of the United States. Gartner, a leading IT research and advisory company, holds an annual symposium and IT expo to bring together CIOs and IT leaders from around the world to discuss emerging trends in technology. At the 2016 symposium, Gartner identified its top 10 strategic technology trends for 2017. These trends are divided into three main themes: Intelligent, Digital, and Mesh. These themes and the top 10 trends are depicted in the diagram below. This series is designed to provide an examination of each of these trends from a homeland security perspective to see what the future of technology has in store for our nation’s homeland security environment.

This is only one part of a ten-part series on strategic technology trends in 2017. Take a look at what’s coming up next in this series!

Part 5 Digital Twin

Part 6 Blockchain

Part 7 Conversational Systems

Part 8 Mesh App & Service Architecture

Part 9 Digital Technology Platforms

Part 10 Adaptive Security Architecture

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