A promising market
First of all, it is really important not to confuse virtual reality (VR) with augmented reality (AR). AR uses a virtual interface, in 2D or 3D, which enriches reality by adding extra information. In practice, AR has the real world as its starting point, before embedding virtual objects, animation, data, sounds, and more, which the user then visualizes on a terminal (smartphone, tablet, glasses, or helmet). Virtual reality has a different approach. It offers a solution for digitally simulating an environment, with the possibility of virtually experiencing that environment through several senses (primarily vision, but also smell, hearing or touch).
According to a study by consulting firm Hampleton Partners, the global market for VR and AR will grow from $ 6 billion in 2016 to some $ 178.8 billion by 2022. As the AR market will experience an accumulated annual growth of 44.5% to $ 17.8 billion, the VR market will explode to a staggering $ 161 billion by 2022, a growth of no less than 85.4%. Hampleton Partners added that the growth will not only focus on the leisure sector, but also on health care, manufacturing and distribution, mainly for training purposes.
From the general public to the professional market
VR is nothing new. The technology’s roots date back to 1956, to the start of Morton Heilig’s Sensorama system. However, it was only in the 1990s that the first VR helmets for the general public appeared on the market. Meanwhile, products such as Oculus Rift and GO, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear, Playstation VR and Google Cardboard have indeed won over the consumer through video games. But other industries are starting to take an interest in VR as well. As a result, museums, for example, now offer visitors a new type of experience, with so-called 360° immersive solutions.
Companies are also beginning to take more interest in the VR phenomenon. For example, manufacturers use VR to promote their brands or marketing events, or to support product presentations and product launches. Using VR, it is possible to present a product that is not yet physically available or to stage it in a more spectacular way. Similarly, the real estate industry uses VR to provide virtual tours of building projects, based on 3D modeling, virtual and 360° images, and new and more user-friendly interfaces. In industrial environments, VR allows partners and customers to take a virtual tour of production facilities, when safety and hygiene conditions do not allow physical visits. Some businesses offer these virtual tours because they prefer to be open and transparent about their manufacturing facilities.
Without a doubt one of the most promising areas for VR is providing assistance to training or maintenance. Indeed, the technology makes it possible to integrate industrial processes and machines into a tool that can help the technician to work in a virtual way, before he or she starts a physical intervention on site. What’s more, VR makes it possible to simulate different scenarios (such as incidents, anomalies, and risks), allowing the best possible preparation for the actual field work. And as is often the case with technological innovation, the sky is the limit. Imagination is in charge, ready to design new applications thanks to ever cheaper and more efficient technology.
A study by the Capgemini Research Institute revealed that 82% of companies that have implemented a VR or AR project reported results that were satisfactory or even exceeded their expectations. Some 75% of companies with VR or AR experience reported operating profits that were 10% higher than expected. It should also be noted that 50% of companies that have not yet deployed these technologies are planning to do so soon, while 46% of respondents indicated that they want to use VR or AR within three years.
To have a successful VR project, the challenge is to combine and integrate different technologies to offer the user a new and especially ‘natural’ experience. At the same time, innovation is required as VR products are at different stages of maturity. And in this area too, collaboration beyond the silos of the organization is essential to remove the boundaries between VR and the physical environment.
In the long run, VR and AR will come closer, resulting in ‘mixed reality’ or ‘augmented virtual reality’ by combining both virtual and real-world elements. This way, engineers will work in real time on the same 3D object in a room, collaborating with other participants remotely, without using a specific device. Indeed, the elements of interaction will improve (including haptic feedback, such as the ability of a bare hand to feel a change of temperature or texture), all associated with voice control, air clicks or eye-controlled command. Hampleton Partners concludes: “The growth of the VR and AR industries will be boosted by the integration of technology into industrial and manufacturing processes. [...] The reality is that many businesses now need a full AR/VR strategy to ensure they are not left behind.”
Aprico develops and implements innovative ICT solutions that improve productivity, efficiency, and profitability, applying cutting-edge expertise and perfectly mastering both the technological and business aspects of clients in all industries. Aprico enables clients to be more efficient and to take up technological challenges, including virtual and augmented reality. To enhance the value of digital transformation projects, Aprico collaborates closely with its clients in an open and transparent way, with full access to all project information.