In the world of emerging technology, some new trends are almost invisible, enabling new applications while working behind the scenes. Virtual reality and augmented reality are not those types of trends. VR and AR are literally right in front of the end user’s eyes, and while there are some obvious consumer applications, businesses may not always see how they can tap into the potential.
What is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality is the more common of the two trends, but it may have more limited possibilities within a business. Most people are familiar with VR from the video game industry, where it has been evolving for many years. The main ingredient of a VR system is some type of headset that completely takes over the user’s field of vision, providing an immersive experience. More advanced VR systems provide audio immersion, extremely high resolution, and positional tracking that allows users to move around and use their hands to interact with the virtual environment.
The system requirements for VR range from a smartphone inserted into a simple cardboard eyepiece to a self-contained headset to wearables that connect to powerful computers that do the bulk of the processing. Regardless of the equipment involved, there is significant friction for the end user in setting up and using the technology.
Given this friction, businesses have to think carefully about where they may want to implement VR. Conferencing is a possible solution, but the benefits to a VR conference have to be weighed against the cost of the equipment and the usability. Training holds more possibilities, but again there would have to be a sizable investment in the VR training program. For some companies, the return will be worth the investment, but it may be difficult for VR to reach mass adoption.
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality is far less immersive than virtual reality. In AR, some kind of device goes between a user and the physical environment, and information can be displayed while the user still has a normal view of their surroundings. Today, this is usually done with a smartphone or a wearable such as the early Google Glass experiment or Microsoft’s Hololens. Moving forward, the technology could be incorporated into everyday eyeglasses, building windows, or devices customized for specific situations.
On the front end, the equipment needed for AR is less complex. On the back end, though, things get more complicated. While VR requires heavy processing to render high-resolution virtual environments, AR requires image recognition to analyze the physical environment, network management to transmit data depending on the real-time needs, and a database of information that can be displayed.
However, the simplification of the front end and the wider range of possibilities from using the surrounding environment lead to broader potential for businesses. Providing additional information to an end user can add value in many different scenarios. Local information for tourists, equipment specifications for repair technicians, and virtual furnishing for interior designers are just a few of the ways AR is being used today.
Moving forward with VR/AR
As companies consider any ventures in mixed reality (the umbrella term applying to any combination of VR and AR), they should recognize that as with many emerging technologies, the best strategy is not to look for ways to evolve existing technology; it is to imagine brand-new applications that can utilize the new tech. Rather than asking “Where could we fit in VR/AR?”, it is better to start with business goals and work collaboratively to integrate new trends.
Outside of conferencing, most current applications of VR/AR are activities that had no IT precursor. Instead, these activities serve a business objective—such as improving customer experience or expanding the definition of the corporate brand—and the IT team is responsible for building the appropriate technology model. This approach is different from a traditional approach to IT, but it is becoming the standard for digital organizations.
After jointly determining an idea for a new application, IT must help their business counterparts understand the total cost of the system. Especially in the case of AR, this goes far beyond the user device and the accompanying software application. There are back end components needed, and these components will need to integrate with the existing IT architecture along with existing business processes. There are also social ramifications to consider, primarily the degree to which any awkwardness in using the system might impeded adoption.
VR and AR represent exciting new interfaces and engaging new applications, but there are many hurdles a business must clear in order to successfully implement this emerging technology. By learning about all the components, starting with a business need, and collaborating with business units, IT professionals can help make the right choices around this new trend.
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