Ways to use Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR)

By Trevor Clarke, Tech Research Asia co-founder and director

It really is stating the obvious that virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) - and to a lesser extent mixed reality - have opened up new possibilities and experiences. At the start of 2017 we are at a point where the adoption and use of these technologies are heading toward mainstream, or at the very least mainstream awareness. Why? The technology to consume content and services made with VR or AR is widely available and accessible in terms of price and ease of use. And the tools to make this content from the 360 degree cameras, drones, to the editing and publishing platforms are similarly abundant and affordable.

VR and AR will not be the most critical technology to evaluate for every organisation - that's also pretty obvious. But I am constantly surprised that many IT and business leaders across Asia Pacific have yet to even try it out themselves or have an internal discussion about the merits of a project including VR or AR - especially when so many are committed to customer experience and digital transformation strategies. To help rectify this and in line with the spirit of the TQ Ideas Edition, I've listed some ways that VR and AR are being used today. There are many more and I'd encourage every business and IT leader to at least have a conversation or ideation session about how you might leverage the technology in 2017.

Healthcare and Aged Care: The healthcare industry has long sought ways for helping improve health outcomes using technology. VR and AR are no different in this regards. There have been surgeons using Google Glass and many others trialling VR (such as here, here and here) to enhance operations or procedures as well as to broadcast to an audience. There are also several aged care providers that are looking at how VR might assist residents and patients. For example, by allowing them to immersive experience events they may not be able to physically attend or to help with reducing the stress that Alzheimer's patients experience.

Education and training: Digital education is now a staple in most education systems around Asia Pacific, complemented of course by in-person teaching. And in most professional and many amateur sports the video review of recent games or practice is a regular part of training. Many in the education and training sectors are now upping their tech game by turning to VR and AR to provide an enhanced experience. VR for its ability to provide different and immersive perspectives such as with the Port Adelaide Football Club in Australia, and AR because of its ability to offer on-demand information and direction to existing or newly-created materials.

Museums or exhibitions: VR offers galleries, museums, and other organisations that hold exhibits a way to provide a different dynamic to the in-person or digital experience. We have seen AR also used highly effectively for exhibits. See the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History example in the video below.

Story Telling and Art: Similar to the museum example, there are many ways to use VR and AR to tell great stories or produce new art. For Example, The Verge has a great roundup from the Sundance film festival or check out the VR film about Indigenous Australians, Collisions.

Advertising: REA Group followed others in the real estate sector in Australia to use AR to provide its customers with additional information to advertising boards for its properties. This is, indeed, a common way to apply AR and is an idea that can potentially be adopted by any organisation that uses physical advertising, whether this is in a printed publication or on billboards.

Showcase your organisation or assets: We have witnessed a number of organisations use VR to showcase what they do as an organisation to help with recruitment of staff and students. One Australian university, Deakin University, used drone footage of its campus and 360 degree video of lectures to provide a sample "day in the life of a student" to prospective undergraduates (see video below). This concept could easily be applied to many physical environments or even jobs.

Maintenance: AR has been used by remote workers in many countries' defence forces for some time to maintain vehicles and equipment ( this article was from 2009). Today AR can help a maintenance person quickly understand the vehicle or machinery they are working on with plans or information overlaid on their vision in the AR glasses for any industry. The main thrust is to enable workers to be more productive and give them freedom of consuming information with hands free.

Customer engagement: One of the smartest applications of VR that we have seen is by a non-profit organisation that needed a new way to cut through with its message. Instead of trying to approach visitors to a mall or shopping centre to engage them, the organisation created a VR experience that did the work for them. The average time spent with an individual subsequently went from a few seconds to 5 to 10 minutes. There have also been many organisations related to the travel and tourism industry that have created their own VR videos such as the Hamilton Island tour below.

Physical product or location development: One of the most exciting developments that tools like HoloLens has brought is the ability to use mixed reality or AR when designing products or buildings. Instead of viewing 2D plans or images on a screen, the user can view the draft plans or prototype overlaid into reality. In some instances changes to the design can be made in real time with the customers input. This is a fairly significant shift in the way products and physical environments are designed. See examples from Volvo or a architectural professor from UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture.

Entertainment and Events: Any organisation that runs events of any kind (sporting, musical, theatrical, government, corporate, and more) in a venue that has a fixed amount of seating should look into whether they can increase their audience with VR. Companies like Next VR, which has broadcast VR versions of sporting events, political debates, and others, are opening up new experiences and revenue streams. In addition to events, of course, is the world of gaming. I've deliberately left this until last as it is the easiest application of VR to understand and also popularised AR via Pokémon Go. See the Sony PSP VR launch video below for more.

Sometimes it is better to try these technologies yourself so you can really grasp their potential. The good news is you can use your existing smartphone and pick up a $30 cardboard headset. Or just visit your local electronics retailer, most have them on show for trial.