What is Immersive technology?
“Businesses, the economy and society are at a crucial stage in the adoption of virtual reality and augmented reality. Everything is in place for these technologies to now deliver on their promise by improving the way organisations operate, making processes faster and more effective, and creating incredible new experiences.” Jeremy Dalton Head of VR/AR, PwC UK.
The term immersive technologies refers to technology that replaces or expands the physical world by the creation of 360 space, allowing users to look in any direction and see content. It can take a variety of forms, from virtual reality which shuts out real life spaces to augmented reality, which superimposes a layer of digital content over the physical world. It is a term that can be used in the context of both hardware and software to create and access immersive experiences.
Over the past few years, there’s been plenty of noise around the potential of immersive tech to transform the world of work.In its Seeing is Believing report published late last year, PwC predicts that immersive technologies have the potential to deliver a $1.5 trillion boost to the global economy by 2030. But does immersive tech live up to the hype? As the technology has rapidly advanced in sophistication over the past few years, coupled with reductions in unit costs of hardware, immersive tech certainly has the potential to do just that, by offering tangible and impactful solutions to business challenges.
But for businesses looking to adopt immersive technologies to innovate and grow, making informed decisions about how these technologies work and can be applied is crucial to maximise impact on operations, productivity and connecting with customers and investors.
Examples of Immersive Technology
Getting to know the different types of immersive technology can help you to identify what innovative solution might work best for your business. These include:
- Virtual reality
Virtual reality (VR) offers a total immersion in an alternative environment to your physical space, which is fully blocked out. A high-quality immersive VR experience incorporates a user moving within a virtual world with positional tracking coming into play in VR. Positional tracking and 6 Degrees of Freedom (Dof) in VR lets the user reflect actions including jumping, leaning and ducking. It is an important technology that makes VR a more exciting and immersive experience. Content is usually computer generated, and can range from the replication of real life environments through to abstract and imagination-driven spaces. Users access content via a headset, such as Oculus Quest or HTC Vive, and hand controllers can also be incorporated into more interactive experiences, for example to move around the virtual environment, as well as interact with objects and other users.
- 360 Degree video
360 degree video differs from VR as it tends to be live filmed, rather than computer generated. Although you are fully immersed in an environment, it is limited by the fact that the user is anchored to the filmmaker’s viewpoint. This means that although you can move your head around to view your virtual world, you can’t walk around independently or interact with your surroundings. Unlike computer generated VR, 360 VR experiences are usually a solitary and passive experience.
- Augmented reality
Augmented reality (AR) really hit the public consciousness when Pokemon Go exploded onto our mobile screens back in 2016. But the potential of augmented reality stretches way beyond cute, on-the-go gaming. This week Punchdrunk announced a partnership with Pokemon Go’s creators, Niantic, to create AR immersive theatre experiences.
Augmented reality works by enhancing the real world by superficially overlaying it with computer generated content. These content assets can take many shapes and forms, so it can be flat and 2D, which is great for instructional information such as wayfinding, or be more complex and ‘real’ in 3D.
One of the great things about AR is its accessibility, as it can be accessed on widely used hardware, such as a smartphone or tablet, as well as more sophisticated kit such as the Microsoft Hololens.
- Mixed reality
Mixed reality combines elements of virtual and augmented reality. Like augmented reality, it overlays digital content with the real world. This content is anchored to and interacts with objects in the real world. A major difference between mixed and augmented reality is that in mixed reality, digital assets can be visibly obscured by real world objects.
Why Use Immersive Technology?
For businesses, the benefits of immersive technology are broad ranging – and compelling. From boosting performance and streamlining workflows, to making workplaces safer, improving the effectiveness of training, as well as transforming marketing and communications; immersive technologies have the power to transform the world of work.
- Transforming workplaces and the way teams work together
VR platforms such as Future Visual’s VISIONxR™ can provide a shared virtual space for collaborative work. This has the potential to revolutionise working processes, allowing teams to work remotely, as well as work on interdependent tasks simultaneously. For example, VR is transforming R&D workflows. By developing virtual, rather than physical prototypes, processes are accelerated, allowing R&D teams to fail fast and learn quickly.
Immersive technologies can also be integrated into the workplace to support process-driven roles, helping to make workplaces safer and lower downtime. Augmented reality is increasingly recognised for its potential to provide maintenance engineers easy access to technical information and manuals through simple visual interfaces that can be accessed on site by mobile phones.
- Improving Training
There’s also tangible evidence that immersive technologies can help improve the effectiveness of training – from significantly improving retention of knowledge, through to learning new skills at a more rapid pace, great for the individual and great for businesses!
Workplaces and work-based challenges can be realistically replicated in the virtual space. This means that employees can benefit from practical, hands-on training experiences in a risk-free environment. By doing this, they are able to learn from their mistakes and repeat experiences to improve muscle memory. What’s more, they are able to learn alongside teammates.
You can read more on VR Training – Innovation for Today’s Business Reality.
- Marketing and communications
Immersive technologies aren’t just great for internal working practices and procedures, they also provide a powerful tool to communicate with clients and market products and services to potential customers.
Virtual and augmented realities have the potential to capture attention and wow audiences and provoke active responses, making them an ideal marketing tool. The proliferation of smartphones means that augmented reality has the potential to be widely accessible – and blend seamlessly with additional social media content to connect with potential customers and accelerate purchase decisions. At the opposite end of the immersive scale, location-based VR can help to create meaningful experiential marketing experiences that reinforce positive brand messaging and strengthen engagement.
Use Cases for Immersive Technology
Hearing how innovation is being successfully applied helps to inspire and embrace emerging technologies and new ways of working. Education and retail highlight how immersive tech can be applied in various ways across diverse sectors to improve engagement and performance.
- Immersive tech in education
The New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) notes that “augmented reality has the potential to revolutionise learning in primary and secondary schools more than any other technology has done in the recent past”.
Immersive technologies have the potential to learn, amaze and inspire in equal measure. It has the power to spark curiosity, creativity and critical thinking, give students the chance to experience different places and times, as well as developing social and emotional skills. This makes it ideal for innovating education and enhancing the current curriculum – and beyond. Moreover, it has the potential to help provide the next generation with the skills needed for the future workplaces.
The award winning ClassVR gives a tantalising glimpse into the potential of introducing immersive technologies into schools. It allows students to learn across a range of topics, from improving creative writing to understanding science and maths. Students are able to undertake study at their own speed, which is supplemented with guides and worksheets for collaborative learning. Moreover, it provides crucial support for teachers, from lesson planning with curriculum focused content, through to instructions for classroom management. Anecdotal feedback from teachers highlights that VR improves engagement and enjoyment for students.
- The Giza Project
The Giza Project, an international collaboration at Harvard University highlights how higher education students can also benefit from embedding immersive content into courses. It gives students the chance to virtually visit the ancient Pyramids of Giza, and explore underground and through hard-to-access tunnels – areas only accessible with the aid of VR technology. Through virtual 3D mapping, it also allows them to learn more about the chronology and development of these ancient buildings, including the decisions around layout and how rituals played a role in their development.
- Immersive tech in retail
As online shopping has significantly changed shopping behaviours over the past few years. This, coupled with increasing costs of running physical stores means that finding new and effective ways to connect with customers, has never been more crucial for retailers to survive and thrive. Immersive tech holds numerous benefits for the retail sector – from gaining customer insights through to marketing and customer service training for employees. Additionally, one of the key drivers behind the adoption of immersive tech for many innovating retailers is the potential for customers to ‘try before you buy’. This ranges from visualising what clothes might look like without having to try them on physically, through to seeing what furniture looks like outside the retail environment.
- The John Lewis Design Project VR experience
One of the challenges for furniture retailers is displaying their whole range of products in store, where space is premium. When John Lewis launched it’s Design Project brand, it teamed up with Future Visual to produce an in-store experiential VR experience. It transported customers to an apartment entirely furnished with Design Project furniture and décor. Customers were able to move around the room and interact with the products, including being able to pick them up and move them, change colours and fabrics and get an up close 360 view.
The Design Project VR experience engaged with customers in a novel and unique way, as well as giving John Lewis the chance to gain crucial customer insights into their views on not only the VR experience, but their product range too.
- Digital Fashion – the future trend?
Beyond ‘try before you buy’, retail fashion is also experimenting with immersive technologies, where the potential to create new revenue streams is increasingly being recognised. The Fashion Innovation Agency’s Matthew Drinkwater highlights that in the age of fast fashion, clothing is often bought to be worn once for the specific purpose of producing pictures to post across social media channels. This opens a new opportunity for fashion designers and retailers; the production and distribution of digital clothing through AR imagery.
For example, in 2018, Scandinavian retailer Carlings developed a digital clothing collection, costing up to $30 per item. Customer photos were manipulated by digital tailors, so it looked like they were dressed in the digital clothes. To maintain an exclusive feel, the reproduction of garments was limited – and all sold out in less than a week.
What Does the Future Hold for Immersive Technology?
Current innovations in immersive technologies and their applications across industry sectors highlight the potential of VR, AR and MR to transform business activity and give us a glimpse into an immersive future.
Over the past few years, advances in immersive tech in terms of technical functionality, creativity and usability are mind blowing. But to truly revolutionise the world of business, the immersive tech sector needs to clearly focus on addressing real world challenges across businesses and the overall economy. And for businesses looking to innovate to thrive, it’s crucial to identify the ROI in introducing immersive tech through recognising its impact in supporting growth, streamlining operations, nurturing employees’ skills and connecting with customers.