The invention of computers has been impactful to say the least. The digital nature of computers has given us the ability to add new dimensions to our world in the form of software programs.
These programs have gone on to permeate every aspect of our life: logistics, health, manufacturing and even our social relationships.
First we had the desktop computer which gave rise to a variety of programs for both personal and professional use. Then came the internet which brought us to a new level of global connectivity. The smartphone revolution soon followed which added a mobile and highly personal layer to how we consume software.
At each of these stages, new paradigms opened up and there were winners who took advantage of these new platforms. In the coming years, virtual, augmented and mixed reality will represent the next phase in software evolution. If you understand the implications of this technology, you may be able to replicate the patterns of success seen with the likes of Amazon and Uber in their platform evolutions.
In the first part, we have learned that experiencing a different reality has long been a part of our history. The announcement of the new Microsoft HoloLens 2 increased public interest in virtual reality and is a prime example for the opportunities and challenges of this rather young technology.
Although we have used virtual reality as the focus, there are two other sister technologies called augmented and mixed reality. They are closely related and draw on similar concepts such as a head mounted display, graphic and computer processing, sensors and a distortion of reality by manipulating our senses. The differences between the three are as follows:
Virtual Reality – VR aims to achieve a fully immersive experience, one where the user feels a sense of presence – the feeling that they are actually part of this new world. This is achieved by a blocking out the outside world, usually through optic means, but also auditory as well. VR is about creating an entirely new experience that is separate from our world – one which you are free to move around in and interact with. Experiences such as exploring mars or the inside of a body constitute VR.
Augmented Reality – AR adds a graphical overlay to the world. With AR, you are not immersed in another world. Instead, the world around you is enhanced which is achieved through glasses that project graphical images into your eyes. This is typically in the form of information or interfaces – examples including data about the weather when you look at the sky or being able to navigate the internet with your eyes and fingers.
Mixed Reality – As the name implies, MR combines elements of augmented and virtual reality. MR allows you to see and interact with the real world but adds elements of the virtual world that are fixed in place. MR typically takes advantage of your location data to create an experience that is both realistic and fantastical. The sensation of Pokemon Go is the most notable example of MR. Another example of this is bringing real world objects into the virtual world. For instance, a software that tracks a humans face movements and maps it to a fictional character in real time.
The three types of alternative realities all serve different purposes so it isn’t a case of which one is best. Depending on your business, you may find more use cases for one rather than the other.
As more jobs become automated and new industries emerge, there is an ongoing need to reskill workers to adapt to this change. VR adds a whole new dimension to the tools that we have for learning, and represents one of the primary ways humans evolved to learn – from experiences.
One problem that employers face is that their employees may lack the motivation to undergo traditional study in conjunction with their work. Virtual reality technology can solve this by creating learning experiences that engage all the senses, leading to a more engaged and motivated learner. Even rigorous subjects such as data or security can be visualized and presented in ways that make the learning process fun and less difficult.
There are some aspects of job training that benefit directly from being presented as a simulation. The obvious ones being for job roles that involve physical processes such as operating equipment, medical work or the trades. Some jobs such as in the military are simply not practical to be taught in a real world environment. For instance, jobs that may need exposure to different environments or involve activities that are dangerous such as working from heights.
When it comes to corporate social responsibility, empathy can be used as a catalyst to inspire action. We too often think of businesses as silos which operate outside of society, but this is clearly not the case. Collectively, business has a significant impact on the world around us. To help your team think beyond work and give back, it may be useful to expose them to VR experiences that showcase some of the major issues in the world around. This can help galvanize CSR initiatives in your organization which feeds back into the bottom line by increased brand equity.
As globalization continues to accelerate, the human structure of our organizations is undergoing change. Not only in terms of legal structure and hierarchy, but geographic distribution is also a significant driver. Combined with the need to find the best people, remote working is becoming a common practice. It’s now possible to have a completely distributed team that are operating in different time zones, but this brings some challenges.
For teams that are designing physical products such as in manufacturing or consumer goods, augmented reality provides a way to more effectively conceptualize and interact with the 3D concept. Motor Vehicle engineers will be able to assemble and dissect the different parts of a new car that they are envisioning. Product designers will be able to feel the ergonomics of a new mobile device before a prototype is even made.
For physical manufacturing, AR adds a new layer to the design thinking method which allows teams to create realistic prototypes faster and more efficiently. This is also helpful by allowing managers who are distanced from the product teams to better conceptualize how and what is being built. AR then allows for faster decision making and better speed to market.
Aside from utilizing other applications to enhance your business, you may find that there are problems unique to you that you can solve with VR or AR. These new software platforms are ripe with opportunities that have yet to be capitalized on. In fact, one of the major reasons for a lack of adoption at the moment is due to not enough content being available. But like with all new platforms, it is up to the entrepreneurs to take the risk and pioneer the solutions. This comes with the reward of being the first mover which leads to better brand recognition.
VR can be used as a promotional device, depending on what you are selling. For physical industries such as real estate, it can be used to allow viewers to look around the house remotely for instance – allowing estate agents to save costs by giving virtual tours at scale. The same could be done for other physical products such as driving a car, fashion and even a dining experience. With some creativity, you can also create marketing experiences for service and digital products too. Think along the lines of cinematic experiences that allow users to interact with your brand in the best possible way.
In terms of creating a happy workforce, you can leverage VR as an entertainment device that enables social relationships between your team. Mark Zuckerberg noted that the biggest adoption driver of VR will be social which drove his acquisition of the Oculus Rift. Although an experience may seem simple when you experience it on your own, it becomes much more engaging when you do it with others.
A large segment of what is driving the adoption of VR is coming from the gaming market. Although VR has been used in private settings like the military for decades, it is the entertainment use case that will propel the technology into the mainstream. VR experiences when designed properly can be more fun than anything else on the market. Although not as practical a benefit as the others, you can use VR as an incentive tool for your employees. Modern companies such as Google have slides and ping pong tables, so why not add VR devices around the office to let your employees relax.
A 15 minute experience at the end of a stressful day that transports everybody to a fun simulation could make a difference in reducing burnout, strengthening bonds and reminding everyone that it’s not all about the work.
The benefits of VR, AR, and MR will vary depending on your business, but there are some general use cases that can be applied universally. At the moment, you may not be able to realise some of the benefits outlined as the relevant software has yet to be developed. But being aware of these benefits will help you to keep an eye out for the applications that can help you.
Sascha Grumbach is an entrepreneur with comprehensive practical experience as a business consultant and project manager in innovation and disruption projects.