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Though video gaming is the place where virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) use has grown most popular so far, some sectors of the tech world see these technologies as being poised as the next big thing for use in business and beyond. Some have gone as far as to suggest that when the right AR gear hits the market, the technology could become ubiquitous, making it as revolutionary as the appearance of the smartphone, cloud computing or social media.
While it’s impossible to say just how these new technologies will some day embed themselves in our lives, we’re already seeing the development of functional AR and VR tools geared towards streamlining and improving the way users experience business and commerce.
Let’s take a look at what’s trending in enterprise AR and VR and what we’re still waiting for, so that you can better get a feel for how AR and VR solutions might impact how you connect with your coworkers and your customers, sooner or later.
Finding a Path with AR
One big area of development for AR has been in wayfinding tools. Smaller players as well as massive corporations like American Airlines have partnered with developers to create AR apps that superimpose animated arrows and other location-related information over a physical space. So rather than visitors consulting a walking map and trying to correlate the path with the space around them, they hold up their device and see animations pointing them in the right direction.
This seems like a solid use case for an airport, where people are in an unfamiliar space and in a hurry to get to a gate. But it could have applications in areas from big box retail to SMBs putting on events or bringing in guests and clients. Solution providers may also be positioned to offer and build out such experiences for clients.
The New, Extra-Spatial Conference Room
Both AR and VR startups have been taking a crack at developing conferencing solutions with different methods of extending and enhancing collaborative video chat. Some plan to place the coworkers a participant would usually see on-screen superimposed in the 3-D space around them, alongside various active AR tools. Other more modest AR innovations operate like traditional video conferencing, but allow conference participants to manipulate virtual, active objects in 3-D space.
VR developers and tech players as big as Facebook have likewise been working on virtual conferencing environments which allows participants (or rather, their avatars) to interact in fully 3-D rendered universes. And some have been working on VR-generated virtual workspaces which purport to be able to enhance the sense of peace, well-being and privacy employees feel.
Hurdles, Risks and Developments Yet to Come
Beyond gaming and office use, VR and AR are crossing over into the mainstream with things like AR-based in-store promotional experiences, VR-based interior design for furniture shoppers, AR clothing try-on and even hair color try-out for brands of hair dye. But as with any technology in its incipient stages, there is still plenty up in the air about the what real, practical uses will become common. Many questions still remain, the answers to which will determine what AR and VR vision of the future eventually wins out.
For instance, while the AR wayfinding and conferencing solutions being developed could be interesting from a screen, a truly immersive experience would require users being comfortable wearing an AR headset or AR-enabled glasses. Given failed attempts at web-ready glasses in the recent past, it’s not clear if or when people will happily adopt such hardware. And there’s the added potential concern of any health risks this type of unexplored screen exposure might hold.
The same is true of VR. Though recently a gamer spent an entire week in VR and said he experienced no significant ill effects, the psychological impact of people operating in immersive virtual worlds for extended periods of time and at scale isn’t obvious. Not to mention the fact that VR equipment is more unwieldy and needs a more controlled environment.
Keeping a Real Eye on Virtual and Augmented Reality
So will we, as some argue, experience the future casually immersed in a world of AR overlays? Will our “offices” be computer-generated spaces occupied by virtual avatars that stand in for our physical bodies? Will it feel as natural to use these technologies in the course of getting the job done as it does today to check our email via smartphone? Only time will tell. But being aware of what is in development positions you to separate hyped solutions from the real essential next-gen technology, so that if and when AR and VR are central parts of the enterprise landscape, you’ll be on the cutting edge with them.
Check out CompTIA’s Understanding Emerging Technology: Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality research brief.