What’s inhibiting widespread consumer adoption of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technology, and what might finally move the needle of mass take-up? That’s what myself and Pablo Fraile, alongside leading XR (the collective term for AR and VR) developers, explored in episodes 2 (“Working the Virtual Rooms”) and 3 (“Digitizing the Physical World”) of the New Reality podcast series.
Social networking in Virtual Reality
For many people, AR and VR are synonymous with gaming. It’s certainly true that both technologies have experienced success in the gaming market: just think of the success of Pokémon Go, the AR-based mobile game, or the fact that you can add VR to your PlayStation for under $300. Yet both technologies have so much more to offer.
While gaming is and will remain an important use case, we’re already seeing developers building immersive XR experiences beyond gaming. Nic Fajt, CEO of Rec Room, talked us through how they built a virtual universe with different rooms for users to explore. While it’s largely designed as a social experience, there are also examples of Rec Room being used to teach classes, host conference calls and even provide therapy sessions.
The range of use cases being used by one application alone shows the potential of VR beyond gaming. This is supported by Arm’s Made Possible series in which Bob Jester used VR to reduce his pain medication after an accident. In fact, a report from Grand View Research states that the global healthcare market for VR and AR is expected to grow to an estimated $5.1 billion by 2025, with a range of healthcare use cases coming to the fore.
Enterprise leading the charge on AR adoption
While consumers are still easing into AR, its adoption within certain Enterprise sectors is far more advanced, even yielding impressive returns on investment (ROI)—particularly in manufacturing, engineering and training. AR-based applications can be applied to a range of sectors to improve workplace productivity. From a survey that Arm ran among senior business leaders, 66 percent saw a role for AR headsets and glasses in their companies. From the different sectors surveyed construction was particularly supportive of AR being used—over 70 percent—with a key benefit noted being on-site visualisation.
This is demonstrated in the New Reality episode 3 video featuring Adam Chernick from SHoP Architects, an architecture company that has built an app to enable clients to explore virtual designs of buildings through AR prior to their construction. The visual element of the app allows users to gain a more in-depth understanding of how a building will look and be designed. It also allows architects and construction workers to understand and address any potential challenges with a building project before construction begins.
Future XR hardware
AR and VR currently differ in their method of projection: VR requires a fully-enclosed wearable headset that removes the real world from view, while the vast majority of AR applications use a ‘window’ such as a smartphone to render content over the real world. However, as AR hardware matures and head-mounted devices that are small and comfortable enough to be worn for long time periods enter the market, it’s likely that both will become a wearable experience.
Arm consumer research shows that 58 percent of those surveyed are positive about the prospect of wearing everyday AR smartglasses. While this is the toughest to achieve in engineering terms—largely due to the power and performance considerations for the small and lightweight form factor— this is likely to be a significant part of XR’s future adoption. Distributed computing will also be important to ensure XR works across multiple devices, from headsets to smartphones, smart earbuds, smartwatches and even contact lenses such as those proposed by Arm partner MojoVision.
Looking at the technology inside the device, the next advancements are likely to be in visual, audio and gesture recognition. Visually, there will be future enhancements around resolution and frame rates. Improvements in XR display solutions will also happen, with holographic display being one particularly exciting technology for AR. Audio enhancements could be made through 3D audio, making the user feel like they are listening to someone with them in the room rather than a virtual world. Finally, hand and gesture tracking will also improve, helping with social interaction and a more natural experience.
Alongside the development of the hardware, social norms around XR need to develop. This means balancing hardware innovation with improved accessibility, distribution and adoption of devices. The Oculus Quest VR headset, built on Arm Cortex processor technology, is one good current example of a device that has moved the needle with VR adoption—both in terms of innovative hardware and consumer interest.