Immersive technologies in between enriching and fixing reality
Immersive technologies in between enriching and fixing reality

Immersive technologies in between enriching and fixing reality

Out of all amazing emerging technologies out there, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality seem to be the most alluring, as they keep captivating an ever-increasing number of users with the amazing experiences they offer.

While VR apparently has lost a bit of ground, because of the simulation sickness it causes and the input it requires, AR keeps rising due to the easiness with which it enables users to live an out-of-reality experience in the immediate reality. Mixed reality is rapidly growing up, in spite of being the youngest of all immersive technologies.

Does immersive tech only embellish and enrich reality? Or can it fix it too? Read through for a larger context and possibly a few reasonable answers.

Finally, an artist’s extension

Call it hype or idealization, but never before had man such immediate tools to live in the real world, while instantly experiencing a different reality. It was only natural for art, history and entertainment to embrace AR, VR and the likes  with such voluptuousness.

Artists of all generations started to collaborate with these technologies to convey their message with richer effect and deeper connection to their audience. For instance, prominent musician Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers explored the artistic potential of AR into an art and music installation called Bloom: Open Space, which took place in Amsterdam earlier this year.

Little colored bubbles floated increasingly higher, growing larger on their way up. People drifted into a circle of six towering screens, wearing high-tech 3-D holographic visors, i.e. Microsoft HoloLens, reaching out their arms, pinching the air in front of them with their thumbs and forefingers. With each pinch, new bubbles appeared, each emitting a single, precise musical town. The tones combined and dissipated.

Quite an experience, isn’t it? Now, wouldn’t you be able to better picture and understand it if you actually lived it?

Time and space travel, why not?

The same question applies to history, for example. Museums, the ultimate keepers of history, are seeing the effectiveness of immersive technologies in making the stories of time heard and seen with unprecedented force. Both AR and VR enrich the museum-going experience with a feeling of time and space travel. 

Whether we talk about the kids in Los Angeles who got to see Louvre artwork and interact with it just as if they were there, or about the visitors of the Australian War Memorial who get to witness WWI battles through sonic and video journeys, immersive technologies enable us to experience past realities with our feet planted in the current reality.

Changing cultures

Coming back to the current reality, most often we tend to dismiss things we don’t understand. Most often, we can’t understand what we don’t know. Because we always learn better from experience. There’s no better teacher than experience.

Think of prejudice. Then think of empathy. The first excludes experience. The second requires experience, even if it’s half-imagined, half-shared. Now, think of VR in relationship with prejudice and empathy, and you’ll understand how it makes it possible for people with a bias against gay weddings to understand and accept something that is otherwise incomprehensible.

I’ll explain: in an effort to give more perspective before the closure of the postal vote in Australia, where gay marriage is not legal, Luscious used immersive technology to create the “Virtual Equality” experience. In this particular context, the add-on that AR transfers onto the immediate reality was not enough to build an influence. Because 75% of the elements of augmented reality are real, and only 25% are virtual.

Dealing with prejudice and empathy required a more immersive reality. That’s why VR fitted perfectly. Because when you’re experiencing VR, your screen becomes your reality, 75% of what you see is virtual, and only 25% is real. In the case the beautiful immersive reality experience created by Luscious, 75% of what was virtual for Australians was 100% real for New Zealanders.

Australians got to experience the same-sex wedding of a loving couple from New Zealand, the neighbor country that recognizes gay marriages. All the emotional highlights of the wedding ceremony were captured using 360 video. People were invited to attend a ‘virtual wedding’ held at First Fleet Park, Circular Quay, where they could experience all of the love and joy of a legally recognized same-sex marriage.

We don’t know the effects of the Virtual Equality experience at a large scale. We only know that hundreds of people of all ages lined up to experience the VR event, some laughing, others crying. So, on an individual level, can immersive technologies influence a mindset? Obviously, they create an emotion and make you ponder, and that constitutes at least an incipient state of influence.  

Fixing reality

Going back to the effect of AR & VR on the immediate reality, I dare say that it doesn’t only embellish it. It can also fix it. Take ThoughtWorks, for example – a company that put AR and VR into a solution that enables aircraft engineers to over-watch the operations in hangars and mechanics to perform guided maintenance work without any risks. I can only imagine the relief on junior mechanics, who do not have enough in-person training.

At the same time, I’m thinking of Mixed Reality and the Volvo engineers, who were the first to use the HoloLens platform for creating and testing component prototypes and flows in automobile development. The simulations facilitated by MR allowed them to test the risk for accidents or cruise features. Volvo was the first automobile maker to use immersive tech in its development processes.

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What’s more, immersive technologies have also reached as far as outer space. Astronaut Scott Kelly and his crew at the International Space Station did upgrade and maintenance works in space, with ground-control assistance intermediated by HoloLens.

Last but not least, Cambridge Consultants created an innovative AR-based surgery system. Using Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, surgeons gain ‘X-ray vision’ and thus become able to see inside a patient in real time, while operating through minimally invasive openings.

What next for immersive tech?

At a deeper level, holding and facilitating such power – that of intervening upon reality through technology, might feel scary. Hence, the slow adoption rate of AR & VR in the enterprise space as a means of interaction with the user.  For example, “The State of Industrial Augmented Reality” report claims 19% of AR applications are used in services and product development, 15% in sales & marketing, manufacturing and training, 11% in operator services.

The combined global market size of augmented and virtual reality is currently valued at $ 27 billion. The latest statistics predict that by 2022 the AR & VR market will reach $ 209 billion, mostly due to the ease of development and awareness among consumers. However, with tech giants helping developers and creatives secure state-of-the-art tools such as Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore, the number of immersive applications will grow exponentially far beyond the entertainment space.

At a more pragmatic level, AR & its company of immersive realities (virtual, mixed, extended) do not come cheap. Hence, again the slow-paced adoption rate.

At a human level however, every new thing takes time, which brings me to the conclusion of this article – it’s only a question of time before these limitless add-ons for reality facilitated by immersive technologies becomes commonplace. Nevertheless, the question of losing the capacity of distinguishing between realities will follow even later.

Unlocking the potential of immersive realities

So, what next? To find out how immersive technologies will influence our lives and contemplate on the countless possibilities they offer to industries other than entertainment, watch the Future Horizons show live-streamed on FB on November 14, starting 10 AM EET.

QUALITANCE Chief Innovation Officer Mike Parsons and digital innovator Jeff Jaffers will discuss the latest trends in AR, VR and MR, revealing how immersive tech builds mind-blowing experiences and instills strong emotional bonds with products, brands, cultures and societies. Together they will also identify the high potential for growth in the business landscape, zooming in on healthcare and advertising use cases.