Virtual reality. The words conjure thoughts of science fiction and video games. But this science fictional technology is now reality and has applications that span far beyond the video game industry.
We’re seeing rapid development in two closely related fields: virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality (VR) is used to describe technology that creates a full virtual world around the viewer. Current VR hardware includes headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive. In contrast, augmented reality (AR) describes technology that superimposes additional images on top of a person’s view of the real world, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens headset and the head-mounted retinal display being developed by Magic Leap.
While VR and AR are still in its early stages of development, it’s clear that the question is not whether the technology will catch on, but a matter of when and how quickly. We’re already seeing exciting applications across multiple industries.
Virtual and augmented reality offer a wealth of opportunities to enhance entertainment events like concerts and sports, both at home and in person. While wearing a VR or AR headset has yet to become culturally normalized, companies are betting that fans will pay for the richer entertainment experiences such technology can provide.
In a recent video ad, Microsoft presented a vision of how their HoloLens headset might augment American football fans’ enjoyment of the big game. The video shows fans engaging with interactive AR features, including viewer-controlled display options, player stats, animations and more. We’re also seeing the emergence of digitally augmented concerts and virtual movie theaters. In the future, expect to see fully immersive experiences that allow individuals to attend entertainment events without leaving their homes.
From the classroom to corporate training environments, VR is being used to enhance learning experiences. Augmented reality solutions provide additional information or overlays to objects in the viewer’s visual field in real time; while virtual reality applications enable the learner to walk through the streets of ancient Rome, gain a close-up view of open heart surgeries, or digitally manipulate robotic arms from half a world away.
VR and AR technologies are especially of interest to those in high-risk fields, such as medicine and the military, given their potential to simulate dangerous situations without risk to the learner. However, real-feel haptic feedback technology that allows the learner to touch and manipulate VR images will still be required to create fully interactive training simulations.
Forget sales brochures and paint samples. AR and VR solutions can create a more engaging consumer sales experience. Imagine walking through your brand-new home before it’s built, changing countertops and wall colors on the fly. Imagine customizing a car to your exact specifications – and seeing it change in real time as you make your choices.
One great example of a rising star in this area is US-based company Matterport, who made headlines in 2015 for raising $30 million in Series C funding to support their virtual tour solution. Providing the ability to scan and create a 3D recreation of any space, Matterport’s solution has obvious applications for real estate, architecture and construction. These and similar uses of VR and AR technology can provide for the travel industry, enjoyable and engaging travel experiences for consumers and a positive impact on the bottom line.
AR solutions are already providing companies with innovative ways to connect with, engage, and push content to their target audiences. One UK company that’s taken an early lead in the use of augmented reality as a marketing solution is Blippar, a smart phone app that adds digital content such as videos and interactive elements to physical objects. While the company’s current solution only adds content to consumer products, packaging, and in-person ads, the long-term vision of this and similar solutions is to augment even everyday objects and landscapes.
Taking another approach entirely, UK-based firm Rewind is using VR to create exciting experiences that take consumer interactions with a brand to a new level. In a recent project for Red Bull, Rewind created a VR version of Red Bull’s high-octane Air Race, allowing consumers to strap on a VR headset and experience the thrills, loops, and gravity-defying experience of flying a stunt plane.
Given its flexibility and ability to make experiences cheaper, more efficient, and more engaging, virtual reality is poised to become the most disruptive technology since the smartphone. Watch for VR solutions in the headlines in 2016 – and for the rapid evolution of this technology in years to come.
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As the Director and Head of KPMG Tech Growth, Patrick Imbach has significant experience helping early stage and fast growing technology companies in the UK, many of which are Venture Capital backed. Patrick is also a member of the KPMG Enterprise Global Innovative Startups Network. In this role, he contributes to KPMG’s global initiatives strategy, as it relates to working with the innovation ecosystem, including entrepreneurs and fast growing venture backed companies.
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