Power couple: Mixed reality will help businesses cash in on both AR and VR

Power couple: Mixed reality will help businesses cash in on both AR and VR

By Lisa Peyton, , originally published on Venturebeat.com

Historically, VR and AR have been seen as two separate technologies both having unique case uses. VR has been embraced by gaming enthusiasts as a way to make their gameplay more immersive and relies on a display that is worn over the eyes, tricking the mind into believing it is somewhere else. AR uses a transparent display and overlays data onto a real-world setting, thereby enhancing a user’s interaction with their environment in real-time. These differing displays and approaches to how a user experiences the digital content have led to disparate teams working on each.

A group of AR and VR devs gathered around a modern conference table on a sunny afternoon in the English town of Milton Keynes, all eyes are on the man in the helmet. Joachim Latta, IT tech innovator from BMW, is like a kid in a candy store using the DAQRI Smart Helmet for the first time. By using a gaze-based interface and subtle head movements, he’s able to easily access and activate several menu features such as thermal heat mapping and instant video capture.

Above: Joachim Latta, IT Tech Manager from BMW, experiencing the DAQRI Smart Helmet™ at TSC’s Innovation Lab outside of London.

The DAQRI demo is the first of many commercial AR and VR experiences planned for this motley crew of tech enthusiasts and experts including DAQRI’s International VP and General Manager, the Director of Glasgow’s School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualization and our host, Ryan Johnston, GIS Engineer at Transport Systems Catapult.  The goal of the meeting is to break down the silo between current commercial VR and AR projects in order to enable innovation across both platforms for the business applications of the future.

The idea of mixed reality, or combining both AR and VR into a singular experience, has become a hot topic. The most vocal company boasting the potential of mixed reality is Microsoft, who just launched their Windows 10 Mixed Reality Operating System along with an MR headset. This is directly targeted at consumers, is primarily a VR device integrating Hololens advanced tracking and mapping features and requires the user be tethered to a PC. Apple has also developed a platform for their iOS called ARKit which will equip new iPhones with the technology to overlay digital information onto the real world. This would allow innovative developers to create MR apps that could function via a smartphone.

Both of these are ‘MR light’ solutions stripped of the more robust features required for commercial applications, in order to hit a consumer-friendly price point. Higher end, commercial AR and VR developers not beholden to the price constraints of a consumer audience hope to further extend the potential of MR by joining forces to provide a more robust commercial solution.

Above: Goldman Sachs’ AR investment projections

One such AR developer, DAQRI, has developed an AR product line that includes the DAQRI Smart Helmet, DAQRI Smart Glasses and an automotive heads-up display (HUD) that projects information onto automobile windshields. Their current focus is manufacturing and engineering however the applications for their technology are endless. According to Sweeney, “We are focused on industrial applications today as we can solve problems for people in the workplace. Analysts are predicting that 40 to 50 percent of the AR and VR market will be in the industrial workplace sector, so that’s the space we’re looking at.”

However, Sweeney recognizes that there is a pull from adjacent markets, as “DAQRI’s professional grade AR products are a great solution for early adopters in other sectors, as they experiment with their immersive technology strategies”. Goldman Sachs investment research predicts that the entire AR market will climb to over 20 billion dollars by 2022 with the top growth areas including enterprise and AEC, consumer and automotive. For DAQRI, partnering with companies like Transport Systems Catapult will help them better serve these markets.

Transport Systems Catapult is based just outside of London and is a government funded organization designed to help drive innovation and growth in the transport and mobility space. One of ten such programs around the UK, TSC works alongside other programs focusing on a wide variety of sectors including smart cities, offshore renewable energy, digital innovation, cell and gene therapy and high value manufacturing. TSC’s innovation lab at Milton Keynes houses cutting-edge technology aiding in building transport systems for the future. They have developed two virtual simulations to help understand how consumers will react to autonomous vehicles. One that takes the user inside an autonomous vehicle and another that places the user on the street alongside the vehicles. The simulations can be run simultaneously and multiple users can interact together within the virtual space.

The Omnideck, which was originally developed for special forces training, puts the user inside a Vive HTC HMD while walking on a multi-directional treadmill. The result is an extremely realistic experience of walking in a virtual environment with no motion sickness and with very little limitation of movement. Mastering walking on the device is quite easy and addictive and several similar devices are housed for entertainment purposes within gaming arcades.

In TSC’s case use, VR serves as a way to introduce a user to a new environment, one that is currently impossible to replicate in the real world. This is where AR can eventually step in and potentially solve that problem. The AR device of the future, will be able to project virtual elements into real environments seamlessly without wires, the use of hands and eventually even without any type of HMD. The DAQRI headset and glasses already are solving this problem on a smaller scale within the manufacturing sector.

Above: BMW’s Joachim Latta experiencing the Omnideck as it simulates walking in a city that has a fleet of autonomous cars.

Paul Chapman, Director of GSA’s School of Simulation and Visualization, or SimVis for short, has a commercial team working on several projects using 3D virtual models to improve the safety and effectiveness of complex tasks. One such project uses a VR experience to help train nuclear reactor inspectors navigate ‘dark sites’ to ensure they are being properly maintained. These sites are extremely dangerous to navigate and allowing inspectors to practice in a virtual environment helps to ensure their safety. Chapman was also excited to experience the DAQRI helmet first hand, as combining the AR functionality with SimVis’ highly accurate 3D models could allow inspectors to access the materials in new ways and perhaps even in a real-time working environment instead of a simulation.

Both commercial VR and AR have been adopted across industries where the relatively high-cost has been offset by a bottom-line ROI demonstrated by more efficient and effective ways to work. In the past these technologies have been independent of one another but the biggest disruption lies in the combination of both technologies. According to BMW’s Joachim Latta, “these two worlds will merge together. You will have one type of delivery device, such as glasses, that will provide you with AR functionality alongside full VR functionality in your environment real-time.” Gartner VR/AR analyst, Brian Blau, agrees with this prediction and believes the market will start to see these type of ‘mixed’ devices as soon as 2020.

In order for such a vision to become a reality, our group of experts agreed upon a few key factors. It is essential to ensure that developers and designers have the skills required to build these amazing new products and experiences. Traditional academic programs aren’t nimble enough to keep pace with technology and therefore a skills gap is being predicted. Chapman believes SimVis is unique in that it brings together scientists, engineers, content and graphic designers, psychologists and a handful of other highly specialized professionals to provide the highest quality commercial VR content and degree programs in the world. There is also a need for better collaboration across technologies, industries and companies. The digital era is blurring the lines between real and virtual, commercial and consumer. In order for true innovation to happen quickly information needs to be shared openly and globally.

The Milton Keynes meeting is one small step toward building a global community of innovators and advocates working together to shape the future of IT innovation. Our host Ryan Johnston sums it up this way, “there is a huge amount of potential in bringing together people from the automotive industry, from construction and other industries to help innovate. Bringing people together is a big part of the reason we’re here.” Perhaps this meetup was the start to several conversations and potential partnerships that will bridge the gap between AR and VR and one day transform our experience of the world around us.

Peyton’s Immersion Grid: A model to compare immersive media experiences

Peyton’s Immersion Grid: A model to compare immersive media experiences

What causes immersion? As the digital revolution rages on, technology has been both blamed and lauded for capturing more and more of our attention. We have been given the tools to tell stories in new and exciting ways, access to data that has never been available before and the ability to connect to a fully realized digital universe. As digitally connected citizens, we are constantly bombarded with incoming messages and have become adept at tuning out endless amounts of ‘noise’. So what then CAN capture and keep our attention? An array of augmented reality and virtual reality applications or ‘immersive media’ experiences are being developed across various sectors and engage users like never before. The immersion grid has been developed to help compare and contrast these applications and predict how likely they are to be truly immersive. (more…)

#AWE2015: News and Notables from Augmented World Expo 2015 Day 1

#AWE2015: News and Notables from Augmented World Expo 2015 Day 1

Flying into San Jose EARLY Monday morning, I was filled with excitement. What cutting-edge technologies would I discover? Who would I meet that was doing cool immersive stuff? What virtual reality and augmented reality gear would I get to TRY out?

Day 1 of the conference was a mixed bag of highs and lows. Unfortunately due to high demand,  many of the sessions I wanted to attend were standing room only in a HOT room.   After about the third try, I gave up attempting to see and hear over the crowd and just hoped they would release the session ‘on-demand’. The one session I WAS able to attend was a GREAT demo of Unity3D, a development tool that is quickly becoming the industry standard. It boasts several key features that make it the ‘go-to’ choice for many developers and designers. It supports all of the major devices like the Oculus Rift, Hololens and Leap Motion. It also allows developers to publish their work on the web or in an Android or iOS environment, apparently with the click of a button. You would think all of this functionality wouldn’t come cheap, but they have packages starting at under $100 per month. Unity3D also has a resource library of plug and play 3D components for sale by other designers. Apparently skilled designers are making upwards of $90K per month selling their 3D creations.

By far the most compelling part of the day was the NETWORKING and getting into countless inspiring discussions around the potential of these immersive technologies. Everyone that I met was eager to jump into a conversation about how they planned to use the technology to make the world better. Because I’m a teacher, I tend to see the most potential on using AR and VR to help engage students and improve learning outcomes. There are a myriad of other case uses that might be more surprising. One session entitled ‘How to measure enterprise AR impacts’ outlined how Boeing was able to save millions by using augmented reality to help them build airplane wings more efficiently. Amazing! (more…)

Living and Learning: Potential of immersive technologies in education

Living and Learning: Potential of immersive technologies in education

Advances in digital technology and communications are radically changing the way we live. Can they change the way we learn? YES!

One of the areas digital technology has the potential to make the biggest impact is education. I’ve been a teacher for over a decade and currently teach both online and offline courses. I’m excited about the paradigm shift that is happening in education, however there is is still a VERY wide gap between what is possible and the current state of classrooms. Today’s students aren’t engaged by the old teaching methods and aren’t gaining the skills required to succeed in a digital world. This is where immersive technologies, such as Augmented Reality (AR) and virtual environments can help. (more…)

#AR Augmented Reality or Augmented Brands?

#AR Augmented Reality or Augmented Brands?

Augmented Reality or AR is the process adding a digital layer over our real world environment with the hopes of adding value to the experience. During my journey researching some AR projects, I was impacted by two very different areas of exploration.

The first included multiple stores and experiments demonstrated on the Augmented Reality Overview blog. The site included many user-generated videos that demonstrate some of the amazing technology that is emerging in the field of AR. The videos demonstrated uses that could provide value in the real world and change our lives for the better. One example of this was a medical AR application that allowed doctors and medical staff to scan a patient with the phone app and be provided real-time access to their medical records such as x-rays and other pertinent information.

Another example demonstrated real-world interactions with computer generated objects.

The developers explained the technology this way:

Mano-a-Mano is a spacial augmented reality system that combines dynamic projection mapping, multiple perspective views, and device-less interaction with 3D virtual objects.

It was mind blowing to see this high-level technology being enacted in what looked like a college dorm room. The juxtaposition of this futuristic technology alongside an average looking apartment reminded me of how NEW this technology is and how we’re all in the nascent stages of something very powerful.

These humble videos describing home spun AR projects lay alongside polished campaigns by entrepreneurs like Vivian Rosenthal. Rosenthal has started a company called GoldRun, now called ‘Snaps’, that produces AR campaigns for big brands like Target and AT&T. She is positioned as a thought-leader and innovator in the AR space and had this to say on the future of AR in a recent interview (Rosenthal, V. 2015):

In the past it has been pretty gimmicky. It has been tied to a webcam and we’ve all seen some of the webcam AR. And some of its kinda cool but ultimately it’s gimmicky because you have this piece of paper and you’re awkwardly moving it around. I thought there was this opportunity to when GPS was unhinge those physical restraints and tied to AR. You have AR, GPS and your smartphone that you could literally invert how AR was used and think of your city as the chess board and you’re the chess piece. Different physical locations become hot zones and your this game piece and you’re walking through a hot zone you have the ability to see these virtual objects.

 

GoldRun app that created Augmented Reality campaigns to sell shoes. Rosenthal has crafted some innovative marketing campaigns, coining what she calls ‘v-commerce’. She believes that brands need to create off-line experiences, targeting consumers using their smartphones. In a recent example, she worked on a campaign that created pop-up virtual stores in various locations in urban centers. The stores could only be ‘seen’ using the smartphone AR app, where consumers could then click on the product and order it online. The campaign boasted amazing results with the product selling out during the virtual flash sale.

I am both mesmerized by Rosenthal and also a bit put off. I would LOVE to see someone with her talent working to use AR for something OTHER than selling sneakers. She briefly discusses extending the GPS AR technology beyond marketing but has no real-world examples of what this might look like.

Have we arrived at a place where EVERYTHING has to be branded? Are brands so deeply embedded in our identities that in order to make sense of the world around us we NEED to connect with brands? Part of me feels like this choice between the user-generated AR applications and branded AR experiences is being made for us. As marketing teams continue to co-opt technologies such as AR, brands and corporations will continue to tighten their grip on our identities. Digital media and AR have given anyone with big pockets access to our lives through what is quickly becoming a digital version of the self: the smartphone.

 

References:

 

Rosenthal, V. (2015). Vivian Rosenthal: GPS Enabled Augmented Reality. Retrieved from http://www.fahrenheit-212.com/vivian-rosenthal-gps-enabled-augmented-reality/

The Augmented Reality Overview. Retrieved from http://augmentedrealityoverview.blogspot.com/