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TREND 4 (of 8) - The boundaries of reality will be extended!

We bring you a detailed look at the 4th trend which was highlighted in our 8 trends to watch out for in the 2020's article. In this article we talk about Extended Reality - pushing the boundaries of our world and taking our imagination to a new high.

So what is Extended Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) overlays a digital element to a live video feed as in the game Pokemon Go. On the other hand, Virtual Reality (VR) shuts out the physical world and takes you into a simulated environment, often through devices such as HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. A combination of the two elements which allows real and digital world objects to interact is called Mixed Reality (MR). The umbrella term is referred to as Extended Reality (XR).

What makes it important and what does the future look like?

Throughout the next decade, XR will spearhead a seismic shift in how users experience and interact with the digital world (and indeed, with the physical world). The disruptive and transformative nature of this technology – especially when combined with AI – has potential to impact many fields beyond the tech sector. This is especially true in a world hungry for stimulus as XR moves to a multisensory and multi-touchpoint experience, where significant impact has been made in the fields of training, scenario-based learning and simulations.

What are some of the facts and figures?

Companies developing XR technologies now include the likes of, Adobe, Amazon, Boeing, Bosch, Dell, Facebook, HBO, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung, Stanford, and the US Army. The implementation and usage of the technology has also become prevalent in many large corporations for training and learning purposes.

This is partly due to XR’s change of direction. While XR as a whole has primarily focused – and still has significant focus on – delivering an immersive gaming experience, it is now shifting towards learning and training and making its way into some of the world’s largest businesses. Annual XR conference XRDC organisers surveyed 900 active developers with multiple XR projects and found that while 50% of them worked on gaming projects (down from 70% previously), a combined 60% worked on education (33%) and training (27%) projects (up from a combined 37% previously). The technology is also seeing notable emergence in healthcare, medical, automotive, real estate, and more.

One example of XR for training is Walmart which is using VR with hopes to train more than 1 million associates in more than 45 different modules including areas of new technology, soft skills like empathy and customer service, and compliance. The technology allows the simulation of events that would be difficult to replicate in training such as a Black Friday shopping rush. Andy Trainor, Walmart’s senior director of Walmart U.S. Academies says that “VR [makes] learning experiential… your brain feels like you actually experienced a situation. We’ve seen that VR training boosts confidence and retention while improving test scores by 10-15%”.

Another major potential application for XR also become reality when the U.S. Army awarded Microsoft a $480mn contract for their HoloLens 2 headsets that allow for MR training. The headset provides birds-eye mapping of the area with squadmates’ locations, gun-aim, compass readings, night and thermal vision, the ability to build schematics, and much more. The Army looks to buy over 100,000 units over time, making this its first large-scale use of XR for combat.

What opportunities does this present?

It is obvious that XR has huge potential going forward, especially with the increased development and integration with AI. But what does all this mean for the average business? Gartner Research believes that by as soon as 2022, 70% of enterprises will be experimenting with immersive technologies for consumer and enterprise use, 25% will have deployed them to production. We believe that being part of this space can offer huge competitive and strategic advantages particularly where companies like Microsoft and STRIVR provide these devices for businesses. This means that training can become much more effective for corporations through experiential and scenario-based learning and may also become cheaper as the same training modules can be reproduced for new employees rather than re-investing into courses every time.

Healthcare players also stands to reap big benefits from XR with doctors being able to use digital overlays of patient information and case images, so they do not have to look away during a surgical procedure, increasing accuracy in detecting and alleviating medical issues. Large scale applications will also be seen in industrial and engineering fields, especially in product design where the technology is proving to have great impact. According to Gartner Research, by 2023 66% large field service organizations will equip field technicians with immersive applications to improve efficiency and customer satisfaction, up from less than 1% in 2019.

On a more personal level, expect a large jump in digital interactions such as VR travel experiences and mini retreats that help you choose a holiday location; online retail AR to view what clothes would look like on you; enjoyable gaming experiences; or even more realistic movies. As the technology develops and becomes more affordable and less bulky, its prevalence will increase in consumer and enterprise use which we believe will allow it to play a pivotal role in our digital experiences going forward.

What are the criticisms?

It is noteworthy, however, that there are criticisms of and challenges for the technology that may dampen enthusiasm and decrease rates of adoption. Many for instance feel that the technology as a whole is still too bulky, limited, and expensive, making it inaccessible to most. We have, however, noticeably progressed in all these aspects over the past 4-5 years and the next decade is likely to push for more investments and more improvements. The real challenge, we believe comes from an abundance of creators developing independently, lack of 3D interface developers, and compatibility with current systems. Surveys done by XR Intelligence found that 25% of enterprises stopped efforts in implementing XR in their businesses due to problems integrating with existing systems/processes. Whether this means that businesses have to evolve or XR developers need to work more on compatibility, this will still be an obstacle for universal adoption barring any changes over the next decade.

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