First, let’s look at what augmented and virtual reality really is. I think of augmented and virtual reality as of just another way of interaction with a computer. We’ve started with punch cards and alphanumeric printers, then we had displays, which transformed into small touch screens over time. Now we speak about VR, AR, mixed reality. These are all the components of a new human-machine interaction method that will soon replace the existing ones. The new method will make interaction more immersive, intense. The old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” in the world of AR/VR takes on a new shape: “A hologram is worth a thousand pictures.”
With the refinement of AR/VR devices, we get more capabilities to gain the first-hand experience of what is going on inside a computer-generated world or seamlessly merge physical and digital realities, simultaneously operating tangible material and rendered objects. The trends in AR/VR include creating experience that cannot or hard to be built in real life. A nice example is training in VR when the training facilities are costly or hard to reach, or when they don’t even exist yet. Another example — remote guidance, when a distantly located expert receives a live video feed from AR head-mounted display (HMD) of the field worker and transmits the instructions like text, diagrams, tutorial videos, immediately visible on AR HMD to the guided operator. Moreover, the training for operating complex physical objects like aircraft engines or even human body can use holograms and dynamic on-demand tear-downs instead of working with real objects. Both scenarios dramatically decrease costs and increase operations scalability.
In general, we can say that AR/VR trends lie in the area of interaction scenarios that are impossible or difficult to implement using a standard computer screen. As the paradigm of working with a computer changes due to the advancement of AR/VR technology, we get completely new user experience of working with computer systems. The entire surrounding world will become a computer interface.
There are quite many elements, the paradigm of which is bound to change and become not just one single screen or an interface, but instead everything around you. However, I would name a few basic things.
Usability. Purpose is driven — depending on the application.
In VR application, the user does not see the real world, only the one generated by a computer. And VR environment is much more than just rendering 3D world visible through HMD. The challenge lies in the solid integration of vision, sound, navigation, and haptics so that the user has a comfortable experience with VR system.
In mixed reality (MixAR), the user sees and operates digital objects seamlessly integrated with the physical world. It is important to ensure a convenient way to operate digital and physical objects simultaneously, also it is important to tune the integration of the vision, sound, navigation, and haptics to the level that the user starts perceiving the quasi-physical presence of digital objects.
Classical AR applications in most cases need to deliver indication and on-demand information within the field of user’s vision so that they don’t obstruct the perception of the physical world. For example, the tourist goes for a sightseeing trip while wearing AR HMD, and AR application delivers location-based information — navigation, brief information about the POI. In these kinds of applications, the rule of thumb sounds like “no cognitive disaster, please!” Only brief, subtle information, very related to the moment and only when it is needed.
Immersiveness. It is a kind of art to find the right balance in delivering the user experience when the digital reality is perceived the same way as the physical reality in every specific condition.
Safety & Security. It is important to ensure the physical safety of the user when he/she is immersed in a mixed reality — the critical field of view should not be obstructed when the environment and operating machinery pose danger for the user. Further, data transmission channels must be secure to prevent fraudulent substitution of the transmitted information of all kinds — visual, audial, haptic.
The new user experiences delivered by AR/VR enable rethinking and changing the possible ways for evolving traditional business models and computer systems.
Just a few examples.
In heavy industry applications, AR works as a natural evolutionary advancement, away from paper-based technologies, legacy handhelds, and rugged tablets. Industrial AR wearables enable a more efficient, hands-free interaction with back-end computer systems. At a glance, core solutions can include remote mentoring, IoT data visualization, document navigation, visual work instructions, working with mobile forms and checklists.
VR, for example, can be in demand by the companies willing to advertise their services. Consider the earlier times of Internet. The first thing the companies did back then was creating websites and advertising themselves — Internet had become a media space. Likewise, AR/VR becomes a platform for new advertising media. An example of advertising using VR can be a travel agency that recreates a destination they offer using VR means. Users can view the destination and decide whether they want to buy a tour. Another example is an hotelier who employs VR to help a client choose a room. Possible applications are endless.
Moreover, AR/VR can be a part of new systems, like building a motorcycle-riding safety system comprising computer vision, AI, a number of intelligent sensors connected to a processing hub, a helmet with integrated AR vision, and haptics on handle bars.
To some extent, they are already mainstream technologies — within certain niches. VR works great in computer games. In this area, it is worth mentioning Elite Dangerous — the simulator of space pilot’s life. AR wearables already have a proven success track record in industry application areas such as Oil, Gas and Mining, Power & Utilities, Aerospace, Defense & Security, Commercial Aviation, Construction & Facilities, Transportation & Logistics.
As for the consumer market, AR/VR will become mainstream when performant consumer-grade HMDs hit the market. The devices that will become game-changers: comfortable, lightweight, comparatively cheap. The devices we have now are good, they are quite specialized, for example, Oculus, HTC Vive, but still it’s a big box, which you need to connect to a powerful workstation. AMD is trying to make its Sulon, which you can wear on your head as a wearable computer, like HoloLens, but it’s still bulky. There is no VR device yet that is small, fast, has long battery life, and is capable of connecting compact haptic sensors. The same relates to AR devices. The most advanced AR device, HoloLens, is quite expensive, it has a restricted field of view of about 30%. Avegant recently presented its competitor — Light Field HMD, with a better field of view and a variable focal distance for digital objects, however, it is not so compact either. So, for now, VR and AR exist in their niches, and they won’t win mass market until the game-changer devices are released. As far as I know, Apple is going to release its device. I really want to see what they will come up with because Apple is historically great at blending complex technology with the ease of use. Maybe this device will become the game changer. We’ll see.
The answer is simple. No pain, no gain. Many service companies evolve and turn into hybrid companies. Our company is an example of such a hybrid. On the one side, we provide services, and on the other side, we invest in R&D, we develop competence centers in the company, we build platforms, we communicate with venture funds. As a result, we generate new ideas and add new value to the solutions our clients receive. Thus, taking the knowledge of traditional system development domains as the basis, we try to add and integrate new technology to show new ways, new paradigms of working with UI. We don’t wait till someone offers us to do something innovative, instead, we offer new features ourselves. We show our clients how they can benefit and gain more value from enabling AR/VR user experience in their systems.