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By Orlaith Finn

Augmented and virtual realities are among the most cutting-edge technologies in today’s tech landscape. According to a ‘Seeing is Believing’ report by PwC, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) could boost the global economy by 1.8% to $1.5tn by 2030. AR and VR are now not only useful in gaming. The report shows it has the potential to transform industries including manufacturing, healthcare, energy, retail and training and development.

The depth of investment in gaming is evident, but across the economy, more organisations are experimenting with AR and VR. To understand their importance in an emerging technical landscape, let us recap on what they do.

Virtual reality immerses users in a computer-generated 3D environment where spatial data, such as the data that produces a rendering of a building or a product design, becomes more real and actionable. On the other hand, augmented reality presents aspects of reality that can be enhanced and explained with virtual content. The result is a digital overlay on the physical world to present information in context with that environment.

We are all familiar with the use of VR in gaming. However, the VR industry is poised for explosive growth in the near-term, and it is stretching far beyond the technological evolution of video games. From creating new customer experiences to speeding up product development, AR and VR can present a broad range of opportunities for businesses and industries.

Telecommunications are at the core of many systems maintaining various industries and verticals – logistics, healthcare, energy, and enterprise networks. Their uninterrupted service is a critical factor in the functioning of our technology-centred society. The telecommunications industry must make huge investments in the maintenance and evolution of its infrastructure – from meeting the growing demand for mobile bandwidth to the future delivery of 5G services. AR and VR can help meet this challenge.

As technology develops, telecommunication equipment gets increasingly complex. Maintenance and emergency repairs require the presence of highly skilled professionals who have been specially trained to handle such sophisticated hardware.  Accordingly, the proper functioning of the telecommunication equipment is of major importance. It is much more economical to prevent a failure than to correct its consequences. For that reason, telecommunication companies always schedule routine inspections of their equipment to detect possible problems. The problem of arranging an inspection or a repair of telecommunication equipment can be resolved by applying AR.

The AR technology of inserting virtual objects in the real world can be the answer to the challenges of travelling to a remote location. Instead of bringing the technician to the equipment, it can bring the equipment to the technician. The equipment can be viewed remotely with the appropriate instructions given to any person that is not necessarily expert in the area.   The obvious benefits are the time savings, as the overall duration of such maintenance or repair gets significantly shorter. Also, the costs are much lower, as the technician does not need to travel to the equipment location physically.

The healthcare system is beginning to embrace VR as there are very clear benefits to its use. The image of operating theatres and realistic emergency scenarios can help train and prepare doctors and surgeons. It will test their decision-making and response to stressful situations in a risk-free way.  VR can also be used therapeutically in a healthcare setting, creating situations that can help people to cope with anxiety or stress.

Similarly, AR is being applied in healthcare. New AR innovations can help enhance doctors and surgeons ability to diagnose, treat, and perform surgery on their patients more accurately by giving them access to real-time data and patient information faster, and more precisely than ever before. AR will allow surgeons to precisely study their patients’ anatomy by entering their MRI data and CT scans into an AR headset and overlay specific patient anatomy on top of their body before actually going into surgery. Surgeons will be able to visualize bones, muscles, and internal organs without having to make any incisions.

Within the manufacturing industry, AR is already improving the efficiency of stock picking and movement within warehouses. There are multiple actions associated with this job: identify the item, calculate an optimal route, and then physically transport it. AR is being used to streamline this process by automatically logging the item and displaying the most efficient route in the user’s view. This has a positive impact on the worker’s productivity.

Also within manufacturing, it can be very costly and time-consuming to design and make products based on physical prototypes. Businesses have now begun implementing VR and AR to create prototypes digitally in a fraction of the time. This is saving businesses huge manufacturing and production costs. Automotive companies are also using virtual reality to cut the time between initial design and physical modelling from weeks to days.

Similarly in retail, AR and VR are helping consumers visualize products to give an idea of what clothing or beauty products suit before they complete the sale. Retailers aren’t just experimenting here. They are rolling out. Examples include:

Sephora, which offers magic mirrors in stores and mobile apps that help consumers visualize what different colours and make-up treatments will look like on them. Also, ASOS, an online retailer in the UK, uses AR to show what clothing looks like on different body types, to help consumers feel good about fit and reduce the number of returns.

Also in retail, it can be used for product placement. Recently, Kellogg’s has been working with Accenture and Qualcomm to test the use of virtual reality (VR) technology to determine the best place to display new products in stores. The eye-tracking technology in a VR headset is used to learn more about how customers react to product placements in stores, helping the brand to develop strategies to boost sales of certain products.

One of the most significant use cases is how AR and VR can assist in training future employees or personnel. Lack of technical skills, training, and experience are some of the major issues faced by hiring managers in all sectors and industries.  The use of AR and VR in training boosts engagement and knowledge retention and enables an organisation to enforce consistent and measurable standards across an entire workforce. The technology also provides a way to train employees where it may not always be safe to do so in the real world. Accordingly, it has the potential to boost GDP by $294.2 billion by 2030.

VR can eliminate the need to bring large groups together for training or the need to pay for training facilities. Trainees can even learn from their desks. For example, consider a virtual oil refinery allowing engineers to practice carrying out procedures without spending time and money on travel. From the perspective of on-the-job training, AR headsets and mobile devices can be used to enable senior personnel to see through the eyes of operational staff. They can explain procedures as it is demonstrated more effectively in a virtual environment.

The bottom line is this: AR and VR are both moving very quickly in terms of what’s possible. Retailers need to provide rich customer experiences. The telecom industry needs to prepare for exponential growth in traffic and demand for data. Healthcare’s future is going to be more visual, more immersive and more interactive and while there are many steps to be taken before AR-VR technology becomes integrated into daily clinical practice, it will eventually be incremental in the standard care that we receive in the future. It’s not just about video games anymore. AR and VR are having a significant impact on businesses across all sectors. This is the technology that will give a competitive and progressive edge if implemented correctly.

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