How to Invest in Augmented and Virtual Reality

How to Invest in Augmented and Virtual Reality
November 17, 2016

Tim Merel, founder and CEO of Eyetouch Reality and Digi-Capital in Menlo Park, California, points to how consumer computing platforms roll into the industry like ocean waves. Just like a surfer learning to read the latest set, it's also about knowing when the next wave is breaking.


Disruptions to the tech marketplace came first with the advent of computers, then the internet, followed more recently with mobile. He calls virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality -- the blending of both -- the fourth wave.


While virtual reality or VR, could be big, Merel and other experts say augmented reality, or AR, and mixed reality will likely be bigger as more businesses start to invest in more immersive technology that will likely take longer to be adopted.


Chris Curran, chief technologist at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas, says according to his company's 2016 Global Digital IQ Survey (which included more than 2,000 IT and business leaders from 51 countries), 10 percent are making substantial investments in augmented reality and 7 percent in virtual reality.


That investment will likely jump in the next three years to 24 percent in augmented reality and 15 percent virtual reality, Curran says.


"There are number of people who are in the tech industry who see those two things, AR and VR colliding, converging into one kind of device that can do both," says Cosmo Scharf, co-founder of VRLA, a massive virtual and augmented reality expo in Los Angeles.


Scharf says virtual reality, at its most basic form, is about connecting with people on a deeper technological level.


"Think of all the applications you use on your laptop and your smartphone," he says.


The majority are used as different mediums to connect to other people, whether it's sharing photos or videos on Instagram and Facebook, or sending a text message, he says.


"They are different ways of expressing yourself and sharing that with another person, your friends or the world," Scharf says. "That's where VR is heading but on much more profound way because it's immersive by its nature and you feel like you are inside of wherever you want to be. What that means for social applications is huge. We don't quite know what that will look like but those kinds of use cases will be very important."


The business landscape. While VR is mostly focused on the entertainment industry -- think games, videos and theme parks -- some businesses are using it for training and education. That can translate into more hands-on corporate education.


Curran recently worked with an insurance company that was trying to educate conference attendees about what risks they would cover with their insurance. PwC built a virtual reality app that walked prospective customers through a virtual cityscape, where participants could enter buildings, and how much commercial insurance would cost, depending on how tall a building is, the materials it is made of, the type of pedestrian traffic around the building and other factors, Curran says. He suggests investors look at companies such as Samsung Electronics Co. and Sony Corp. (ticker: SNE) that are using gaming platforms for other purposes.


Whereas augmented reality, the blending of the physical and virtual worlds, involves more sensor-based data, such as a factory laying sensors on top of machines, or using AR to help someone drive a truck or navigate an oil field.


"Augmented reality is a more fragmented market in terms of companies building Google Glass and other display technologies," Curran says, pointing to the 2010 release of the London Tube app that first mapped subways in London by overlaying points of interest for iPhone users.


As companies move into this direction, it means bringing more real-time data to the person working with the device to help other employees at the point of need, Curran says.


One example is having a manager walk around with a hands-free device on an industrial floor that sees red, yellow and green on various conveyor belts, and then trouble shoot to high priority red zones. Or it may mean a gas company in New Orleans visualizing a 3D cross section of the Earth with multiple people in the same room working to collaborate, Curran says.

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