Vision of the future: VR will increasingly be used in industrial design and manufacturing processesCREDIT: GETTY
A look at the impending revolution in augmented and virtual reality technologies.
Next year could be the moment when augmented reality and virtual reality (AR and VR) finally deliver on their promise, experts say, after years of companies such as Facebook investing billions in the technology.
Next year AR and VR will be widely used commercially, for instance in hi-tech shop displays and for VR employee training.
The technologies will also edge towards more widespread consumer use, thanks to a new Oculus headset, Oculus Quest, which is predicted to sell three times more than its predecessor, Oculus Rift, and offer a mainstream device for users to operate these incoming technologies.
Worldwide spending on AR and VR is set to hit $20.4 billion (£16 billion) next year, a rise of 68.8pc on 2018, according to research by International Data Corporation (IDC).
Buying into AR: retailers are creating more meaningful experiences for shoppers CREDIT: GETTY
Retail is expected to be one of the leaders in adopting VR and AR technology. In 2019, fashion and beauty brands will lead the way with displays which allow customers to interact with products in augmented reality, says Mark Howell, creative director at the strategic retail design agency, Play.
“In 2019 we expect to see the retail industry push the boundaries with AR and VR,” says Mr Howell. “Retailers are under pressure to create more meaningful experiences for shoppers who choose to visit in-store, and fashion and beauty retailers are leading the way.”
In the training sector, VR will increasingly become a standard tool, particularly for companies whose employees have to deal with physical danger, according to Tom Symonds, CEO of VR platform Immerse.
“Scenarios in VR can mimic real-life situations minus the risk,” Mr Symonds says. “Energy companies such as Shell are grasping the opportunity to provide staff with immersive experiences, with heated jackets mimicking the effects of fire.”
Preben Fjeld, general manager for UK and Ireland at the technology company Lenovo, says AR can also offer a boon for those operating in dangerous environments, where workers may not be able to spare a hand to operate a device or consult a manual. “Using AR glasses can give manufacturing and field workers real-time data that helps to reduce errors and improve accuracy, safety and quality,” he says.
In the entertainment sphere, the upcoming Oculus Quest headset is predicted to drive a huge surge in demand, offering high-quality graphics without a paired PC – unlike its predecessor, Oculus Rift.
Analyst SuperData predicts that Quest will outsell Rift, three to one, selling 2.5 million units by the end of 2019.
Jason Kingsley OBE, co-founder of Rebellion, one of Europe’s largest independent games developers, says: “There are still challenges with controls, headwear and comfort but we’re seeing VR becoming very powerful.
“In gaming, lots of people are experimenting with different ways of playing and building social gaming scenarios with both VR and AR.”
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But while the market for VR appears ready to take off, AR could start to overtake it, some experts believe. It has a built-in advantage in that it can run on existing smartphones, via their cameras, and 2019 will see smartphones deliver apps which feel like they are “from the future”, says Viktor Prokopenya of artificial intelligence lab Banuba.
“An example of this is the upcoming Google Maps app introduced at the Google I/O conference,” he says. “Consumers can view the streets through the camera on their smartphone and see the directions appear before them on their screen.”
SuperData also predicts that, by 2021, AR will generate more money than VR. Mr Fjeld agrees, and notes that the UK’s upcoming 5G network, which will see superfast downloads and streaming, will energise both VR and AR devices.
Mr Fjeld says: “With the advent of 5G, the rich capabilities of AR – real life enhanced with computer-generated imagery, remote assistance, object recognition and other powerful content – will leap forward and make meaningful impact to businesses.
“VR clearly has already made its mark in gaming, journalism, film-making, education, sports and music. But the larger appetite will be around AR.”