Virtual worlds are nothing new: TV, cinema, and computer games have long offered audiences realistic entertainment. But today’s virtual realm goes much further. By seamlessly combining digital content with physical reality, it delivers interactive experiences that incorporate sight, sound, and touch. As the underlying tech becomes ever better and more affordable, immersive reality looks set to become an integral part of our daily lives. In fact, experts forecast that the market for this tech will be worth USD 52.05 billion by 2027. Read on to learn more about immersive reality, its applications, and its benefits.
Immersive Tech: Blurring the Boundary Between Digital and Physical
Immersive technology denotes a range of novel ways of creating, displaying, and interacting with applications, content, and experiences. The immersive dimension is the result of merging a digital or simulated reality with the physical world, sometimes in ways that seem to erase the distinction between the real and digital realms.
New immersive experiences are built on three main types of tech: virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). These technologies give users almost boundless potential to design products and services in digital form and incorporate these into the real world or an entirely computer-generated one.
VR: The Fully Immersive Experience
To understand how this is achieved, let’s look a little more closely at the three enabling technologies. Perhaps the most familiar of these is virtual reality. VR has been around, in one form or another, for a number of years and is perhaps best known through its application in computer gaming.
With VR, users are completely decoupled from outer reality and fully immersed in a computer-generated virtual space. A head-mounted display (HMD) or headset gives them access to a rich virtual world of sound and images. And with the addition of haptic controllers, they can navigate the immersive environment and even handle virtual objects.
AR: Projecting a Digital Dimension onto Reality
Augmented reality can be seen as the next step toward marrying the digital and physical realms. Unlike VR, AR incorporates real-world elements – overlaying them with digital information. Here, physical reality stays center stage but is supplemented by new perceptual layers that enrich the user’s environment. This can be achieved, for example, by using smart glasses to display information about the real-world objects in the wearer’s field of vision.
MR: The Best of Both Worlds
Finally, we have Mixed Reality. As the name suggests, MR brings the real and the digital worlds even closer together. Next-generation sensing and imaging technologies enable users to interact not only with virtual objects and surroundings (as in VR) but also with the physical objects around them. This means that they can immerse themselves in their actual surroundings while interacting with a virtual environment.
Real-World Use Cases
Immersive technologies are now rapidly gaining ground in many industries – thanks to the new and exciting ways of interacting, analyzing, and creating that they offer. For example, the tech is transforming how training is designed and delivered. At German national rail operator Deutsche Bahn, VR and AR have been at the heart of training and professional development since 2018.
In the field of design and prototyping, development teams are increasingly using immersive technologies to create virtual prototypes of services and products. Not only does this accelerate the overall process, reducing time to market and associated costs; it also offers attractive new opportunities for remote collaboration.
In the online retail space, the latest AR tech allows customers to try on clothing virtually. What’s more, it can give them a realistic impression of what furniture and fittings will look like in their homes – and all this without having to ship the goods to them. Small wonder, then, that heavy hitters like Amazon and IKEA are increasingly incorporating AR into their online platforms.
Scalable Learning, Greater Situational Awareness, New Offerings
One major advantage of immersive technology for training is its scalability. It allows larger numbers of users to develop hands-on skills – particularly through simulating unusual situations. At the same time, it helps ensure consistently high standards of quality.
In addition to its benefits in terms of speed and cost-savings in prototyping, immersive tech can help people gain greater insight into real-world environments. By overlaying data visualizations onto faulty equipment, for example, AR can enable maintenance engineers to assess situations faster and more productively.
In online retail, the tech drives sales by engaging customers in novel and eye-catching ways. This is clear from the growing appeal of virtual stores and digital showrooms: A recent study by McKinsey found that 33% of customers who are active on the metaverse have bought real-world items in such online environments.
From Gaming to Business – and Beyond
At present, demand for immersive technologies still comes primarily from the creative economy – especially, gaming, live events, and video entertainment – as well as from the retail sector. However, as time goes on, many observers expect the tech to find applications across an array of industries, including healthcare, education, the military, and real estate, to name but a few.
If you’d like to dig deeper into this technology, feel free to reach out to me. And if you have your own ideas and experiences relating to immersive reality, please share them in the comments section.