Whilst just a few years ago Virtual Reality (VR) was still merely a nice add-on for marketing purposes or an absolute expert tool for developers, the technology is now making its way into our everyday lives. In a survey carried out by industry association Bitkom in 2018, eight percent of the 1,007 participants said they already owned their own VR goggles.
According to Gartner, the other immersive technologies of Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) should reach the “plateau of productivity” of the hype cycle within five to ten years, meaning they will then be established in the everyday and business worlds. Also by then, at the latest, they will have caught up with VR in terms of significance: It is expected that by 2022 AR technology will have overtaken VR as the main driver and will account for a 55-percent share in the market of head-mounted displays (HMDs) – an enormous increase considering its share was just five percent in 2017. According to estimates by Gartner, however, it is mixed reality that will triumph as the ultimate key technology for virtually supported user experiences: As early as 2021, a quarter of large companies will have pilot projects and usage scenarios that involve MR – currently only the case for one percent.
THE TIME TO ACT HAS COME
The figures suggest that the moment has come to jump on the XR train (VR, AR and MR) in order not to miss out on getting into new business models. The important thing for companies now is to seek an XR-based business model, and to identify the use cases that are right for them.
Infinity Reply sees a vast number of possible usage scenarios along the supply chain of booming online trade alone: starting with logistics and extending through to the crucial point, the sale, but also in employee training. One goal of the hugely increased online trade is to manage deliveries as efficiently as possible. Fewer delivery journeys ultimately means fewer costs and a lesser impact on the environment. Some crucial support here can come from augmented reality applications, which are already providing logistics employees with valuable additional information during the packing process. This may be in the form of hints on optimum packing methods, indications of the right place to put something, scanning barcodes, or even correction of errors. One major advantage is that the employee always has both hands free and can focus on the actual packing work. Other promising ideas involve the automated checking of deliveries for completeness or the creation of commercial documents. But that's not all....
Alongside AR, VR can also make an important contribution in the logistics sector. Most significantly, these scenarios offer crucial support with employee training in packing logistics. Through the use of VR, the employee sees a representation of their workplace that is very true to detail, in which they can run through the packing process step by step and practise and repeat it as often as they want to.
In the planning of logistics systems, the use of VR technology makes it possible to plan entire logistics centres connected to production in advance, and to adapt these to specific requirements, preferences, and technical and spatial framework conditions, so that a realistic impression can be gained even before the real implementation and planners can see exactly what the warehouse will look like later on. It is even possible to begin virtual operations in order to then run through later picking processes and check these for their feasibility in practice.
Even in stationary retail, which is having to battle with growing online competition, virtual reality is becoming ever more significant when it comes to acquiring customers. Virtual reality shopping offers consumers the convenience of online shopping and, at the same time, the feeling of being in a shop – transactions, products and services can thus be experienced in an entirely new way. With the help of virtual reality, customers can try out products – either at home or within the shop – in a way that is easier, more personalized, or more playful. Here too, virtual reality technology will gradually play a subordinate role, while augmented reality applications will come to the fore, according to predictions by Stewart Rogers, author and analyst at VentureBeat. In his opinion, “retailers who do not discover mobile AR for themselves within the next six months will lose influence”.
Even where there is limited spatial capacity, VR can be helpful – the full range of products can be browsed, configured and adapted to the customer’s needs and preferences, all in virtual reality. This helps not only to avoid configuration errors, but also to convey a clear image of the products offered. For retailers, therefore, it is no longer necessary to have a physical sample of every product, which saves time, costs and sales space. In the area of B2B too, providers of more complex products can offer their customers a clear preview of the product. This way, functionalities, potential applications, and processes of a machine, for example, can be presented with the help of VR. This might even go so far as a customer exploring the inner workings of a machine and trying out work processes.
Escape the pitfalls
Examples of use cases in the areas of automotive, consumer packaged goods, manufacturing, construction, health and digital workplace are manifold. The starting point for entry into immersive technology, however, should always be finding a specific case of application. There is no one-size-fits-all solution in XR. After all, the specific usage scenario will determine which tools, methodologies and resources are required for implementation.
Alongside the not yet precisely defined use case, there is often also uncertainty regarding which areas need to be worked on for XR to be applied appropriately. Hence, many applications that have already been implemented today are frequently merely a preliminary step for future XR scenarios, so current VR solutions are often installed and operated as standalone solutions. The future potential of virtual reality lies in the complete integration of these solutions into the IT infrastructure or system landscape of a process.
Furthermore, you need a high degree of automation with regard to the currentness of content. What this means specifically is the linking of VR configuration solutions with all other subsystems, such as online configurators/shops, DMS, CRM and analytics systems. A next logical step for increasing the potential of XR applications is ultimately to enable the end users themselves to produce corresponding content or to keep existing content continually up-to-date.
A crucial role will also be played by the incorporation of artificial intelligence in VR, AR and MR. This will help to facilitate the personalisation of experiences in the virtual world, make avatars appear more credible, and make it possible to predict the actions of the user. Thus, it will be easier to fill in missing graphics with the allocation of 3D objects or scenes, and the virtual experience will maintain the required continuity.
Infinity Reply is a professional services company specialising in innovative XR solutions and is part of the Reply Group. Infinity Reply acts independently of technologies and industries and offers its clients specific XR solutions optimised for the relevant use case and the relevant framework conditions. The portfolio includes consultancy, design and development, content production and rollout and support of XR solutions.