A meeting of two technological revolutions
It seems likely that Virtual and Augmented Reality will establish themselves as digital tools in a wide variety of industries over the next few years. The application scenarios are extremely diverse and can be found primarily in product design for verifying concepts and variants using digital models that are as photorealistic as possible, or in engineering for digital safeguards with regard to buildability, ergonomics or aerodynamics. Other areas include virtual factory planning, ergonomic workplace design and, last but not least, a multitude of applications in marketing and sales. Today, for example, there are corresponding VR exhibits at many trade fairs or complete virtual showrooms with corresponding systems and VR applications in the automotive sector.
What all these scenarios have in common is that, due to the specific requirements for data transfer rates, bandwidths, performance and hardware, they can hardly be used across the board, but only selectively and in a specific hardware setting. One decisive detail is missing for expanding the application base: a real-time data flow. This means that data transmission to any location must be possible with minimal latency. It seems to be very good timing that the introduction of the latest mobile communication standard 5G is just about to take place at a time when immersive technologies are ripe for broad commercial use.
The introduction of the 4G standard (LTE) already reduced response time by around two thirds compared to the 3G UMTS standard: from 100 to around 30 milliseconds. In comparison, 5G represents another quantum leap in latency. The response time within the latest mobile communication standard is just one millisecond, which is extremely close to real-time transmission.
5G could thus be a promising approach for the future, area-wide application of VR - and in this context also AR applications. With low end-to-end latency times of less than 20 milliseconds, very good VR experiences can already be achieved and the degree of possible interactivity for future mobile VR and AR solutions can be significantly increased.
It is not yet clear when 5G will actually be available to industry and the consumer in Germany - full coverage is not expected until after 2020. However, many companies are already experimenting with prototypical devices and simulated scenarios - including Infinity Reply in a current project carried out together with Spark Reply for a well-known automotive customer. The customer is interested in understanding the technical limits of 5G, especially for the use of AR and VR in pre-sales scenarios for passenger vehicles in the short and medium term. "Will it be possible to stream a good AR/VR experience? When will it be practically feasible and under what real conditions?" – these were the questions that had to be answered as part of the project.
A major challenge for the project managers were the different requirements of the automobile manufacturer's sales locations in terms of network infrastructure and hardware. A hurdle that 5G technology could solve: With the promise of high bandwidth and low latency of 5G, AR and VR could theoretically be provided without significant local computing hardware, but could rather be computed on the network, reducing the complexity of the AR/VR end user devices and thus greatly facilitating the roll-out of the technology. In order to verify these premises, the project streamed visual content from the cloud to a mobile device as part of a theoretical analysis and pilot application. Different transmission paths (WLAN, 4G, 5G) were compared and evaluated with regard to performance, latency and visual quality.
After completing the project for 5G-based AR/VR scenarios, Infinity Reply sees great opportunities for automotive manufacturers in pre-sales scenarios. The full potential can be exploited if the extremely high visual quality made possible by technological progress is used to place the customer at the centre of the purchasing process. To this end, iterative design principles such as design thinking and agile design sprints should be applied. However, edge computing scenarios would have to be implemented in order to finally resolve the lags caused by transmission times, since latency times will remain throughout the network even if the 5G standard is used. But even this hurdle could be overcome in the medium term: AR/VR scenarios via 5G have already been successfully simulated with 6 GHz WiFi and local computers instead of edge computing.
Rather than waiting for mobile network operators to provide broader 5G coverage, companies should seize the opportunity today to implement pilot projects and develop mobile AR/VR solutions that focus on the customer and provide a compelling customer experience. Working with technology leaders and vertical service providers will help ensure that the solutions are designed to provide the possibilities that 5G technology will offer in the coming years.
In the near future there will be service providers focusing on the deployment of AR/VR in local (stationary) environments.
Mobile AR/VR solutions will make up a larger part of the installed base compared to stationary VR devices - despite the fact that mobile devices will still have limitations as regards reliability and performance.
As technology advances over the next five to ten years, dedicated AR devices will be available, opening the field to a much wider variety of relevant applications for professional and personal use.
Companies that develop solutions that focus on the customer and are based on user needs are likely to be more successful than companies that focus only on the available technology found in most industries today.