Do we need a reality check on virtual reality?

AR/VR hasn’t yet lived up to the hype surrounding it, but immersive technologies haven’t faded away or disappeared. Instead, they’re finding use cases in business and industrial applications that are quietly proving their ROI.


It was during the era of shoulder pads and glam rock when the term ‘virtual reality’ was first coined, in 1987, by VR pioneer Jaron Lanier. Even back as far as 1993, video-game company SEGA announced a home-gaming VR headset at CES that was never released. But the hype was huge. Predictions, grand and dire, were made.

Decades have passed, but the hype is still alive. This was supposed to be the year AR/VR changed the world as we know it, but that hasn’t exactly happened. So should you still be jumping on the bandwagon?

Tempering enthusiasm

Back in May, IDC forecast that worldwide spending on AR/VR would reach US$27 billion this year, a 92 per cent increase year over year — thanks to new hardware, improved software and more use cases. But by September, Tom Mainelli, IDC’s VP of devices and AR/VR, had to temper enthusiasm and report that “both the AR and VR markets are growing at a slower rate than previously expected.”

And Gartner’s 2018 CIO Agenda survey found that immersive technologies have yet to be widely adopted by enterprises, with 37 per cent of respondents saying that while AR/VR is on their radar, no action is planned.

Progress may seem slow — and isn’t exactly living up to earlier hype — but quietly, behind the scenes, use cases are taking shape. Even if Pokemon Go isn’t all the rage anymore, augmented reality, in particular, is finding a place in commercial and industrial applications.

Looking ahead

Capgemini surveyed more than 700 executives in the automotive, manufacturing and utilities sectors, and found that 50 per cent of those currently not implementing AR/VR “will start exploring immersive technologies for their business operations within the next three years.” But augmented — rather than virtual — reality will lead the way, such as using AR to train employees or remotely access help from experts.

So should you be looking at potential use cases for immersive technology in your organization? The answer is probably yes.

The aforementioned Capgemini survey found that 82 per cent of organizations currently rolling out AR/VR say the benefits are either “meeting or exceeding” expectations. And, three in four companies with large-scale AR/VR implementations “can attest to operational benefits of over 10%.”

Potential use cases

Looking past the hype, organizations are starting to see quantifiable results from immersive technology projects. Not surprisingly, VR gaming continues to be the dominant use case for AR/VR, according to IDC, but spending is growing for other business and industrial uses. The retail, discrete manufacturing and transportation industries, for instance, are expected to spend US$56 billion collectively on AR/VR products and services through 2022.

The Capgemini report found that across the automotive, manufacturing and utilities sectors, the most popular uses of AR/VR are repair and maintenance (such as superimposing instructions on workstations) and design and assembly (such as simulating product performance in extreme conditions).

Areas where AR/VR might be most beneficial, and where some companies are already seeing results, are training and assessment, remote assistance, data visualization, product design, physical site planning and customer AR tools, according to an article in CIO.com. Governments, too, are exploring potential applications for public infrastructure maintenance, education, policing and emergency management.

So while AR/VR hasn’t quite lived up to the hype — at least not yet — there’s plenty happening behind the scenes. And while using immersive technology to overlay design components onto existing modules for industrial applications isn’t as ‘sexy’ as virtual gaming, it’s proving to be a lot more useful.

Image: franz12/iStock

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