Mixed Reality: An Effective Force in a Post-Pandemic World
As the world continues to contain the outbreak of COVID-19, many are beginning to wonder about the long-term effects of the pandemic. What will our socially distanced world look like? How close to normal can we get? And What tools do we have at our disposal to ensure a smooth transition into this new world?
What we know so far is that the Coronavirus outbreak has severely hindered our freedom of movement. Be it a trip to the shopping centre, a routine checkup at the dentist, or our daily commute to work; we’re largely confined to our homes and local amenities.
The outbreak itself has also put pressure on global health systems, leading to a shift in attention and resources towards healthcare. Basic economic principles teach us that when finite resources are geared toward one sector of an economy, other sectors will notice a significant reduction in their operations.
The effects of this fight against the virus have been felt by us all, across every aspect of daily lives. The versatility of mixed and augmented reality products has come to the forefront of the news amidst the COVID pandemic. From connecting people from afar to conducting virtual hospital meetings and generating virtual shopping experiences; mixed and augmented reality has the capacity to propel society into a more efficient and exciting future. And shown in the graph below, across all industries worldwide, the application of AR and VR is forecast to increase over the next five years.
Projected user base of the augmented and virtual reality software market worldwide in 2020 and 2015, by segment (Statista).
AR, VR and MR in a Post-Pandemic World
Before we begin to place these technologies in the world today, let’s get a better understanding of exactly what they are. In simple terms:
- Augmented Reality (AR) – overlays digital content on top of the real world.
- Virtual Reality (VR) – replaces reality with a 3D digital environment.
- Mixed Reality (MR) – adds superimposed digital content that superficially interacts with the environment in real-time.
We’ve all faced up to the burden of having to stay home whilst our favourite shops remain closed. As shopping centres and high streets gradually reopened – it was fairly chaotic as hundreds of thousands of people around the country swarmed the shops. For many, this was more of a deterrent to leaving the house.
For those asked to self-isolate and if social distancing is to mean anything in the coming months and years, there must be a way for people to do their shopping effectively. AR and VR collectively offer a unique shopping experience to customers that helps them make better decisions whilst saving their time and keeping them safe. This is done by reducing the need for contact in stores and by enabling immersive shopping from home experiences.
The application of such technologies have been at play pre-pandemic, but are anticipated to expand and improve to meet the needs of today’s shoppers. Take Ikea, for example, who developed the Ikea Place ARKit App, allowing users to see a 3D preview of their chosen furniture in their homes.
Lowes has implemented a useful in-store VR experience whereby using an HTC Vive and controller, the Holoroom Test Drive allows users to learn how to use different power tools in a safe virtual space.
Taking the shopping experience to a new level, Topshop partnered with AR Door and used Kinect motion sensors to create a virtual fitting room. By standing in front of the camera, customers could see how different items of clothing looked- without physically touching anything. Sound’s hygienic.
For those who were looking to buy, sell and rent at the beginning of 2020, your plans would have drastically changed by March. The market effectively shut down and people became less likely to attend house viewings or welcome tenants into their homes.
Thanks to Virtual Reality, architectural visualisation has become widely accessible, affordable and immersive. Real estate agents can use VR technology to showcase the interior and exterior of properties that aren’t even built yet. Clients and investors can get a clear look at what’s being offered, from the comfort of their homes.
First look at finished building still under construction: (Mesmerise Global)
Guided visits traditionally resemble a promotional video. When combined with AR and VR, the experience offered to clients can be far more interactive. An interactive online experience allows prospective buyers to view multiple properties at all angles to make better, fast and more informed choices.
Over 80% of real estate agents recognise that staging a property helps it sell faster (NAR). Virtual staging allows for personalisation to the buyer’s preference. Potential buyers can use software and technology to design their own living spaces by selecting furniture from online stores, changing the colour of walls and refurbishing fixtures and fittings.
Augmented reality is equally useful in its ability to overlay reality with personal decorative choices. Dulux the paint company’s AR App, Colourview allows users to change the colour of walls before committing to the change.
VR and AR have become powerful tools in any marketers toolbox. Retailers, for example, can generate 3D graphics-rich content, as opposed to simple 2D banners and static content. This allows for a more immersive experience and increases user engagement- and ultimately, boosts sales.
We can expect a surge in interactive content using AR. Print and digital publications can be brought to life using AR companion apps. This extends the reach and engagement through immersive editorial content and data visualisation. Bringing articles, headlines, images and data to life through interactive content also gives sponsors and advertisers a unique opportunity to connect with readers- generating an additional revenue stream.
Pepsi Max embarked on an incredibly immersive campaign at a London bus stop. They used AR to bring flying saucers, tigers and giant robots to life as part of its integrated campaign. The post-pandemic world is likely to see an advancement in engaging AR campaigns.
Given the aggressive nature of the pandemic, much attention has been paid to strengthening world health systems. COVID has put the spotlight on AR and VR as interactive technology- and it’s unlikely that this focus will move for some time.
An Imperial led project at the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust has seen doctors wearing Microsoft Hololens headsets while working on the frontline of the pandemic. The use case was to allow other clinicians to sit in another room, and through using Microsoft Teams, see a live video of COVID-19 treatment. By using these devices, staff reduced the amount of time they spent in a high-risk area by 83%. Meaning, less PPE is used and safety is ensured.
Elsewhere, AccuVein has used AR to develop a scan that is projected over a patient’s body to show nurses the locations of different veins and valves. Its reported findings suggest that the technology made finding a vein on the first attempt 3 times more likely.
Endless application for Virtual Reality exists within the healthcare industry. From VR-powered telemedicine to transportive elder care. For example, elderly home residents can use VR headsets to see the world without leaving their seats- including making virtual hospital visits. Further, companies like Psious are offering Virtual Reality Immersion Therapy for behavioural and mental health issues.
AR, VR and MR have the power to create highly immersive communicative experiences between employees, employers and clients. Users of such technologies can be transported into meeting rooms, take intricate company tours and contribute to virtual whiteboards in real-time.
Given the success of working from home recognized by many industries during the pandemic lockdown, it’s likely that WFH is here to stay. There are very few technological experiences out there that can ensure workers feel like they’re physically present in a meeting, or actually supervising a team- other than embedding digital layers into their field of vision.
Using AR, VR and MR whilst working remotely allows workers to better understand briefs, collaborate in real-time, elaborate on specifications- all within distributed teams. Using an AR or VR platform allows members of a distributed team to effectively point at what they mean, reducing the time it takes to explain it over email or telephone. They can even use props and objects for reference to get instant feedback.