Last year was a year of growth for virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), known collectively as extended reality (XR). The presence of these cutting-edge technologies began to be felt far from the fields of gaming and entertainment, where they first became popular.

Virtual reality, in which users wear headphones and are totally immersed in computer-generated environments, has been developed to meet the needs of design, marketing, education, training and retail. Augmented reality – in which computer images are superimposed on the user’s view of the real world, through a screen or headphones – is a more complex challenge, as it requires the software to “see” what is in front of it. But we’re getting used to seeing it being used for more than just adding cartoon features to select images or seeing Pokemon in nature.

With global spending on XR technology predicted to increase by 78.5% next year compared to this year, both technologies will be key trends to watch out for in 2020. We’re likely to see a lot of new and exciting equipment that offers even greater immersion and realism, as well as innovative use cases as the industry becomes more familiar with what it can do.

Industrial use trumps games and entertainment

Today in: Innovation

Most of today’s early VR and AR experiences are in games and entertainment. This is likely to change as research shows that the development of enterprise RX solutions is outpacing that of consumer solutions. The “2020 XR Industry Insight” report, compiled by VR Intelligence, states that 65% of AR companies surveyed said they are working on industrial applications, while only 37% work on consumer products and software.

This shouldn’t be surprising, although games have made headlines in recent years thanks to Pokemon Go and Facebook’s Oculus Rift, the potential to increase productivity and security using RX makes it an attractive proposition for the industry.

VR can be used to simulate working in dangerous environments or with expensive and easily damaged tools and equipment, without any of the risks. VR, on the other hand, can be used to convey essential information directly to the user about what is in front of them, reducing the time engineers, technicians or maintenance staff spend consulting manuals and searching for information online while on the job.

The potential uses of these technologies in healthcare are obvious, and by 2020 we can expect to see many of these use cases transitioning from testing and piloting to general use. Virtual reality has already been adopted in therapy, where it is used to treat patients with phobias and anxiety disorders. Combined with biosensors that monitor physiological reactions such as heart rate and perspiration, therapists can gain a better understanding of how patients react to stressful situations in a safe, virtual environment. VR is also used to help people with autism develop social and communication skills, as well as to diagnose patients with visual or cognitive impairments, by monitoring the movement of their eyes. 

The adoption of AR in health care is expected to grow even faster with the market value increasing by 38% per year until 2025. AR can be used by surgeons – both in the theatre and in training – to alert them to risks or hazards while on the job. One application that has been developed uses AR to guide users to defibrillator devices, should they need one when in public. Another helps nurses find patients’ veins and avoid accidentally sticking needles where they don’t want them. As these and similar innovations lead to better patient outcomes and reduced treatment costs, they are likely to become more widespread.

Many of us will learn through VR and AR

VR and AR educational experiences will continue to become increasingly common throughout 2020. The immersive nature of VR means that students can participate in learning in new and fun ways, and AR brings a new flexibility to on-the-job training.

Students can now take a journey through time to visit the ancient Romans, or through space to experience conditions on other planets. But as technology moves away from niches and becomes part of the fabric of everyday education, we are likely to see growth beyond simply providing “experiences” in solving problems with today’s education systems. Distance learners could be taught in VR classrooms, which means that the benefits of learning in a collaborative environment are not lost, while VR training aids can ensure access to the information needed to carry out a task at hand.    

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