The rise of augmented and virtual reality in the age of immersive technology
Are we living in the matrix? The answer might seem obvious now, but it may soon become much harder to distinguish. Given that the augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) market is set to reach US$ 130 billion by 2025, it should not come as a surprise to see the widespread adoption of digital enhancements. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the need to re-imagine how industries and everyday lives could be changed using this futuristic technology. Let’s take a brief look at what AR/VR is, how this immersive technology is being used across industries, and its role in the future of an increasingly digital Bangladesh.
What is Augmented and Virtual Reality?
AR or augmented reality is a digitally enhanced version of the everyday world around us. AR uses a device, like phones or glasses, as a medium to display superimposed computer-generated images over one’s normal view of reality, essentially altering real world experiences while also helping perform tasks more effectively.
VR or virtual reality is essentially a computer-generated simulation where an individual can interact with and experience any environment imaginable with the help of special goggles containing sensors. This can be used to envision and develop virtual worlds for use across a multitude of applications.
There are a few key differences between AR and VR. AR is boundless -- in that, it can be used anywhere there is a mobile medium to view through. VR, on the other hand, is still currently tied to a specific location and fixed technology, but is capable of submerging users into completely different environments. AR adds an enhanced layer over what we would normally see. Both are still tremendous advancements in technology and innovation.
Who were the visionaries?
Morton Heilig is credited with creating the very first VR device, Sensorama, in 1957; and Ivan Sutherland, a pioneer of computer graphics, electrical engineer and computer scientist, along with his student, Bob Sproull, later helped develop the first AR technology, Sword of Damocles, at Harvard University in 1968. Their vision and determination of building a better tomorrow has helped push human ingenuity and potential beyond imagination.
Use across industries
Over the past two decades, virtual and augmented reality have been steadily improving. AR/VR have versatile applications across multiple industries. While entertainment has been the driving force for the development of most AR/VR, the technology has been used in fields such as education, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, construction, automotive, engineering design, travel, and tourism. AR/VR success and growth lies in Visualization. Augmented reality gained popularity around 2016, right around the time Pokemon Go was released. Pokemon Go made a surprisingly huge impact for AR/VR, as there was a large increase in the number of people going out to explore, guided by mobile AR applications. More people started meeting each other and connections that wouldn’t have likely been made were created. Even before Covid-19, increasing demand from the medical, education, e-commerce, and retail sectors along with growing interest from big tech companies has been steadily leading AR/VR up to this point.
Applications of AR/VR
Retail: Amazon for example, could send an advertisement which could enable potential buyers to see exactly how the product may fit in their home/office spaces. AR is being used in the fashion industry -- MemoMi, the company behind the Memory Mirror, a digital mirror platform which has revolutionized the way people shop along with the luxury shopping market itself. By using a combination of AI, VR, and AR, customers can virtually try-on products such as clothing, eyewear, footwear, accessories, and make-up in real-time without going through the inconvenience of the actual try-on experience. AR is also providing brands with the power to create unique experiences with customers which can mean the difference between making or breaking a sale.
Education: Universities have the option to give prospective students a tour of campuses and dorm rooms, and even sit in on courses they’re interested in. VR can be used to learn the ins and outs of a car or motorcycle. Instead of reading a mundane manual, individuals can plug into a mechanic simulator and work on any car of their desire. This can greatly develop visual and muscle memory, both critical in the process of learning retention.
Real estate: Buyers can virtually tour an entire property without actually having to leave their own homes. Real estate agents can use AR/VR to showcase layouts for new commercial developments. Prospective buyers who are thinking about relocation, now have the option of viewing homes with a 360 degree perspective from the comfort and safety of their current home.
Some globally recognized leaders in the AR/VR fields are Microsoft with the HoloLens, Google with Google Maps and Google Lens, Snapchat with their AR filters, Sony Playstation VR, and Oculus Rift. Facebook has their sights set on entering the AR/VR world in the near future, too.
The future and challenges of AR/VR
Looking to the future of AR/VR, we can already see revolutionary steps being taken. Examples like VR synthetic skin are predicted to amplify the field of prosthetics, long distance dating, as well as gaming. A wireless, touch sensitive interface is worn over the skin as a patch or layer and sends vibrating signals through the skin layers. The minds behind the vision of VR skin are John Rogers from Northwestern University in Illinois, US and Xiao-ming Tao from Hong Kong Polytechnic University. This new wireless VR interface can be applied in several areas, thanks to the electronic programmability and comfortable sensory input. Examples of these can be seen through transmitting touch to dear ones who may be on the other side of the globe, allowing prosthetic limbs to recreate the feel of an object, as well as video gamers being able to feel the impact of collisions in-game.
“Ready Player One”, a movie directed by legendary filmmaker Steven Spielberg, explores this exact idea through gorgeous visuals, captivating storyline, and virtual possibilities. The Teslasuit VR-Powered Glove is another revolution in the AR/VR realm which allows wearers to actually feel objects in VR -- one step closer to Speilsberg’s dream.
The biggest issue facing a successful transition towards a more AR/VR fluid world is that data needs to be rendered in real-time, so that images and information flow without any lag. This will require modern, high-tech infrastructure to be set in place. The low-latency offered by 5G technology today is paramount in order to solve this problem in some geographical areas.
AR/VR in a digital Bangladesh
Bangladesh’s current population includes some 80 million strong under the age of 25. They are extremely adept with technology, so it comes as no surprise that the fields of AR/VR have been steadily growing. Unfortunately, due to the highly-technologically sensitive equipment involved, exploring AR/VR becomes an expensive pursuit. However, this has never stopped the youth from dreaming.
Back in 2017, Bangladesh arranged its most ambitious IT expedition, “Augmented and Virtual Reality: Present and Future”, at the Digital World 2017 seminar. In March 2018, the IEEE AIUB Student Branch also organized a seminar on “Past, Present and Future of AR & VR”, all with the goal of increasing awareness and motivation about the opportunities and potentials of this field.
Today, there are a number of AR/VR solution providers currently playing an important role in the development of the field in Bangladesh. Here are a few key players and what they’re doing to help Bangladesh achieve the digital dream:
Why is this important?
Bangladesh is becoming one of the fastest growing hubs for freelancers and IT outsourcing. Combine that with the massive youth population who are tech-savvy and resourceful, and we have an equation for enormous economic opportunities. AR/VR based applications for education make the best of digital technologies and facilitate learning. This could create paths which did not exist previously. Local demand for AR/VR may currently be slow; however, the international demand is only growing rapidly. By effectively investing in development of resources in the field of AR VR, newer generations can be better prepared with the skills to face as well as create future markets. Given the vast amounts of youthful potential and ingenuity, AR/VR can without a doubt, upload Bangladesh to new digital heights.
The virtual revolution is indeed a thrilling; one marking the turn of a new age of humanity and pushing the bounds of conscious experiences. AR/VR is still new and will take some more time to grow, but it is beginning to open doors, windows, and portals to whole new worlds and possibilities. It is critical that Bangladesh develops the appropriate infrastructure to position itself strategically and resourcefully in order to remain at the forefront of the virtual revolution. Time to wake up, Neo.