Virtual reality and augmented reality are not just for playing video games anymore. Businesses large and small are exploring the ways they can enhance and develop their organizations through these disruptive technologies, which can allow employees and consumers to experience virtual environments or enhance their real-life surroundings.
VR vs AR
To learn more about how businesses can leverage immersive technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality for their benefit, it helps to understand the differences between the two:
- Augmented reality (AR) enhances what you see by inserting digital elements into a real-life environment, often by using a smartphone's camera. For example, an AR app would allow you to see what a couch looks like inside a living room, or what a pair of glasses would look like on your face.
- Virtual reality (VR) creates a completely immersive, multi-sensory computer-generated experience, inserting the user in an interactive, simulated environment. For example, a headset can provide 360-degree images and stereo sound to create a virtual world for the user.
The business case
Driven in part by the technology gaining a foothold in enterprise and commercial spaces, the VR market is expected to hit an inflection point in the next two years, growing to nearly $22 billion in total market revenue by 2024, according to projections by ABI Research.1
VR for business applications, in particular, has seen stronger growth than previously anticipated, says Eric Abbruzzese, research director for ABI Research. “Today, enterprise VR is taking an increasing amount of conversation, mainly focused around training and simulation," he says.
Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are setting their sights on tech tools like VR and AR to boost growth for their business, as the technologies can create opportunities for more realistic training and improved customer experiences. According to the Canadian brief of the Global American Express SME Pulse Survey 2019, “Innovative Strategies to Drive Growth for Canadian SMEs," 62% of Canadian respondents agree digital technology provides new business opportunities, and 38% worldwide plan to prioritize tech to enhance their processes.
Small businesses could be taking a cue from their larger counterparts, as research suggests Canada's C-suite is already investing in future-forward tech tools like VR and AR. Also, the American Express 2019 Global Business & Spending Outlook indicates that 47% of senior executives say the next generation of tech innovations will bring major disruption to the competitive dynamics of their industry.
How businesses are using VR and AR
Here is a look at five ways businesses are using these technologies.
1. Training. Abbruzzese notes that training has been identified as the most prominent use of virtual reality, as well as one of the leading uses of AR. VR in particular, can offer professionals a more immersive, interactive experience that makes it easier for them to learn and retain knowledge, he explains.
VR allows for “experiential training" sessions, placing trainees in a virtual environment to resemble real-world situations they could potentially encounter on the job. This can be useful in fields such as manufacturing and aviation, allowing for safer training environments.
“Training your employees in virtual reality has 60% better engagement, and your staff remembers 90% of the information better than traditional training on a piece of paper," says Kris Kolo, global executive director of the VR/AR Association.
2. Remote expertise and work collaboration. AR allows users to connect to other professionals and experts remotely and in real time, saving businesses money on travel, reducing employee downtime and creating greater efficiencies. Remote expertise can also be the easiest option to implement. “As long as there is an internet connection for both the user and expert, remote expertise is possible," says Abbruzzese.
3. Customer experience. More brands are using VR and AR to engage their customers—and with good reason. A growing body of research suggests that consumers who use VR and AR are more engaged, and a higher percentage of them end up buying that brand's products, Kolo says. For example, there are retail apps that use AR to allow customers to see what a piece of furniture would look like in their living space by collecting a room's dimensions and then projecting an image of the furniture onto the floor via a smartphone camera.
4. Product development. VR allows businesses to walk clients through a virtual environment, such as a 3D model of a building, to experience the finished product in a simulated setting. Businesses can also use virtual reality to create a 3D model of a product; the automotive industry, for instance, has used this technology to design cars.
“3D modeling is the backbone of VR and AR," says Kolo. “That same 3D data can be used inside a virtual reality headset. Then it can be used for augmented reality—your smartphone or smart glasses—when you project the 3D model in front of you."
5. Manufacturing. For workers on the factory floor, smart glasses equipped with augmented reality capabilities can help them follow instructions while leaving their hands free to pick up packages.
“It makes the whole process much faster and more efficient," Kolo says. “Workers are being more productive, which means business is more productive, and that results in lower costs and higher revenues."
What SMEs can do
You don't have to be a mega corporation with deep pockets to take advantage of VR and AR technologies. To improve training, businesses can hire service providers that specialize in these technologies. Industry associations like the VR/AR Association can help identify resources in this area.
And to better engage consumers, look no further than social media. Consumers are already using augmented reality through social media features such as photo filters. Businesses can leverage these same platforms to engage their customers with new experiences, and most social media platforms feature business sites where companies can set up their own accounts and use these features.
“You don't need to reinvent the wheel and build from scratch," Kolo says.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. It should not be regarded as comprehensive or a substitute for professional advice.