The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed everyone’s reality. People used to interact with others physically, but due to social distancing and travel restrictions, meetings are held via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. This new normal has also made extended reality a strong business consideration.
What is extended reality (XR)?
Extended reality is an umbrella term for immersive technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). XR merges physical and virtual worlds and creates an entirely immersive experience for users.
Extended reality is expected to improve business productivity and efficiency, particularly in the healthcare, manufacturing, and tourism industry. In fact, latest research shows that people expect XR to become mainstream in the next five years.
But to understand XR, we need to discuss its components:
AR overlays virtual objects and information in the physical world. For instance, AR can place computer-generated furniture in a real room to see how it would look like in the real world. This can be experienced through tablets, smartphones, or AR glasses.
Unlike the former, VR immerses users into a simulated digital environment. This requires users to put on a head-mounted display. Because VR is completely simulated, users can also supplement their experience with controllers and other sensory stimulators.
Also called hybrid reality, MR is where digital and real-world objects co-exist and interact with each other. It requires an MR headset like Microsoft HoloLens, which allows you to place digital objects into a room and interact with them in any way possible.
What can XR do for businesses?
Extended reality has plenty of benefits, such as:
1. More engaging shopping experience
At a time when more people are shopping online, XR can provide a more immersive experience. For instance, a virtual tour can allow prospective homebuyers to view a property using their smartphone or computer before visiting the house in person. Extended reality can also help users determine how items will fit inside their home.
Another example is Amazon's virtual changing room app, which scans your body measurements, determines your preferences, and suggests a certain size or style. This makes it easier for shoppers to be sure of their purchase before paying for it.
2. Immersive training
Extended reality can provide tools that can help retailers, healthcare professionals, and scientists respond better to certain situations.
Back in 2018, retail company Walmart partnered with VR training company STRIVR to help their staff prepare for Black Friday. Walmart’s team went through rigorous simulations of the influx of people, helping them feel confident and ready for the real event.
XR can also replace physical manuals, enabling users to focus on a task without consulting a user guide. It can also connect to an expert remotely to help solve issues, saving organizations money by avoiding downtime.
3. Improved healthcare
XR can also streamline medical procedures. XR technologies already exist which allow surgeons to visualize body organs in 3D, enabling them to plan ahead of a complicated surgery. This ensures that every procedure is performed precisely and effectively.
What are the challenges behind XR?
Extended reality is not without challenges. For instance, extended reality technologies collect and process a huge amount of information such as what a user sees, how they interact with virtual objects, and even how they feel. These data should be protected at all costs from a data breach.
Additionally, XR technologies are not cheap, making adoption difficult for small- and medium-sized businesses. The wearable devices also have to be comfortable, connected, and immersive. While there are still some technical issues to solve with XR, the technology is a promising development not just for consumers, but for businesses as well.
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