7 Nov 2019
Businesses Now Virtually Convinced of Real-World AR and VR Benefits
This year's London-hosted AR & VR World Summit saw augmented reality and virtual reality ditch the 'emerging technology' tag, with attendees convinced they could make a contribution to the bottom line of many businesses.
Although they seem to have been knocking about for quite a while, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have only now ceased to be emerging technologies, at least according to many of the exhibitors at this year's AR & VR World Summit, part of TechXLR8, one of London Tech Week's flagship events. In all, 20,000 visitors attended the expo during its two-day run, all eager to learn how the latest in digital technology could synch with their own products and businesses.
For her part, Julien Develle, an Account Manager with AMA Xpert Eye, a Massachusetts-headquartered smartglass developer, was looking to give delegates a glimpse of things to come via a presentation intriguingly titled: Augmented Reality and Remote Collaboration Technology: A Case Study of The Industry of The Future. Focusing on how AR and VR are set to revolutionise information exchange and the implications of this for collaborative working and vocational training, she said: "The arrival of 5G and the latest developments in artificial intelligence [AI] technology will unlock numerous solutions, allowing a seamless business network to emerge with AR at its very heart."
Helping to facilitate this, according to Develle, is AMA's own XpertEye Advanced system, a remote assistance solution that has been deployed extensively across the industrial and medical sectors and is compatible with a wide range of video sources, including the latest version of Glass, Google's proprietary take on intelligent eyewear. The most recent update to the search engine's smartglasses – the Glass Enterprise Edition 2 – was also on show at the event. Built on the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 platform, this significant upgrade incorporates a powerful multi-core CPU and a new AI engine. It's a combination that allows for substantial power savings, enhanced performance, support for computer vision and advanced machine learning capabilities – if the hype on the Google stand can be believed, that is.
One exhibitor keen to separate industry myth from market reality was Martin Liboska, a Senior Technical Project Manager with Deutsche Telekom (DT), the Bonn-headquartered telecoms giant. Indeed, his provocatively titled seminar – Is the Combination Of 5G and AR / VR More Hype or Is It the Magic Partnership That the Enterprise Ecosystem Has Been Waiting For? – was the source of much debate across the showfloor. As DT's Cloud XR Lead and Co-chair of GSMA Cloud XR Forum, Liboska's question may well have been prompted by the challenges facing his employer as it looks to roll out 5G across Germany over the next 18 months.
Putting such logistical concerns aside, Liboska's distinctly upbeat case study – Cloud XR Streaming, Enabling Globally Scalable High-Quality VR Training for B2B – predicted the emergence of fully harmonised extended reality (XR) technology. Outlining the benefits of such a system, he said: "With 5G XR Cloud, the quality of the VR experience would be vastly improved, with huge volumes of 3D data loading in real time."
Taking as his own theme Augmented Reality and The Reinvention of Retail Experiences, meanwhile, Gurps Nijjar, Co-founder of Avatar Digital, a London-based AR app developer, was keen to illustrate just how new technology is impacting on purchase decisions. Offering a number of telling statistics, he said: "Forward-thinking retailers are well aware that the more memorable the retail experience, the better the sales and the subsequent brand awareness.
"Tellingly, 40% of shoppers say they are more likely to purchase a product if they can experience it via AR beforehand, while 61% have a distinct preference for those stores that engage with AR compared with those that don't. In fact, a massive 71% of shoppers said they would visit a store more often if it had AR facilities."
A perhaps less frivolous use of digital technology was highlighted by Paul Speight, a Watch Manager with the Leicestershire Fire & Rescue Service. Attending the event on behalf of the National Fire Chiefs Council, he was in London to demonstrate VF4360, an immersive virtual reality education package and headset originally developed for use in car-crash simulations.
Following its successful use in promoting road safety, the system has since been repurposed as a means of reconstructing fire scenes for training purposes. Clearly somewhat evangelical as to its value as an educational tool, Speight said: "The kind of immersive learning made possible by VR is 15 times more effective than any lecture."
Staying with the education theme, Blackpool-based RedboxVR had on offer a range of Virtual Reality Kits specifically designed for classroom use. Outlining the company's aspirations, Director Simon Fretwell said: "Targeting a worldwide customer base, we have produced a complete all-in-one solution that allow students to create and store their own VR content."
Typically, a standard kit comprises eight Student Devices and one Teaching Device, all with intelligent charging and integrated routers. There's also storage space for eight Homido Grab VR viewers, as well as a Ricoh Theta V 360, the company's VR-enabled camera of choice.
While many were clearly happy to see the technology in the classroom, Kenny Deriemaker, AR Lead with In The Pocket, a Belgian digital product developer, wanted to see it everywhere and, in particular, on smartphones. Outlining what he sees as a missed opportunity, he said: "At the moment, very few people have AR functionality via their mobile devices – basically, they have a fair degree of inertia when it comes to going to an app store and getting the required download.
"This means, as it stands, increased adoption is only going to come via Facebook, WeChat or Snapchat add-ons. In the future, though, I believe such functionality will come as standard in new iPhones and other high-end smartphones."
With pretty much everything coming as standard, HP – the California-headquartered computer hardware giant – was this year focusing on the ubiquity of its new Z VR Backpack, supposedly the most powerful wearable VR PC ever created. With 16GB of memory and 256GB of storage, the Backpack can be used in conjunction with an HP headset and is enticingly described as being "optimised for immersive experiences in a free-roam environment".
According to its manufacturer, it has particular applications in the worlds of training, location-based entertainment and several design sectors. As advertised on the official HP Store, the Backpack is currently available for US$3,299.
Overall, the common belief across the showfloor was that, in terms of business applications at least, AR and VR have graduated from being intriguingly experimental to being genuinely transformational. With the arrival of 5G and the wider implementation of the Cloud XR protocol, it's a process that's only set to accelerate, ensuring that immersive experiences and higher definition content are certain to become everyday realities for many businesses.
The 2019 AR & VR World Summit took place from 12-13 June at London Excel.
David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, London