Woman wearing virtual reality headset

Virtual, but verifiable:

How AR and VR bring very real benefits to business

The tech world is full of acronyms these days and VR/AR are just two. But besides accompanying the sort of future-fantastic images, like the one above, what can Virtual and Augmented Reality really do?

First, the difference:

Augmented Reality puts a digital layer over a view of the real world. A famous example is Pokémon Go, where players use their phone camera to hunt for digital mini-beasts in real world locations.

Virtual Reality uses specifically designed equipment and technology to simulate an environment – fictional or real world. When you use a VR headset, you see a completely different reality in front of you.

So far, jolly good fun. But this technology is being rapidly adopted by business in some really inventive and productive ways:

Real learning in a virtual setting

While senior executives might describe visual and practical learning as ‘more engaging’, the truth is that, for many of us, having a break from our usual work to take part in an experience can be kind of fun. But it’s a quadruple challenge for many multi-nationals as they struggle to deliver enjoyable training across all their locations in a way that is consistent and affordable. VR ticks every box by being an entertaining way of delivering the right material, that doesn’t require teams of educators and can be deployed anywhere.

In action:

In October 2018, America’s leading grocer, Walmart sent 17,000 Oculus Go headsets to almost all of its 5,000 stores to train over a million store associates across the country. The plan was to deliver the same standard of training that managers receive at the Walmart Academy and they are already reporting positive results: boosted confidence and retention and an increase of 10-15% in test scores.

Both technologies are still truly in the discovery stages

Shrinking the world

Closing the physical distance between teams is a daily struggle for a lot of businesses. So far, nothing has quite nailed it and really given dispersed teams a way to come together meaningfully and feel connected. The immersive quality of VR and AR can create effective shared spaces for meetings that can also be recorded – including any content written on virtual whiteboards – to share with others later. Teamwork across territories can present a real problem, and one that cannot completely be solved with tools, but it can certainly smooth the way. A blend of good practice and effective technology can create real collaboration wins.

In action:

A real-time Augmented Reality solution, lets on-site engineers at Israel’s national water company collaborate with remote experts through AR smart glasses and a mobile app platform. The remote expert uses AR to superimpose markings, messages and diagrams directly onto the engineer's field of view.

Two hands holding markers and writing on a whiteboard
Virtual whiteboards can be recorded and shared using VR and AR technologies

Brands in hands

When you think about it, it makes absolute sense to include immersive technologies in the marketing mix. Retailers have long seen customers using stores as showrooms, touching and trying items before they ultimately head online to purchase. Virtual showrooms are even more convenient, letting customers take tours of experiences that may be out of reach (such as shopping for a holiday), or using AR to ‘try before they buy’ (testing furniture against home interiors, for example). AR experiences can even be combined with traditional marketing activities, such as direct mail.

In action:

Beauty retail Mecca Sephora’s Innovation Lab developed ‘Sephora Virtual Artist’ – an AR tool which lets customers ‘try on’ thousands of make-up products, from lipsticks to false lashes, sold at Sephora. Within the tool there is an artificial intelligence-based feature that can match these products to the user’s skin tone.

Seeing is believing

Of course, one thing is clear: both technologies are still truly in the discovery stages for businesses. We know that the major players in telecoms are making serious investment in AR and VR in preparation for the rollout of 5G – the current lack of which is truly the only thing holding both technologies back from reaching their potential. Over the coming months we will really start to see and understand what they are capable of and that’s a very exciting prospect indeed.

Written by Sarah Vloothuis

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