Techwatch March 2020

The ways in which we interact with machines is changing. And that will have a profound impact on how we choose, how we buy, how we search and how we communicate. And, as artificial intelligence becomes more intuitive, the line between humans and machines becomes more blurred.  

Mention virtual reality to people of a certain age and it’s likely they’ll remember the Tomorrow’s World style headsets modeled by nervous computer scientists waving their hands in the air trying to touch a virtual apple hanging from a virtual branch. Immersive technology was very much a niche pursuit.  

However, fast forward twenty years and now immersive tech has come of age, splitting into two main categories, both of which employ technologies that integrate virtual content into the physical environment so that a user can intuitively engage with the blended reality. Indeed, even the Army has embraced this with gusto. Immersive technology is accessed through virtual reality (VR) headsets such as Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and augmented reality (AR) devices, for example, smartphones or wearables like smart glasses.  

Army using VR
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Utilising the 360-degree sphere of vision, immersive technologies let users view and interact with content wherever they are looking. AR and VR visual content can then be enriched by being combined with additional immersive technologies which stimulate our sense of hearing, touch and even smell.  

While AR enhances the existing environment with an additional layer of digital content, VR completely replaces users’ physical surroundings with a virtual, digital world. These technologies transcend traditional formats for interacting with digital information (screens), immersing users in digitally generated or enhanced realities.  

Immersive tech is already helping retailers design better shopping experiences by enhancing the act of browsing with blended reality offerings. Meanwhile, construction firms can help train their engineers through augmented reality without the need for costly or time-consuming site visits. There’s also the growing use of AR as a training tool: in the US, giant retailer Walmart already uses VR to train associates in three main areas: new technology, soft skills like empathy and customer service, and compliance.  

And this isn’t just the preserve of multinationals – smaller businesses are able to use more affordable AR and VR tools in a range of ways to improve all kinds of aspects of their businesses.  

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