Reality check for AR-VR

11/02/2021 - 14:00


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VR and AR technologies are gradually proving their value across business sectors.

Reality check for AR-VR
Getting to work at the recent XR:WA in Perth. Photo: Anthony Tran

It was only a few years ago that 3D TVs were all the rage. Being a fan of all things tech, I rushed out to buy one, along with the heavy goggles required. The effect was quite cool, but the glasses were expensive, not very comfortable and made my kids feel nauseous. After a while, they just wanted to watch plain old ‘flat’ DVDs.

By 2016, 3D TVS were no longer being manufactured in the US. Around the same time, the advent of AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) was crossing into the mainstream.

For those requiring clarification on the difference between the two: VR builds a completely digital environment for the user to be immersed in (such as a video game), while AR adds a splash of VR to the real world.

Remember all those Pokemon Go characters that were the rage a few years ago? These were virtual creations thrust into the real world, viewable though a mobile phone app.

Soon after, AR and VR startups began springing up. Again, I put on a clunky, heavy, headset and was amazed by the wonders of the virtual and augmented worlds. In one case, local company OffPeak Games had created a virtual medieval jousting game. It was amazing, but I had to admit I felt a bit queasy after a few minutes.

Five years down the road and OffPeak Games is no more, but there are a few VR-AR developers working with business in Western Australia.

Business case

While VR games have clearly taken off, the technology has also moved into training, medical and other industries.

Knowledge retention rates [in training] have been found to be 70 to 80 per cent higher than lecture-based methods of learning,” local VR developer and Unleashed chief executive Ben Bauert told Business News.

“Time to competency is sometimes reduced by more than 80 per cent, and in certain situations the costs of training can be lowered by more than 90 per cent.”

FrameVR’s Justin McArdle agrees the uptake of AR-VR technologies is growing across a range of sectors. “In our experience, VR is thriving and firmly here to stay; AR is not far behind, especially in the enterprise sector,” Mr McArdle said.

“VR is being used across multiple sectors, from architectural design, health care, to training and education. The main thing that’s holding back growth in the sector is a lack of skilled workers, especially in WA.”

Another issue seems to be the availability and cost of the headsets.

Ian Sloan from AR platform Markr Systems told Business News Microsoft had made a “clever” decision to focus on the business market.

Microsoft’s Hololens (smart glasses) and Facebook’s Oculus Quest goggles (Facebook bought Oculus in 2014 for $US2.3 billion) are leading the way.

Facebook is now making $US300 million a year in non-advertising revenue, which has grown 80 per cent, mainly driven by Oculus sales.

Leading 3D technologies developer Unity reported that 63 per cent of surveyed companies used immersive technologies such as real-time 3D, AR and VR, to navigate the challenges of 2020.

In addition, 71 per cent of companies planned to increase their use of immersive technologies in 2021.

“We created a VR app for Rio Tinto that links miners and their families, a demographic that was used to dealing with distance,” said Joseph Walsh from North Fremantle-based software company, Viewport.

“It enabled kids to safely interact with where their parents worked. The response from users was overwhelming.”

Over the summer, the second annual XR:WA festival was held in Perth, incorporating all things AR, VR, gaming, film, performance and tech over four days.

Conference director Richard Sowada told Business News 2,000 people attended the various events.

“Last year, being the first, we held a normal conference at the Pan Pacific hotel, bringing the industry together,” Mr Sowada said. “This year, we made it a bit more accessible, made it free, and put it on at the Cultural Centre.”

This included the world premiere of ‘Four by Four’, a commissioned work of four, four-minute VR films.

“VR’s not a gimmick,” Mr Sowada said.

“Maybe two or three years ago I thought so, but now I’ve realised it’s not. You’ll be left behind if you don’t try to understand this. It’s developing all the time.”

Chief executive of Perth-based Stirling Labs, Robert Spencer, said a growing number of people would be using VR technology to help them work better on a daily basis. Perhaps 2021 will be the breakthrough year for AR and VR.

• Charlie Gunningham is founder and principal of digital strategy advisory business Damburst


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