Hands-free, heads-up computing is making inroads across a range of industries, thanks to the emergence of extended reality (XR) — the catch-all technology category that comprises augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR). Companies are embracing XR for a variety of business purposes, from repairing jetliners and optimizing manufacturing to training employees and providing remote assistance to field service staff.
With AR, employees access information via smartphones, tablets and heads-up displays, with software overlaying digital images and text atop physical objects in the real world. With VR, applications running on headsets immerse users in a digital environment. MR blends elements of AR and VR.
Enterprise adoption of AR/VR tech was on the rise in 2020, but when the coronavirus struck, analyst research firm IDC dialed down its estimates for worldwide spending for the category to $10.7 billion from $18.8 billion as enterprises prioritized other investments to ensure business continuity. Going forward, however, remote working requirements, contactless business processes, and augmented meeting places suggest an uptick in expected demand for AR/VR tech, says IDC analyst Marcus Torchia.
Given fears over contracting COVID-19 via surface contact, several transactions are ripe for digitization, says Chris Stegner, founder and CEO of Very Big Things, a digital design consultancy. For example, banks might use software to approximate the physical layout and functions of their ATM machines on smartphones to withdraw money or conduct other transactions. “If you’re at an ATM, you shouldn’t have to slide a card,” Stegner says, adding that his firm is exploring such virtual solutions.
For now, anecdotal evidence suggests that more companies are executing AR/VR pilots and projects at the factory level.