Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) technology has emerged as a transformative force across multiple industries, revolutionizing the way we interact with digital information, enhancing real-world experiences, and reshaping industries. In this article, we will explore the applications of VR/AR technology within the healthcare, automotive, manufacturing, and military sectors, while also demystifying the intricacies of VR/AR and its impact on digital experiences.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are technologies that enable users to experience digital environments in a way that mimics the real world.
Virtual Reality (VR): Immersive Digital Environments
Virtual Reality technology creates an immersive experience by transporting users into a simulated environment. Users wear a headset that displays a three-dimensional, computer-generated world, often accompanied by handheld controllers for interaction. VR applications range from gaming and entertainment to education, training, and simulations. Industries such as healthcare, architecture, and engineering utilize VR to provide realistic training scenarios, visualize designs, and enhance decision-making processes.
Augmented Reality (AR): Bridging the Gap between Digital and Real Worlds
Augmented Reality overlays digital content onto the user’s real-world environment, enhancing their perception and interaction with the surroundings. AR can be experienced through smartphone apps or wearable devices like smart glasses. It enables users to access real-time information, overlay virtual objects onto physical spaces, and engage in interactive experiences. From navigation and advertising to industrial maintenance and remote collaboration, AR is revolutionizing various sectors by providing contextual information and enhancing productivity.
AR is 25% virtual and 75% real while VR is 75% virtual and 25% real. AR technology can be used to enhance existing experiences, such as gaming, navigation or shopping, and it can also be used to provide new experiences, such as virtual try-on of clothes or virtual tours of real estate properties.
Applications of virtual reality include entertainment (3D movies and video games), educational purposes (i.e. medical or military training) and training, as well as in fields such as architecture, design, and engineering for visualization and prototyping. VR can be used to simulate working in dangerous environments or with expensive, easily damaged tools and equipment, without any of the risks.
Educational experiences in VR and AR will continue to become increasingly common throughout 2020. The immersive nature of VR means that pupils can engage with learning in fun new ways, and AR brings new flexibility to on-the-job training.
Healthcare: Enhancing Medical Training, Patient Care, and Digital Experiences
VR/AR technology is empowering the healthcare industry by providing advanced training tools and improving patient care. Medical professionals can benefit from immersive simulations, enabling them to practice complex procedures in a risk-free virtual environment. By engaging with realistic scenarios, they can improve their skills and decision-making abilities.
Virtual Reality (VR) has already found applications in therapy, treating patients with phobias and anxiety disorders. By combining VR with biosensors to monitor physiological reactions, therapists can better understand patients’ responses in a safe virtual environment. VR is also used to assist individuals with autism in developing social and communication skills, as well as to diagnose patients with visual or cognitive impairments by tracking eye movements.
Additionally, AR-based applications provide surgeons with real-time guidance and overlays during operations, enhancing precision. VR/AR is also revolutionizing patient care by offering immersive therapy experiences, aiding pain management, and facilitating rehabilitation. Furthermore, these technologies are reshaping digital experiences, allowing patients to access virtual consultations, remote monitoring, and personalized healthcare services.
Automotive: Transforming Design, Manufacturing, Sales, and Real-World Interactions
The automotive industry is embracing the power of VR/AR technology to revolutionize various aspects of the value chain. Designers can leverage VR tools to visualize and iterate on vehicle prototypes, significantly reducing development costs and time. VR/AR enhances manufacturing processes by assisting assembly line workers with real-time instructions and providing maintenance technicians with interactive guides. In the sales domain, VR/AR showrooms and configurators offer customers an immersive experience, allowing them to explore and customize vehicles virtually. These technologies also enhance real-world interactions by enabling augmented navigation, heads-up displays, and safety features that overlay information onto the driver’s view.
Manufacturing: Streamlining Operations, Training, and Real-World Interactions
VR/AR technology is revolutionizing manufacturing processes by optimizing operations, enhancing training, and facilitating real-world interactions. Workers can utilize virtual simulations and digital overlays to optimize complex assembly tasks, reducing errors and improving efficiency. VR/AR-based training programs enable employees to acquire new skills and adapt to changing technologies more rapidly. Furthermore, remote collaboration becomes seamless with VR/AR, as geographically dispersed teams can visualize and interact with virtual prototypes, fostering effective communication and expediting decision-making. Real-time information overlays and digital assistance further enhance productivity and safety on the shop floor.
Military: Enhancing Training, Simulation, and Real-World Interactions
The military industry benefits significantly from VR/AR technology by improving training procedures, enhancing simulation capabilities, and augmenting real-world interactions. Virtual simulations provide soldiers with realistic training experiences, allowing them to practice complex missions, maneuvers, and equipment handling without the associated risks.
Virtual environments offer controlled settings for military training, allowing participants to experience specific situations without personal danger. Soldiers can interact with events and engage in combat scenarios, all within the safety of the virtual world. By using VR simulations, soldiers can re-enact scenarios and engage with enemies, gaining valuable experience without the real-world risks associated with physical harm. This approach proves to be safer and more cost-effective than traditional training methods.
AR-based heads-up displays provide real-time information on the battlefield, enhancing situational awareness and decision-making. VR/AR also aids in the design and prototyping of military equipment, enabling rapid iterations and reducing development costs. These technologies enhance real-world interactions by providing soldiers with augmented information, communication, and navigation systems.
Virtual reality (VR) technology has been widely adopted by the military for training purposes across all branches, including the army, navy, and air force. VR allows soldiers to undergo realistic training in combat and other dangerous situations, where they can learn appropriate responses. The immersive nature of VR training puts soldiers in intense environments, making them feel as if they are actually there. This advanced training aims to better prepare soldiers for combat, enabling them to make rapid decisions and saving lives on the battlefield.
Flight simulators are a prominent example of VR training in the military, providing a cost-effective alternative to airborne training. VR is also utilized for medical training in battlefield scenarios, combat training, vehicle training, and even boot camp simulations. Overall, VR technology in military applications offers immersive and realistic training experiences, preparing soldiers for various scenarios while minimizing risks and costs associated with traditional training methods.
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VR & AR technology
Both VR and AR technology requires specialized hardware and software, which is constantly evolving, and it is widely used in various industries such as gaming, education, healthcare, real estate, tourism, and more. Additionally, the increasing adoption of 5G networks and the availability of low-cost devices are expected to drive the growth of the VR/AR market in the future.
Virtual Reality (VR) technology requires specialized hardware in order for users to experience the computer-generated environment. The main components of VR hardware technology include:
- Head-Mounted Display (HMD): A HMD is the most important component of VR hardware technology as it is the device that displays the virtual environment to the user. HMDs come in various forms, such as PC-based VR headsets or standalone VR headsets. A virtual reality headset typically includes two small high resolution OLED or LCD monitors which provide separate images for each eye for stereoscopic graphics rendering a 3D virtual world, a binaural audio system, positional and rotational real-time head tracking for six degrees of movement.
- Hand-held controllers: Hand-held controllers are used to interact with the virtual environment. They are typically wireless and include sensors that track the user’s hand movements, allowing them to interact with the virtual environment in a natural way.
- Sensors: VR systems use sensors such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers to track the user’s head and hand movements, allowing the virtual environment to respond to the user’s actions.
- Computer: A powerful computer is required to run VR software and to render the virtual environment in real-time.
- Audio: High-quality audio is an important component of the VR experience, as it helps to immerse the user in the virtual environment. Some VR systems use headphones, while others use speakers built into the HMD.
Convincing Virtual Reality applications require more than just graphics. Both hearing and vision are central to a person’s sense of space. In fact, human beings react more quickly to audio cues than to visual cues. In order to create truly immersive Virtual Reality experiences, accurate environmental sounds and spatial characteristics are a must. These lend a powerful sense of presence to a virtual world. By simulating as many senses as possible, such as vision, hearing, touch, even smell, the computer is transformed into a gatekeeper to this artificial world.
The only limits to near-real VR experiences are the availability of content and cheap computing power. Today, VR spans three different hardware categories — PC, All-in-one, and mobile — each with their own strengths. Desktop-based virtual reality involves displaying a 3D virtual world on a regular desktop display without use of any specialized VR positional tracking equipment. Mobile VR Lightweight and low-cost, these headsets use the screen of your smartphone to deliver a quick and affordable entry point to VR.
Additionally, some VR systems are using additional hardware, such as haptic feedback devices, to provide a more realistic experience by simulating touch and force feedback. The VR hardware technology is constantly evolving and new developments such as wireless VR, high-resolution displays, and improved tracking technology are being made regularly.
While virtual reality (VR) display technologies have seen significant advancements, audio has often been overlooked. However, the importance of 3D audio is now being recognized in the VR market. Digital signal processors (DSPs) are increasingly becoming standard requirements to enhance audio quality and reduce reliance on network connections, thereby improving the power and performance of VR devices. Established players like Dolby Labs, Panasonic, and 3D Sound Labs are actively exploring growth opportunities in the VR market, while companies like Goertek and AAC Technologies have dedicated teams developing audio DSP algorithms specifically for VR headsets. The integration of high-quality 3D audio solutions contributes to a more immersive and realistic VR experience.
Modern virtual reality (VR) headset displays utilize technology developed for smartphones, including gyroscopes, motion sensors, and small HD screens for tracking head, body, and hand positions and providing stereoscopic displays. Special input devices are required for interaction with the virtual world, such as 3D mice, wired gloves, motion controllers, and optical tracking sensors. Optical tracking systems, primarily using infrared cameras, enable location and navigation without the need for wiring, allowing users to move freely. Some input devices provide force feedback to enhance immersion through haptics and sensor technology, enabling realistic simulations. Additional haptic feedback can be achieved through omnidirectional treadmills, vibration gloves, and suits. These advancements in hardware and input devices contribute to creating a more immersive and interactive VR experience.
One of the main limitations of current XR technology, particularly VR, is the reliance on encumbering headsets and display units. However, the trend is shifting towards untethered headsets that operate independently without the need for external devices. Examples include the Oculus Quest, HTC Vive Focus, and Lenovo Mirage Solo. These untethered devices feature built-in processors, GPUs, sensors, batteries, memory chips, and displays, offering a more powerful VR experience compared to smartphone-based headsets. Facebook, Google, and HTC are continuously enhancing their devices to improve user experience by increasing resources and functionality. The demand for untethered headsets and the need for synchronization between visuals and 3D audio have led to the adoption of digital signal processors (DSPs) to enhance audio quality and device performance at the edge. DSPs are becoming standard requirements in the VR market to provide a truly immersive experience.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) technologies rely on specialized chips known as VR/AR chips to process and display virtual or augmented content. These chips are designed to handle the high computational requirements and data processing of VR and AR applications. Examples of the latest AR/VR chips include Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2, Nvidia Xavier, AMD Ryzen Pro, Intel Tiger Lake, and Apple A14 Bionic. These chips are constantly advancing the capabilities of AR and VR, making the experiences more realistic, immersive, and available to a wider audience.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques, such as machine learning, context-aware computing, and natural language processing (NLP), are increasingly being integrated into virtual reality (VR) applications. These advancements enhance the intelligence of virtual characters, create immersive environments, and improve user experiences. Companies like Google, Facebook, LG, Microsoft, Nvidia, Baidu, and Tencent are actively utilizing AI to enhance VR capabilities. Examples include adding controller-tracking capabilities to headsets, creating realistic focus effects, minimizing motion sickness, developing graphic design tools, and integrating AI and VR into mobile solutions and video games. The integration of AI and VR is expanding the possibilities and pushing the boundaries of immersive technologies.
AR and VR developers are integrating machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) into their applications, leading to advancements in computer vision. Basic implementations, such as Instagram filters, have paved the way for more sophisticated applications across various industries. Computer vision enables devices to see and comprehend their surroundings through a camera’s range. Recent developments include Google’s machine learning-enabled microscope, which can identify cancer cells in tissue samples. The combination of AI, VR, and AR holds promise for improving medical technologies, enhancing accuracy in diagnoses, and enabling the development of more complex treatment and diagnostic tools
Cloud technologies offer scalability and storage solutions for VR vendors as the volume of VR-generated data increases. Cloud services enable the storage of VR apps, data, and memory in virtual servers, facilitating on-demand streaming and driving innovation in VR. This seamless integration of cloud and VR allows for uninterrupted service updates and the delivery of fresh VR experiences to customers, enhancing satisfaction. Companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM are expected to benefit from the growing adoption of cloud services by VR companies. In China, Alibaba, Huawei, Tencent, and Baidu are also poised for growth through their association with cloud and VR integration.
Conversational platforms have received limited attention in the VR space, with Facebook’s Oculus Voice and Google Assistant yet to be fully integrated into VR devices. However, there are ongoing efforts to enhance voice assistant capabilities in VR.
Streaming VR has been possible to some extent, but limitations in data transfer speeds and on-device processing power have restricted the experience. The combination of cloud technology and 5G connectivity will enable designers to deliver more immersive VR and AR experiences without the constraints of low bandwidth and device processing power. This advancement will lead to more affordable headsets, realistic simulations, and improved user experiences.
The advent of 5G technology brings significant benefits to the VR industry, including low latency, high device density, and improved reliability. The ultra-low latency of 5G, with an expected one-millisecond latency, enables exceptional VR experiences by meeting the demanding latency requirements of VR devices. With the potential to support one million devices in a single square kilometer without streaming attenuation, 5G fosters a flourishing VR market. Furthermore, 5G facilitates the integration of cloud solutions with VR technologies, eliminating the need for powerful PCs and enabling real-time streaming of VR and AR data from the cloud. The super-fast data transfer speeds of up to 3 gigabits per second offered by 5G enhance entertainment experiences and pave the way for XR’s expansion into various industries, as the heavy processing is offloaded to data centers. 5G’s speed and advanced network capabilities ensure seamless real-time delivery of rendered images to users, making VR and AR more accessible and immersive.
Telecom companies, such as AT&T, Ericsson, Verizon, China Mobile, SK Telecom, Orange, and Vodafone, have the potential to benefit from the integration of 5G and VR. Their success will depend on factors like the pace of 5G penetration, tariff structures, and partnerships with VR vendors. Telecom players are already investing in VR/AR initiatives through partnerships and in-house developments, with AT&T collaborating with HTC, Nvidia, Arvizio, and PlayGiga to develop a 5G network suitable for VR gaming.
New Device Simulates Feel Of Walls, Solid Objects In Virtual Reality
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a device that allows users to feel walls, objects, and obstacles in virtual reality (VR). The device uses multiple strings attached to the hand and fingers, simulating the sensation of touching and interacting with virtual environments. By locking the strings when the user’s hand approaches a virtual wall or object, the device creates a realistic tactile experience. The lightweight and cost-effective device employs spring-loaded retractors with an electrically controlled latch, reducing power consumption and weight. User evaluations have shown that the multistring device provides more realistic haptic feedback compared to other techniques. The device’s potential applications include VR games, experiences involving physical obstacles, virtual museum visits, and even virtual furniture shopping. With a weight of less than 10 ounces and an estimated cost of under $50 for a mass-produced version, the device offers an affordable and immersive solution for enhancing VR experiences.
Specialized Software and Applications
Virtual Reality (VR) technology also requires specialized software in order for users to experience the computer-generated environment. The main components of VR software technology include:
- VR engines: VR engines are software frameworks that provide the basic functionality for creating VR experiences. Popular VR engines include Unity, Unreal Engine, and CryEngine.
- VR development tools: VR development tools are software programs that are used to create the virtual environment, such as 3D modeling software and animation software.
- VR programming languages: VR programming languages are used to create the logic and interaction of the virtual environment, such as C++, C#, and Java.
- VR SDKs: VR software development kits (SDKs) are collections of software tools and libraries that developers can use to create VR applications. These SDKs include libraries for VR input, physics, audio, and other features that are commonly used in VR applications.
- VR content creation and management: VR content creation and management software allows for the creation, distribution, and management of VR experiences and applications.
- VR Analytics: VR analytics allow developers to track user engagement, usage patterns, and performance of their VR experiences.
All these software technologies are constantly evolving and new developments are being made regularly, such as improvements in graphics and physics, support for new input and output devices, and advancements in AI and machine learning that can be applied to VR experiences. VR software technologies are also becoming more user-friendly, making it easier for developers of all skill levels to create VR experiences.
VR apps are proving increasingly popular.
The virtual reality (VR) market is constantly evolving, and new VR apps and experiences are being developed and released regularly. Some of the latest and popular VR apps include:
- Beat Saber: A fast-paced, music-based VR game where players use virtual lightsabers to slash through blocks representing musical beats.
- VRChat: A social VR platform that allows users to interact with each other in virtual worlds and create their own custom avatars and environments.
- Tilt Brush: A creative tool that allows users to paint and draw in 3D space using virtual reality.
- AltspaceVR: A social VR platform that allows users to attend virtual events, meet new people, and explore virtual worlds.
- Google Earth VR: A VR version of the popular Google Earth application, allowing users to explore the world and famous landmarks in a fully immersive virtual environment.
- The Room VR: A puzzle game where players solve mechanical puzzles in a mysterious room.
- Minecraft VR: A VR version of the popular sandbox game Minecraft, allowing players to explore and build in a virtual world.
Facebook offers more than 1,000 apps on Oculus Go, and HTC Viveport Infinity has more than 600 VR apps and games. In contrast, Google has approximately 250 Daydream apps.
VR technology has evolved significantly over the past five years, with improvements on both the hardware and software side. However, issues such as latency, nausea, high prices, and underdeveloped ecosystems have been obstacles to widespread adoption.
Virtual Reality market
The Global Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Market Size accounted for USD 22.6 Billion in 2021 and is estimated to achieve a market size of USD 451.5 Billion by 2030 growing at a CAGR of 38.5% from 2022 to 2030. According to study, the rise of AR/VR technology in the United States alone will produce 2.3 million jobs over the next few years.
Worldwide spending on augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) is forecast to reach $50.9 billion in 2026, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide. The five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for AR/VR spending will be 32.3%. Virtual reality will account for more than 70% of all AR/VR spending throughout the 2022-2026 forecast while overall spending will be almost evenly split between consumer and commercial applications.
The key drivers of the market are the expanding use of the internet and the booming video game sector. The AR & VR market will rise rapidly during the forecast period due to the growing uses of virtual reality and augmented reality in sectors such as retail, entertainment, healthcare, media, aerospace, manufacturing, and defense. Furthermore, governments across the world are encouraging the use of different technologies and new technologies to aid the automotive industry and manufacturing sectors to thrive. In addition, for on-site improvements and digitalization, commercial and business solutions are highly dependent on AR technology. As a result, such aspects are responsible for increased market share.
However, factors such as the high development costs associated with AR and VR apps might hamper growth.
Virtual reality or VR is advancing at a fast pace. Virtual reality is gradually paving its way into the automotive sector. Besides integration of voice assistance, vehicles nowadays come integrated with several advanced featurues to offer improved driver safety. Spurred by these factors, the global virtual reality market share is expected to increase considerably in the near future.
The virtual reality (VR) market can be segmented into several different categories, including hardware, software, and services.
- Hardware: This segment includes VR headsets, controllers, and other peripheral devices such as sensors and cameras.
- Software: This segment includes VR content and applications, such as games, videos, and educational and training programs.
- Services: This segment includes VR consulting, design, and development services, as well as VR-based training, education, and therapy services.
Additionally, the VR market can also be segmented based on the type of VR technology used, which includes:
- PC-based VR: This segment includes VR systems that are powered by a computer or gaming console.
- Standalone VR: This segment includes VR systems that are self-contained and do not require a separate computer or gaming console to operate.
- Mobile VR: This segment includes VR systems that use a smartphone as the display and processing device.
- Location-based VR: This segment includes VR experiences that are provided in a dedicated location, such as an amusement park or arcade.
- Web VR: This segment includes VR that is accessed via a web browser, allowing VR experiences to be accessible from anywhere.
Each of these segments of VR market has its own set of players, trends and opportunities, as the market continue to evolve, new segments might be added, some might be consolidated, as the technology and user experience continue to improve.
The global augmented reality and virtual reality market has been segmented based on device type, component, technology, platform, and device application. By device type, the segment is separated into augmented reality devices (head-up displays (HUD), head-mounted displays (HMD), and handheld devices), and virtual reality devices (head-mounted displays (HMD), projects & displays wall, and gesture control devices (GCD)).
In terms of component, the market is categorized into hardware, and software. According to the augmented reality and virtual reality market forecast, the hardware category is predicted to develop significantly in the next years.
Based on technology, the market is categorized into marker-based augmented reality, marker-less augmented reality, and virtual reality technology. In terms of platform, the market is classified into mobile, PC, console, and others.
Moreover, the market is split into augmented reality application (commercial, tourism, e-learning, e-commerce & marketing applications, medical, consumer, aerospace & defense, and others), and virtual reality application (commercial, aerospace and defense, industrial, consumer, medical, and others), based on the device application.
Based on the technology, the market saw maximum growth in the augmented reality segment in 2019. Factors such as new product (hardware and software) launches, growing adoption of AR in different application areas, and rising funding and investments in AR technology are fueling the growth of the segment. Market growth in this segment will be significant over the forecast period.
The named commercial use cases that are forecast to receive the largest AR investments throughout the forecast are industrial maintenance and training. Together, these two use cases will account for almost one third of all AR-related spending. In VR technology investments, the two largest named commercial use cases are found in training and collaboration, capturing nearly 44% of the market by 2026.
In comparison, the two leading consumer use cases – virtual reality gaming and augmented reality gaming – will grow to about 25% of all AR/VR spending by the end of the forecast. The use cases that will see the fastest spending growth over the forecast period are emergency response (82.9% CAGR), augmented reality games (57.8% CAGR), internal videography (47.8% CAGR), and collaboration (42.7% CAGR). Sixteen other use cases are forecast to have five-year CAGRs of 30% or more.
Companies such as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, HTC, Autodesk, Leap Motion, 3D, Sixense Enterprise, Dassault Systemes, and Eon reality is responsible for the surge in the virtual reality market revenue. Moreover, over 70% of these players have their dominance in North America. Recently Dassault Systemes offered help to the students of the University of Switzerland by making them aware of the latest technologies and industrial process.
North America covers 40% of the share in the global virtual reality market and is leading the market. US giants such as Facebook, Google, and Apple continue to focus on research and development (R&D) activities for software and hardware to further stimulate the virtual reality market share. The growth in this region is mainly attributable to the increased funding in start-ups, making the market dynamic.
The market in Europe is projected to hold a quarter share in the forecast years. Countries such as France, Germany, and France are the major contributors to the market. Apart from North America and Europe, the market is expected to rise in other regions such as Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East & Africa.
APAC dominated the market with a 37% share in 2019. Factors such as the presence of key vendors, the growing gaming industry in Asia, especially in Japan, China, and India, and rising investments in AR and VR technologies in different fields are driving the growth of the AR and VR market in APAC. China and Japan are the key markets for the augmented reality and virtual reality market in APAC.
Key companies include Oculus VR, EON Reality, Inc., Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Qualcomm Technologies Inc., Laster Technologies, Magic Leap, Inc., CyberGlove Systems LLC, Vuzix Corporation, Google Inc., Augmented Pixels Co., Innovega Inc., Facebook Inc., NIVIDIA Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, and Advanced Micro Devices, Inc.
Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR) technology is transforming healthcare, automotive, manufacturing, and military sectors while revolutionizing digital experiences and enhancing real-world interactions. In healthcare, VR/AR applications enhance medical training, improve patient care, and reshape digital healthcare experiences. The automotive industry benefits from VR/AR by transforming vehicle design, manufacturing, sales processes, and enhancing real-world interactions. Manufacturers leverage VR/AR to streamline operations, optimize training, and enable remote collaboration. The military sector exploits VR/AR for enhanced training, simulation, and real-world interactions, aiding soldiers in their missions. As VR/AR technology continues to advance, we can expect further integration and innovation across these industries, fostering a future where immersive experiences become the norm, leading to improved outcomes, heightened efficiency, and enhanced real-world interactions.