Top Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Trends to Watch for in 2020
2019 was a good year for XR with plenty of product launches, patents, innovations and a general impressive financial performance. Breakthrough technologies in the immersive industry began to seep into other mainstream uses beyond the gaming and entertainment applications which have hitherto been the default areas of XR deployment.
The most impressive growth has been in the virtual reality sector; the technology is increasingly lending itself to fields such as training, education, design, enterprise, marketing and retail applications.
Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality
Virtual reality involves an immersion into computer-generated environments and therefore take users completely out of their real environments.
Augmented reality, on the other hand, superimposes computer-generated images onto the user’s view of the real world or their surrounding environment via a headset or smartphone camera.
While VR implementation is seeing some traction, AR implementation still faces some technical challenges. Augmented reality requires complex software capable of ‘seeing’ the real world that is in front of it. Current augmented reality applications still consists of fun or gimmicky implementations such as the addition of fun cartoon images to selfies or searching for Pokémon in the user’s real world surroundings.
Still, the industry is showing bright prospects. Over the next year, XR spending is projected to increase by 78.5% compared to the current year. Just like in 2019, AR and VR will make waves in 2020. Expect to see a lot of new hardware offerings that will give users better immersion and realism. We are also going to see a lot of new use-cases including new apps and games. Here is a look at some of the top XR trends to watch out for in 2020.
The Continued Expansion of Industrial Use-Cases
Currently, gaming and entertainment remain the most ubiquitous and near-default use-cases for virtual reality and augmented reality. In 2020, this is likely going to change. Market research shows that industrial use-cases are going to outpace both gaming and entertainment applications.
According to the 2020 XR Industry Insight released by VR Intelligence, the development of enterprise XR solutions is currently outpacing that of consumer solutions. According to the report, 65% of the augmented reality companies it surveyed said that they are working on industrial applications. On the other hand, only 37% are working on consumer products and software.
Many industries are quickly recognizing the potential of XR technologies to boost their safety and productivity. Virtual reality can be applied in simulating work in dangerous environments or to simulate costly, easily damaged tools and equipment without exposing workers to any occupational hazards or risks.
In industry, augmented reality can also be used in relaying important information to users regarding what is happening in front of them. This cuts down on the time that engineers, technicians and maintenance staff spend on referring to manuals and searching for information about jobs online. Remote assistance XR applications are also growing increasingly popular in industry.
XR Health Taking Off
XR technologies lend themselves easily to various uses in the healthcare industry. In 2020, expect to see these technologies make the transition from pilots and trials into more general uses in the industry.
VR is already being deployed in therapy in treating patients suffering from anxiety disorders and phobias. Therapists are using these in combination with biosensors monitoring physiological reactions such as perspiration and heart rate. This provides therapists with a safe virtual environment where they can get a better understanding of patients’ reactions to stressful situations.
VR health has also been applied to help people suffering from autism develop both social and communication skills. It tracks the eye movements to diagnose cognitive and visual impairments.
Augmented reality is also finding its way into healthcare. The value of the AR health market is expected to grow at 38% annually until 2025.
Augmented reality is being used by surgeons, not just in the theater but in training and updating their skills. It has been in effectively alerting surgeons to the risks they might face in the workplace. Through 2020 and beyond, innovations in XR health are expected to dramatically improve patient outcomes and cut down the cost of treatment. We are also going to see more forward-looking health institutions adopting various XR health innovations.
Smaller, more mobile and more powerful headsets
The size of the AR/VR headsets is currently the biggest limiting factor to the adoption and mainstreaming of this technology. It’s an encumbrance. This is more so when it comes to virtual reality where powerful processing hardware is required to generate the graphics and this is usually built into the headset.
However, there is a strong movement towards the self-sufficient standalone XR devices. The rollout of 5G networks will likely accelerate that. Even with the current networks, the “untethered” experience is quickly becoming a reality. The best example is Facebook’s standalone Oculus Quest headset that uses a powerful smartphone chip. It has quickly grown into one of the most popular pieces of VR hardware.
Smaller is certainly better but the market is also increasingly demanding more “realistic” virtual worlds so many VR devices will increasingly feature more powerful processors.
In the early days, the VR worlds were computer-generated with low-resolution polygons and appeared really “virtual” and unconvincing. In 2020 and beyond, we are moving towards a more immersive and more realistic virtual world that will almost be indistinguishable from the real visual experience. Apple’s much rumored forthcoming 8K VR/AR standalone glasses are likely to usher in a new era of realism that will take the VR industry into a kind of an “iPhone moment”, a major breakthrough that gets the nod of mainstream users.
5G Networks Bring New XR Opportunities
Some see 5G connectivity as the Holy Grail that will eventually see VR/AR break out of a small niche market into the mainstream. 2020 might not be the breakthrough year but the technology will be making inroads into the immersive world, unlocking new opportunities and innovations that will further boost the potential of XR in various industries.
The prospect of data transfer speeds of up to 3 gigabits per second will create a network that will be fast enough to stream immersive data from the cloud. This could have far-reaching implications for the immersive industry. Instead of relying on powerful XR-ready PCs or bulky onboard hardware on VR/AR devices, it will be possible to simply stream from the cloud.
The XR hardware will simply upload the tracking data to the datacenters that will perform the heavy processing. These rendered images are subsequently streamed back to the headset-wearing user in real-time, leveraging on the speed of the 5G networks or other advanced networks.
It is still possible to stream VR at the moment but this can only be done on a limited scale. With Facebook, you can do it using your phone but for very limited experiences due to the slower data transfer speeds as well as the low on-device processing power. By combing this with 5G and the cloud, XR designers will now be unencumbered by network connectivity and latency issues. It will also be possible to build cheaper and small headsets that deliver more realistic virtual reality experiences without the need to pack in bulky hardware.
XR Training Continues its Forward March
Virtual reality and augmented reality are already being put into training uses. We are going to see this trend continue in 2020 and beyond. It will also go beyond the corporate training environment into the classrooms in schools and colleges, bringing more flexibility and realism into the learning process. XR technologies also create a learning environment that pupils can engage with and this results in very positive outcomes.