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According to TechCrunch, the immersive technology sector will be worth approximately $108 Billion in 2021. On the other hand, Statista estimates also suggest that the consumer market for immersive technology will bring in approximately 4.4 billion dollars in revenue worldwide by 2023.
Despite these optimistic projections, many individuals’ understanding of immersive technology fails to extend beyond Augmented Reality (AR) and the groundbreaking sensation of Pokemon Go. So, let’s expand on this topic for newbies, or those not familiar with this vertical of technology.
What is an Immersive Experience?
Generally speaking, an immersive experience refers to any experience facilitated by digital technology that attempts to imitate a physical world through a digital or simulated world by creating a surrounding sensory feeling, thereby creating a sense of immersion.
Immersive experiences stem from a more sophisticated concept, ‘immersion’. Immersion is not an entirely new concept, and its original meaning pertains to the actual submersion of an object in water, which has later been translated to digital simulated experiences.
In simpler terms, with immersive experiences, one’s perceptual and sensory experiences of the real world are entirely overridden by a virtual experience. Thus, resulting in diminished awareness and suspended belief of one’s physical self.
What is Immersive Technology?
Immersive technology facilitates ‘immersive experiences’ by integrating virtual content with the physical environment in a manner that allows a user to engage naturally with a blended reality. In essence, an immersive digital environment can be a model of reality. However, it can also be a fantasy user interface or digital abstraction, as long as the user is immersed within it.
Over the years, immersive technology has become widely applied in many sectors, including retail and e-commerce, healthcare, the adult industry, video gaming, art, entertainment and interactive storytelling.
Types of Immersive Technologies
1. Virtual reality (VR)
Virtual reality is essentially a technological medium that allows users to experience and interact with 3-dimensional computer-generated content. In practice, VR systems capture user attention mainly through a display device and involve users in the displayed content through an input device, thus an immersive experience. Typically, virtual reality systems consist of several components: hardware (like VR Goggles and smartphones), software, a user interface, as well as human factors like perceptions, cognition, and emotions.comprise
Usually, VR users access content via a headset like the Oculus Quest, Samsung Gear VR, or the HTC Vive. Furthermore, hand controllers can also be integrated into more interactive VR experiences, for instance, to navigate the virtual environment and interact with objects and other users.
2. Augmented reality (AR)
This type of immersive experience enhances a user’s real-world experience with additional overlays that are not anchored to reality.
In practice, augmented reality applications extend our physical world with layers of digital information. This means that, in contrast to VR, AR does not create entire artificial environments to substitute real with a virtual one. On the other hand, AR typically appears in direct view of an existing environment and superimposes sounds, videos, and graphics to it, thus changing the perception of reality.
AR is easily accessible to many people nowadays via smartphones, with AR capabilities facilitated by kits like ARKit by Apple and ARCore by Google. However, there are also special dedicated AR headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens, Google Glass and the later abandoned Vaunt Smart Glasses by Intel.
These AR facilitating devices are generally classed as smart glasses (also called focals). They essentially project holograms only the wearer can view to overlay images onto the real world. One arm of the glasses comprises a tiny projector, and the images from the projector reflect off an element inside of the lens to focus the light back to the wearer’s eye.
There are primarily four types of augmented reality:
- Marker-based AR: Also known as image recognition, marker-based AR requires a special visual object and a camera for scanning anything, from a QR code to special signs. Additionally, some marker-based AR involves the calculation of the position and orientation of a marker to position content to initiate digital animations for users to view. This means that images in a sports magazine can be turned into 3D models.
- Marker-less AR: This is also referred to as location-based/position-based AR as it exploits a smartphone’s GPS, accelerometer, compass, or gyroscope, to provide data based on a user’s location. The data extracted is utilised to then determine what AR content a user finds or gets in a certain area. Marker-less AR is usually used to generate maps and directions, nearby businesses info, business ads pop-ups and for navigation support.
- Projection-based AR: In this type of AR, synthetic light is projected to physical surfaces, and in some instances, users can interact with it. This synthetic light typically forms holograms seen in sci-fi movies like Star Trek.
- Superimposition-based AR: Superimposition AR substitutes the original view of an environment with an augmented reality, whether wholly or partially. A great example of superimposed AR is the IKEA Place App that allows customers to place virtual furniture in their rooms.
3. Mixed reality (MR)
Here the lines between realities get a bit blurred. As the convergence of both VR and AR technologies, mixed reality revolves around the idea that the digital overlay in a user’s reality interacts with the corporeal environment in real-time.
In practice, with Mixed Reality, users can create, connect, and collaborate with a new holographic experience. MR constitutes powerful features like mapping physical surroundings, monitoring gestures, and language processing for voice recognition, etc. A common application of MR is in industries aiming to improve their operational efficiency using holographic experiences.
4. Extended Reality (XR)
5. Digital Twin Technology
Digital twins fundamentally exploit VR, AR and 3D graphic and data modelling to build a virtual model of a process, product, system, service, or physical objects. Digital twins are essentially near-exact virtual replicas of physical devices utilised to run simulations by data scientists before actual devices are built and deployed.
Digital twins are changing how technologies like IoT, AI and analytics are optimised, and are most commonly used in manufacturing or engineering for simulation purposes. For instance, NASA utilises digital twins to monitor and optimise space satellites from the ground, while Mercedes employs digital twins to optimise the performance of its F1 cars.
6. 360º Video Content
360º content is a photo or a video a user can “explore.” 360º photos and videos are usually shot in every direction concurrently, and let users rotate the viewing angle to see what’s around them as they view the video/picture.
360-degree video differs from VR as it tends to be filmed live, rather than computer-generated. Although a user is fully immersed in an environment, it’s limited by the fact that the user is anchored to the filmmaker’s viewpoint. This means that although a user can move their head around to view their virtual world, they cannot walk around independently or interact with their surroundings. Unlike computer-generated VR, 360 VR experiences are usually a solitary and passive experience.
Mobile VR and AR
The greatest benefit of VR and AR is that they can both leverage existing mobile hardware like smartphones. Smartphones make immersive experiences more accessible and support the advancement of these technologies. Essentially, it provides an easier avenue for users to try out VR & AR and know what it feels like.
On the downside, despite mobile AR & VR benefits, the quality of mobile VR experiences is considerably lower than “proper” VR headset enabled experiences.
Applications Of Immersive Technology
In this day and age, immersive technologies play an essential role in several areas, including retail and e-commerce, art, entertainment and video games, interactive storytelling, military, education and medicine. Here are a few examples of immersive tech applications:
Exploration and navigation of physical locations: Travel organisations can utilise immersive technology to allow individuals afraid of riding an aeroplane or even a boat to enjoy the same experience.
Immersive Advertising: As the future of advertising, immersive advertising leverages Immersive Technology while still utilising today’s existing ad channels and ecosystems. This novel ad technology mainly exploits a smartphone’s sensory inputs like its magnetometer, gyroscope, and accelerometer. These sensory inputs consequently allow the immersive ad to respond to device motion, making it highly effective for mobile advertising. An example of immersive advertising is Lowe’s Virtual Reality DIY Clinics and Domino’s AR Pizza Ordering App.
Experiential marketing: Experiential marketing is one of the most common executions of immersive technology where brands set up interactive booths in trade shows, sports events, country fairs, or malls. Brands can essentially set up these promotional experiences based on an upcoming movie, show or product.
E-commerce and Shopping: Many more shopping stores are utilising AR apps to allow consumers to test out their products beforehand. The same immersive marketing technique is being used during the COVID-19 pandemic to enable shoppers to try clothing. The application of digital fashion is also mentionable. For instance, in 2018, retailer Carlings developed a digital clothing collection that cost up to $30 per item. In practice, client photos were manipulated by ‘digital tailors’, so that it looked like they were dressed in digital clothing.
To take things further, brands within the automotive industry are using VR based virtual showrooms to enable consumers to view cars and take virtual test drives.
Gaming: Considered the first movers of immersive technology, the gaming industry has become almost synonymous with immersive technology. A testament to this is the widespread popularity of Pokemon Go that is ushering in the next Industrial Revolution. For more insight into this phenomenon, read this piece we wrote.
The explosive development of VR, AR and MR technologies has become a phenomenal experience of users interacting with virtual environments. As has been noted, immersive experiences basically allow humans to experience alternate realities that only existed in their imagination. This ability to explore some of the previously uncharted territories creates new possibilities for marketing, industrialisation and entertainment beyond our wildest imagination.
In the coming years, expect immersive experiences to become part and parcel of our daily lives as more businesses adopt immersive technologies to innovate and grow, or even in operational decision making to improve productivity.