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AR and VR – where will these technologies go next





It seems strange that virtual reality is already being talked about as a mature technology, with augmented reality not far behind it, but when you think about it you can begin to understand why.

by Adam Savage



VR and AR has long passed through the ‘hype’ stage, when people first became excited about it but didn’t yet know how to make proper use of it, and now we’re firmly in the period where real, workable solutions are coming to the fore and innovators are starting to think about how the technology can be truly exploited to reach its potential.

So what’s preventing VR and AR from reaching that next chapter? What barriers are we starting to see that are preventing it from moving forward? And how do they fit in with the other big tech trends that are dominating the agenda?

The data dilemma

Many of the immersive innovations that are currently being proposed will require enormous amounts of data to work effectively. Whether it’s complex cross reality (XR) experiences or in-depth digital twins, there are limitations to what is possible using most of the IT infrastructure out there. The digital worlds that users will be able to interact with and contribute towards, which some tech visionaries believe they will be capable of making in the not too distant future, will probably require alternative solutions to the traditional data centres that we’ve relied on in the past.

Instead, it is likely that the really ambitious applications being planned will be backed by virtual servers operating via cloud-native apps. Being cloud-based means the service can be scaled up as much as needed, while data, memory and the applications themselves can all be stored there, which customers can then stream on demand.

Next-generation networks

What will also be necessary for a lot of this to happen is the mass roll-out of 5G – the next generation of mobile communications technology, which is now starting to be implemented worldwide.

5G is set to bring about much faster download and upload speeds, with a far wider reach than the networks we’re used to, and it is seen as a key enabler for future technologies like autonomous vehicles, advanced robotics and smart factories. It will also be crucial for achieving the aims of many companies in the immersive sector.

Low-latency and a stable, consistent connection are critical factors in both AR and VR, and 5G will offer capabilities at a much larger scale. ABI Research predicts that 5G will provide a tenfold decrease in latency, with VR users able to enjoy sub-2 or sub-5 ms latency for an incredibly smooth experience.

AI on the rise

Artificial intelligence is also expected to have a growing impact on both AR and VR. Augmented reality is made possible through computer vision technology, the process by which computers ‘see’ through a camera what the user is viewing, recognising physical objects which can then overlaid with digital information. Advanced AI and machine learning will lead to greatly enhanced computer vision solutions, resulting in AR tools that are far more sophisticated that what’s out there at present.

On the VR side, artificial intelligence will play a key role in the development of intuitive voice control features, which AI natural language processing will be a big part of. It’s also worth pointing out that in the world of gaming, computer-controlled opponents are predicted to become more cunning as they get better at learning a player’s particular style and adapting to it.

Is VR going mainstream at last?

The adoption of VR in industries such as construction is finally gaining momentum, but progress in the consumer market has remained a little slower than expected, with many wondering whether it will ever really take off. But with the arrival of new hardware such as the Oculus Quest, an all-in-one wireless headset that can run standalone without the need for a PC or other machine, some believe that we could be on the verge of the technology becoming a feature in every home.

An upturn in the consumer world would increase general understanding and acceptance of virtual reality technology, could bring hardware costs down, encourage more innovation and investment, which would all benefit professional users as well as gamers.

All of the above goes to show how many of the emerging technologies that are set to transform all our lives in the coming years are interlinked, with AR and VR right at the heart of this digital revolution. They may now have reached the ‘mature’ stage of their lifecycles, but they’ve still got a long way to go before they reach their peak.