From real estate to the military to healthcare, startups are developing AR/VR applications across industries.
While some still see virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as technology reserved for hardcore gamers, investors have taken notice of the considerable potential for AR/VR across a variety of industries. Deals to AR/VR startups have increased every year since 2012 and exploded in Q1’17 to hit 80 deals, a 36% jump above the previous deal high set in Q3’16.
As hardware developers make AR and VR headsets more affordable and user-friendly, startups are developing new use cases far beyond gaming – applying AR and VR to everything from marketing and advertising to medicine and healthcare to even space exploration and military training.
Here’s a rundown of 13 industries poised for AR/VR transformation.
With a rash of store closings predicted for 2017, VR is an emerging solution to the challenges facing traditional retailers, as well as another strategy e-commerce companies have started experimenting with.
Startups like Bold Metrics deploy VR technology to create “virtual maps” of shoppers’ bodies, allowing them to virtually try on clothes in a 3D environment. Retailers can also use AR/VR technology to help customers access their inventory in more immersive ways. Trillenium, for example, is working to make “augmented reality retail” possible: Imagine pointing a smartphone at your feet and swiping through shoes that virtually appear as if you were wearing them. Trillenium is also developing real-time immersive shopping, creating the VR “stores” that headset-wearing consumers will browse in the virtual malls of the future.
Across multiple branches of the military,
Then there’s mapping and communication: The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is reportedly looking into ways that VR can help government officials digitally capture landscapes during times of crisis – as with war devastation or bombing aftermaths – and share those environments virtually with remote personnel to better plan personnel-deployment and crisis management strategy.
3. Events & Conferences
Since VR enables individuals to be places virtually, it provides an avenue for organizers to welcome more individuals into in-person events. For example, Paul McCartney released a 360-degree concert recording through a virtual reality app linked to the inexpensive Google Cardboard headset. Jaunt, a startup that has raised over $100M to develop VR hardware, software, tools, and applications for content creators, was behind the app.
VR can be used in a similar way to enable virtual conference attendance, but event-industry stakeholders are also using it to drive collective experiences among in-person audiences. At CES 2017, for example, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich took 250 headset-wearing attendees on a live industrial inspection of a 2,000-acre solar power plant in the Moapa River Indian Reservation. Intel also used the demonstration to announce a partnership with startup HypeVR to deploy volumetric video content into Intel’s “merged reality” solution, Project Alloy.
4. Marketing & Advertising
Brands are increasingly using VR- and AR-powered campaigns to immerse customers with their product lines and interact with their audiences in unique ways: Boursin, a maker and supplier of soft cheeses, created a virtual reality experience that took people “flying” on a journey through a fridge full of treats, while the SyFy TV channel deployed an AR ad campaign in which users pointed smartphone cameras toward physical display ads to see different images pop up on their screens.
As consumer adoption of headsets increases, VR/AR will evolve to become less of a promotional novelty and more of a standard channel for experiential marketing and advertising. OmniVert, for example, provides a “360° Virtual Reality advertising platform” whereby brands, developers, and publishers can monetize and disseminate VR content.
5. Law Enforcement
As with the military, police forces are using AR and VR tools from companies like VirTra to train personnel in simulated scenarios complete with visual, auditory, and physical stimuli (ranging from barking dogs and street noise to the recoil of discharging a weapon). The technologies even enable police forces to escalate or de-escalate trainees’ simulated interactions with individuals inside the virtual training environments, helping learners practice making judgment calls and critical decisions under stress.
Since immersion into a VR training environment elicits physical reactions, AR/VR training may help police forces better understand, manage, and minimize the impact of officer stress in real-life scenarios: A group of University of Alabama researchers are collaborating with law enforcement officials to measure brain waves during VR police training. One of the lead researchers said the work may “improve training of officers and positively affect the hiring process.”
6. Recruiting, Talent Management & HR
With “culture fit” becoming increasingly important to companies of all stripes, VR has hiring and HR potential across practically every industry – providing a new avenue for companies to meet with potential hires and assess their skills in an immersive environment. Lloyds Banking Group recently used virtual reality to assess candidates for its Graduate Leadership Programmes – tasking recruits with solving puzzles in a VR environment to determine whether they display the “strengths and capabilities required of the Group’s future leaders.”
Once consumer adoption of VR devices reaches critical mass, VR-driven HR may benefit candidates just as much as companies. By spending some time in a company’s office virtually during recruitment, for example, individuals will be able to self-assess whether they want to be part of the organization. Once hired, VR may be able to help remote and onsite workers interact more effectively – potentially strengthening team relationships and lowering turnover. Mimesys is one startup applying AR/VR to the remote meeting experience.
7. Manufacturing & Logistics
VR and AR have the potential to be especially useful for those in manufacturing, logistics, and the skilled trades. AR can superimpose holographic images — “objects” — and instructions atop an individual’s real-world perspective, which can be immensely valuable for educating workers to use large machinery or specialized devices.
As an example, AR company Inglobe Technologies displays the relevant areas under the hood of a car for learning engine repair. Similar applications will likely prove highly valuable in the education sector: With the rise of automation potentially eliminating many low-skill positions, AR tools like Inglobe’s will also be useful in preparing graduates for technically skilled and in-demand trade work in areas like welding, plumbing, and electricity systems.
8. Healthcare & Medicine
AR’s educational value also extends to educating patients in the medical setting. FusionTech/Luminate Health Systems provides hospitals with customizable apps for visualizing patient health information in augmented reality (imagine AR replicas of smokers’ lungs or runners’ knees). AccuVein has invented a scanner that projects over skin to shows nurses and doctors where various veins and valves are in a patient’s body; the technology has reportedly been used on more than 10 million patients so far and made finding a vein on the first attempt 3.5x more likely.
As for VR, the applications in healthcare are practically endless, ranging from VR-powered telemedicine to “transportive” elder care. While nursing home residents enjoy travel-by-goggles, companies like Psious are also offering treatment for behavioral and mental health issues through virtual reality immersion therapy.
9. Journalism & Media Dissemination
Second only to gaming, the media sector has been among the most eager to embrace virtual reality. The New York Times is already a leader in VR-powered storytelling, releasing new visual stories regularly through the NYTVR app. The company distributed a million Google Cardboard headsets to their readers in October 2015 when they first launched the initiative; the same month, CNN also broadcast the first Democratic presidential debate through virtual reality.
Plenty of other media outlets are also looking to use VR to place audiences “inside” their stories. AOL (now owned by Verizon) showed its commitment to VR by purchasing RYOT, a virtual reality production startup, in 2016. Emblematic Group is another startup focused on furthering “immersive journalism” through augmented and virtual reality.
10. Film & Entertainment
Deploying VR in entertainment eliminates the boundary between a story and its audience, allowing filmmakers to experiment with space and point of view and leading to experiential works that blur the lines between gaming and narrative entertainment. The term “cinematic VR” has emerged to describe these new approaches to storytelling: startups such as Kite & Lightning, Limitless, and Blend Media are working in this area. For example, Kite & Lightning developed Bebylon Battle Royale – a “competitive spectator” experience that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Sony too is developing a “non-game virtual reality project” based on the TV show Breaking Bad as part of a larger push for virtual reality in mainstream pop culture. AR has yet to infiltrate entertainment to the same extent, but could eventually be used to incorporate the viewer’s reality into a given narrative: A scene from your favorite TV show could take place in your living room, for example, using information sent via a smartphone camera.
11. Construction & Real Estate
VR and AR have game-changing value in both the development and sale of real estate. Architects are excited about AR’s potential for digital modeling — tools from startups like Augment can be used to overlay building plans, marketing materials, and other 2D collateral into 3D models. In addition, DAQRI has developed a smart helmet that can provide thermal vision and guided work instructions to construction laborers and other industrial workers.
VR also enables real estate professionals to showcase properties (even unfinished ones) to buyers in a realistic way, complete with virtual exposure to the location and neighborhood. Through a technology collaboration with VR startup Matterport, the New York Times now offers virtual reality tours of some of its luxury real estate listings.
VR’s potential in the automotive sector begins at the concept phase: Ford began working with the Oculus Rift team in 2014 to rapidly design, prototype, and evaluate vehicles in a virtual setting. From there, VR is an obvious fit for immersive car tours and experiential test drives. Consumers can experience the Volvo XC90, for example, using the Volvo Reality app (which it developed with help from VR startup Framestore) and the Google Cardboard headset.
Carmakers like Ferrari and Audi are also using VR to revolutionize the dealership experience: Both companies have developed VR apps that allow customers to visualize how floor-display models can be personalized to their preferred specifications, and Ferrari’s app also enables buyers to view the engine and mechanical interior of the vehicle.
13. Space Exploration
VR is literally taking us to other worlds. Astronauts on the International Space Station are currently using Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Onsight video platform from Librestream Technologies to conduct research and exploration in space: Through VR headsets, NASA team members are collaborating in a virtual reconstruction of the surface of Mars.
The use of VR is increasing NASA’s effectiveness in space exploration: Researchers were reportedly “two times more accurate at determining distances and three times more accurate at determining angles between specific Martian locations” using VR than with traditional plotting methods. As NASA uses those advancements to get its astronauts closer to Mars’ actual surface, VR will eventually help the rest of us earthlings tag along for the mission.
“I can’t wait for the day when we actually set foot on Mars,” says Matthew Clausen, creative director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab. “We imagine a future in which it’s actually all of you; anyone that has access to this immersive technology – libraries, in their schools, in their basements – all being able to participate in the exploration of these new worlds together.”