From real estate to the military to healthcare, startups are developing AR/VR applications across several areas.
While some still see augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as technologies reserved for hardcore gamers, many have taken notice of the considerable potential for each across a variety of industries.
As hardware developers make AR and VR headsets more affordable and user-friendly, startups are developing new use cases far beyond gaming — applying the technologies to everything from marketing to healthcare to space exploration, and more.
We take a look at 19 industries that AR/VR is poised to transform.
With a rash of store closings, VR is an emerging solution to the challenges facing traditional retailers, as well as another strategy e-commerce companies have started experimenting with.
Using AR/VR, retailers could offer customers everything from virtual fitting rooms to the ability to design & customize products. Consumers could shop virtually, entering stores using headsets instead of needing to be physically present.
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.
Across multiple branches of the military, AR/VR is being used to create large-volume simulation environments — providing an immersive way to train recruits and optimize operations.
ScopeAR, for example, uses augmented reality to equip military officials with “computer vision technology” to help with equipment maintenance and repair.
Then there’s mapping and communication: The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency was reportedly looking into ways that VR could 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.
Software simulation company Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BISim) is also working to create a “virtual training environment for tactical training, experimentation and mission rehearsal for land, sea and air.”
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.
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. Using AR, Jordan Brand recreated basketball star Michael Jordan’s 1988 dunk from the free throw line to attract fans and sell merchandise.
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.
OmniVirt, for example, provides a “360° Virtual Reality advertising platform” whereby brands, developers, and publishers can monetize and disseminate VR content. The company recently partnered with Turner Broadcasting to create an Adult Swim virtual reality ad campaign.
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 had collaborated 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 Groupused 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.
Many companies are looking to provide 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 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
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 last year.
Last year, Sony was 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. In 2017, VR startup Matterport partnererd with the New York Times to offer 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.
Audi created an augmented reality app to allow users to view cars nearly anywhere, not just a car showroom. Users can also create a personalized test track to see how the car operates.
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.”
AR/VR will give engineers a way to get hands-on with their early-stage product designs, especially when those designs exist only within a software program.
This is tremendously helpful in allowing engineers to visualize how tweaks and changes to one part of a design could affect an overall layout. Engineers would be able to make changes to a product using a given software, and then see the results on a virtual reality display.
They could rotate the image, see it from all angles, and understand exactly how a change would affect every aspects of a design — perhaps giving them a better idea as to how a finished product might look.
Industrial designers can also use the technology in the same way. In fact, engineers and designers can collaborate using virtual reality.
Both parties could, for example, view an engine part they are working on through a virtual reality display. They could place the part inside the entire engine itself — all virtually — to ensure it fits.
Ford, for instance, uses the Ford Immersive Vehicle Environment, which allows designers and engineers to see a vehicle model virtually. It helps to ensure contributions are correct, and that any parts of the design that are flawed can be worked on together. This can also help early prototypes and designs to meet required specifications.
In February, SolidWorks, engineering applications software company, announced that it had created a way for engineers to view designs with AR technology using a Meta 2 Development Kit headset.
15. Customer Service
VR and AR offer a host of new ways for companies to interact with their customers. Remote troubleshooting, which is now usually done step by step over the phone, is one area for opportunity.
A customer service representative could use an AR/VR device to interact with a customer. A representative could appear to hover in front of customers to talk them through their issues, step by step. On the other side of the interaction, the representative could see in 3D exactly what the customer sees, allowing them to better help solve the problem.
Several brands have already begun to experiment with these technologies.
Fidelity Investments, for example, created VR scenarios for its call center employees. New employees can interact virtually with the simulations and run through a variety of potential scenarios to learn how to deal with different customer issues.
At IKEA, customers use a special app and a headset to explore different possibilities for their home design in virtual reality — swapping out fixtures and changing colors & dimensions to immediately see how they will look.
AR and VR have the potential to help farmers visualize the troves of crop data now available to them.
Commercially available aerial drones built with inertial sensors, GPS, powerful processors, and imaging sensors can give farmers and data scientists a look at what’s happening in their fields.
These drones, outfitted with 360-degree video capability, allow for virtual crop scouting, where farmers don VR headsets to scan through the field and assess crop response and damages.
By caring for crops at the granular level VR and crop data allow for, farmers can increase yields, decrease disease, and improve costs.
One company, Infosys, already has a stake in AR/VR for agriculture through its Plant.io project.
It created a system of sensors, lights, and cameras that measure details of crop health. It then uses AI to understand what each plant needs for the best growth. That data is wirelessly transmitted to a set of AR goggles, which farmers use to see what each plant should be getting, like more water, light, or fertilizers.
In the past, athletes relied on themselves to visualize strategy or plays. In the future, AR and VR will help make practice even more like gameday. In fact, some athletes already have access to this technology.
STRIVR is an AR/VR software company that is used by the NFL and college football teams to help athletes practice and prepare for the many situations that arise during a game. The NBA plans to train its referees in the off season using VR, while the MLB is exploring the use of virtual reality as an additional training tool for its umpires.
Students will see changes to the way they learn as AR and VR technologies become more commonplace. The technologies could increase students’ engagement across subjects, enabling them to comprehend concepts faster and foster community learning.
The educational technology firm Nearpod uses Google Cardboard, the low-cost VR headset.
Nearpod is currently used in a number of public school districts where students can participate in “virtual field trips” to places like the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Barrier Reef, and Mars. The tours are built from panoramic images and include narration, text, and other associated study materials.
EON Reality, on the other hand, allows teachers to create their own VR content. To do this, teachers place 3D models from the company within a virtual environment. They can also include text or interactive elements, including online content.
AR/VR combined with the data collected through IoT devices will help maintenance technicians make decisions without the need to be present in remote locations, such as oil wells.
Mechdyne says it helps oil and gas clients monitor drilling and operations through its VR technology. It can help scientists determine where to locate and test drilling sites, enabling them to virtually test plans for oil wells and optimize procedures in the process.