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Enhancing Virtual Reality in a Connected World

April 10, 2017

Tim Sherwood   

Vice-President – Business Development, Mobility & IoT Solutions, Tata Communications.

After a prolonged period of inflated expectations, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are finally starting to enjoy mainstream success. Thanks to headset advances from the likes of Microsoft, Samsung and Oculus, the VR and AR software markets are on the rise. New, exciting applications for VR are emerging every day, including everything from enhanced consumer video chat applications to complex industrial AR programmes.

In spite of these enhancements, Gartner predicts that we will still have to wait around five years until the technology becomes mainstream, as technology investors assess its power to solve real business problems and enable them to exploit new opportunities. While today’s VR and AR technologies can still give us amazing experiences, the scope is limited while it remains largely unconnected to the rest of the world.

For example, consider this scenario: you’re buying a brand new car, it looks fantastic, and it’s fully functional and ready to go. However, it’s not going to take you anywhere unless you have the fuel to power it. It has no truly useful application to you beyond the aesthetic if it can’t drive. The current state of VR and AR is much the same, without the wireless network able to process it, the new ‘realities’ serve a limited purpose.

Limited connectivity solutions have so far restricted the roll-out of real ground-breaking applications for VR and AR, but when you develop applications that plug-in to the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, you begin to see the varied data-driven possibilities. This includes, for example, Augmented Reality  (AR) applications within the smart factory setting. The emerging Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) means that there is more data at factory workers’ fingertips than ever before. One way workers can draw instant value from this data is by using AR-enabled glasses to overlay the information in real-time on top of what they’re working on. For example they could approach a sensor, and at a touch of a button immediately see the health status of the device and any other relevant attributed statistics in real-time.

This kind of application could also tap into manuals and procedures, overlaying information for engineers fixing factory objects in real-time. These applications improve the day-to-day operations and capabilities of the factory workers, improving productivity and enhancing safety in the workplace.

Looking at it from a consumer perspective, imagine being able to check-in on your home in real-time to make sure that everything is okay. For example, you could check in on your animals during the day, or check that your plants are being watered while you’re on an extended trip away from home.

These are the kinds of technologies that will lead VR and AR from being over-hyped, under-utilised technologies, to main-stream productivity boosting investments. However, this still all relies on the underlying connectivity infrastructure.

Beyond the sheer volume of content and application development, you need hardware with the capacity to handle the huge amounts of data communicated back and forth with cloud-based applications to constantly monitor, update and provide real-time information and real-time changes to what you’re seeing in your environment. This requires connectivity, it requires data analytics, machine learning, and cloud-based capabilities that the industry needs to solve in order to unlock the true value of VR and unleash the capabilities associated with AR, particularly when you combine it with the IoT.

In order to reap the benefits of VR and AR, enterprises need to start thinking today about these challenges, investing in and enhancing their network capabilities so that their infrastructure is prepared for the next generation of connected technologies and real-time data visualisation. Building the ecosystem for these applications will take time, so enterprises who invest in the groundwork today will reap the rewards of enhanced Virtual Reality  experiences later on.

Want to learn more about trends on the horizon? Read Anthony Bartolo’s blog post on MWC 2017 here.