It’s been forecast that the worldwide market for Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and mixed reality will expand to nearly $300 billion by 2024 — a staggering level of growth from its current size of around $30 billion. Many have heard about some of the applications of these technologies. For instance, virtual reality gaming headsets are often what come to mind — and this is one frontier where these sensory, environmentally immersive capabilities excel.
In reality, AR and VR present boundless opportunities that have yet to be fully realized, which is why they have been areas of extensive innovation over the past few years. So, as we anticipate these technologies becoming a fixture in our society, it’s time to ask: Why are AR, VR and mixed reality gaining so much traction, and how can we help express their full potential?
Understanding new and expanded realities
Extended reality (which includes the AR, VR and mixed reality segments) utilizes technology to enhance the way we view our world. Put simply, augmented reality supplements our world with digital elements and insights, while virtual reality represents a more immersive experience that can transport us to both real and imaginary places. Mixed reality combines the best of both, allowing for a more fluid border between physical and digital objects and locations.
Covid-19 has, despite its systemic challenges, created a more productive environment for technology development by boosting the demand and the urgency for virtual realities (check out 451 Research’s recent market insight for more on this). On the home front, individuals in quarantines seeking entertainment are looking for new ways to game, consume content and break down barriers to the outside world. Meanwhile, industries like healthcare, finance and education need to deliver better digital care and exceptional experiences. Similarly, global businesses are eager to take deal-making and event attendance to the next level, overcoming any distance regardless of what hurdles may appear.
AR, VR and mixed reality have grown in popularity for their ability to meet these requirements — and more. They allow us to add digital overlays to our surroundings, offering advanced real-world capability in the form of anything from face-altering filters on social media to real-time medical imaging that guides surgeons in the operating room. Extended reality has the ability to create entirely new, simulated environments for us to explore — think gaming, wholly virtual classrooms or 3D tours of any destination — with the use of wearables. The use cases for individuals and businesses are seemingly endless, and they have the capacity to fundamentally change the way we work and play on a global scale.
Humanity has dreamed of virtual reality for nearly a decade, and attempts at augmented and virtual worlds can be seen in media even as early as the 1910s and 20s. However, this technology as we know it today really began to take shape in the 80s, and consumable forms of extended reality have since become accessible to the masses (you can learn more about the history of VR here). Today, we’re at an inflection point — we’ve entered a new era of extended realities, but ensuring underlying infrastructure is ready to support these applications is now the major task at hand.
How do we build a world of digital opportunity?
Understanding these technologies and their applications is one half of this equation — the other is understanding how to empower those use cases. The networking and computing ecosystems that AR, VR and mixed reality require are contrary to how the IT landscape has been evolving for decades, and while new systems are taking shape today, there is still development to be done.
Network and data infrastructure must evolve in a way that caters to the unique needs of extended reality. Providing real-time responses, continuous visual and spatial updates and motion feedback without jitter or lag (which is paramount for these applications to work) means high levels of bandwidth and reliability with ultra-low latency. Meeting these goals starts with the right perspective. In order to guide the evolution of IT frameworks, the idea of a VR headset or an augmented reality instance as a stand-alone endpoint has to change. Instead, we must view these elements as part of a holistic fabric of data egress, ingress and digestion points, as well as the pipelines that connect them. Luckily, the advent of 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT), which exhibit similar data demands, has already helped make inroads in developing this ecosystem.
Edge computing — the key to the technology of tomorrow — brings data and compute closer to the user instead of bringing data to and from more central data hubs. This effectively cuts down on latency and delivers greater scalability through the cloud. When it comes to taking the first steps toward AR, VR or mixed realities, the edge data center and the connectivity it supplies will likely be an ideal place to start.
Of course, other roadblocks do exist. In fact, reports show us that major barriers to AR and VR deployment within business include prohibitive costs and levels of complexity, as well as a lack of appropriate skills. However, as networking and data infrastructure work to make these technologies more viable, ease of use will hopefully drive greater consumption, in turn building momentum for others to capitalize on.
Today, the tangible world and the virtual one are merging, and at their point of convergence are new and exciting capabilities that can bring new value to nearly every industry. To achieve this, we need to find that value and cultivate it in a way that can be successfully and reliably delivered at scale through data infrastructure. The good news is, events like AR/VR Developer Challenges are helping communities solve necessary challenges and expand the sphere of what these technologies can accomplish through collaborative innovation.
All in all, the future looks bright, and we have a lot to be excited about. As we evolve and forge ahead into these new frontiers, we can all look forward to a world where the only limit is our imagination.