5 interesting AR/VR projects in action

What do immersive reality technologies look like in the real world? These early business use cases offer a glimpse of the possibilities in fields from retail to healthcare
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Immersive experiences aren’t just for gamers anymore. The market size for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) combined is expected to explode from about $18 billion today to $215 billion in 2021, according to Altimeter research analyst Omar Akhtar. A recent report from IDC notes that the AR/VR ecosystem has matured to the point that it’s easier to create content. That IDC report further predicts that these advancements will spur more businesses to incorporate immersive experiences into their digital business strategies.

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In fact, some early adopters are already doing rolling out AR and VR functionality with compelling results. Here are a few applications that give you a glimpse of what AR/VR can do now and where it’s headed:

Retail: Lowe’s AR/VR suite

Lowe’s is at the forefront of commercial AR/VR implementation, having been named number one on Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Companies in AR/VR this year. The home improvement retailer’s dedicated Lowe’s Innovation Labs has rolled out a series of mixed reality tools and capabilities to make the lives of their customers (and would-be customers) easier. The company’s early efforts focus on solving one of its enduring struggles: the nearly $70 billion dollars Lowe’s says is left on the table when consumers are unable to start a home improvement project because they can’t envision what it will look like, or don’t know where to begin.

The Holoroom How To VR tool allows customers to learn basic do-it-yourself skills in an immersive environment. Outfitted with a VR headset and controller, customers can learn how to paint a room or tile a shower. Company research has shown that customers have as much 40 percent greater memory retention of steps to complete a project after completing VR training, and nine out of 10 users reported feeling confident about their skills in the real world. Measured by Lowe’s is an AR app that uses augmented reality to turn any iPhone model 6S or newer into virtual tape measure for objects or distances within the camera’s view. Designed by former game developers and designers, Lowe’s 3D is a scanning solution that can generate high-fidelity 3D models of physical products to help customers visualize potential purchases in their homes. Currently in private beta testing with select Lowe’s vendors, the company says users of the 3D tool were twice as likely to purchase products from the store than those who didn’t.

Advertising: Blippar’s AR ad platform

London-based Blippar’s first-of-its kind AR advertising unit creates immersive solutions for some of the world’s biggest brands, including McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Spotify. It’s solutions combine AR with computer vision, artificial intelligence, and visual search to create immersive marketing experiences.

Jaguar Land Rover, for example, worked with Blippar to put prospective car buyers in the virtual drivers’ seat of its latest models without making the dreaded visit to the dealership. Consumers could launch the AR capability launched directly from a banner ad with no need to install an app to explore the vehicle, interact with hotspots, and see the view from the driving seat through transparent windows.

One of Blippar’s recent innovations is the Urban Visual Positioning System, rolled out last year, which uses computer vision to determine and where a user is geographically and his or her orientation to surroundings. Said to be twice as accurate than GPS and boasting a less than one second response time, Fast Company has said that the technology has “broad implications for location-based AR experiences, especially those related to industries such as tourism and mapping.” Some potential use case Blippar has floated include virtual departure boards at train stations, virtual menus in restaurants, and virtual maps and directions overlaid on roads. Blippar has also introduced a facial recognition tool on its mobile app called Halos, which enables users to create personalized social profiles in other AR apps. In addition, their Automotive Recognition API uses deep learning and computer vision to identify any U.S. car built since the year 2000, with 97.7 percent accuracy; car companies and service providers can integrate the API into their own app or website.

Real Estate: JLL’s 3D property portfolio

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) provides commercial leasing, real estate brokerage, management, advisory, and financing through nearly 300 corporate offices in more than 80 countries around the world. JLL has partnered with a number of companies, such as Indian start-up Foyr, whose virtual reality technologies can provide visualization and customization services for interior commercial spaces. Working with a company called Studio216, the company developed a way for clients to immerse themselves in yet to be developed environments to explore and collaborate on ground-up developments, capital improvements and shell space virtually using Hololens, WMR, and all Windows 10 devices. In partnership with Dronebase and Tangram 3DS, JLL is combining drone footage with 3-D renderings to offer another perspective on prospective property sites. JLL’s goal is to create the world’s largest 3D-enabled property portfolio.

Healthcare: Imperial College London at St Mary’s Hospital’s AR surgery

AR and VR have a number of applications in medical services. Imperial College London at St Mary’s Hospital is one of the first to test mixed reality in the operating room, aiming to help surgeons improve the outcomes for patients. Researchers there recently demonstrated how surgeons could use Microsoft HoloLens headsets to interact with ‘holograms’ while operating on patients undergoing reconstructive lower limb surgery. The technology overlays CT scan imaging, which indicates the location of bones and blood vessels, onto the patient’s leg.

When patients suffer tissue damage and open wounds following a car accident or other trauma, surgeons must perform reconstruction using flaps of tissue (including skin and blood vessels) taken from elsewhere on the patient’s body to cover the wound and enable them to heal. It’s critically important to connect the blood vessels of the transplanted tissue to those at the wound site. The traditional approach has been to use a handheld ultrasound scanner to identify blood vessel locations based on the pulsation of the blood, but that approach offers only an approximate location. Augmented reality offers a more accurate and fast way to find the blood vessels by enabling surgeons to, in effect, see through the limb.

According to the researchers’ findings, the technology could lessen the time a patient spends under anesthesia and reduce the margin for error. The research notes some limiting factors including errors during the modeling stages, potential for the overlaid model to be misaligned, and time-consuming data preparation. However, the researchers say they hope to further automate the process further, using software to improve the alignment, for example.

Pharmaceuticals: C4X Discovery’s molecule visualizer

Spun out of the University of Manchester, C4X Discovery (C4XD) says it wants to become the world’s most productive drug discovery and development company: VR is at the heart of those ambitions. Earlier this year, it began using its own VR tool, 4Sight, to help scientists picture the structure of complex molecules. Traditionally, drug developers would work with static models. The VR tool allows developers to step inside the molecule to see how it moves and responds to different stimuli and situations. “Starting to use VR was quite transformative, because all of a sudden the molecules become part of my world and I can manipulate them in space just ahead of me, like you would do comparing two oranges and two apples,” C4XD medicinal chemist at Thorsten Nowak told Wired UK.

According to the company, the VR tool will decrease errors and shorten the years-long drug development cycle as the company develops treatments for diseases such as cancer, chronic addiction, Parkinson’s Disease, and dementia. The visualizer is also used to facilitate collaboration among people in different locations.

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Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.


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