Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), and Virtual Reality (VR) are increasingly making their presence felt in a range of business areas, and both for firms and for consumers. The stereotypical image of the gamer wearing a VR headset is clearly one part of the market (and a lucrative one at that), but it is only one part and the uses of AR, MR, and VR for businesses are considerable.
Definitions of Reality
MR forms a continuum, where there are different levels of interaction between the ‘real’ and the ‘computer generated’ world (see image below). At one end is the physical world while at the other is the totally virtual environment. MR covers the span between them, with AR being the physical environment augmented by computer-generated data, through to VR where the environment is totally computer generated.
Businesses are already using a wide range of MR tools in their day-to-day work. Industry and manufacturing companies use AR tools to, for example, help conduct research and design activities, such as in this example from Ford or undertake analysis and production trials, as shown by BAE Systems.
AR permeates further than this though, going from the production floor and R&D lab, to the office space: tablet PCs, computer displays and head-up displays are all examples of tools working within an MR environment.
Many of the examples of businesses using AR tend, however, to be in the manufacturing or industrial sector. Showing interactive 3D design images that can help engineers better determine improvements or identify maintenance faults is a classic example. Less common are examples of AR and MR within the more commercial-end of businesses, particularly in customer-facing roles.
Creativity gives options
The great advantage of MR is that it can cover a huge range of possibilities. Some firms are beginning to utilise AR tools for customer sales and interaction. Honda has an AR tool for its car dealers, while BMW has taken this a step further for recently started to deploy a downloadable Android-based AR app that enables (potential-)customers to better explore its cars. The BMW app links into Google-developed tools and the camera on the smartphone, and enables people to view lifelike 3D car models, and place them in their immediate environment (to see, for example, how the car would look in front of the customer’s house or on a local street).
Using this as an illustrative example, it is clear that many other businesses – including ones considerable smaller than BMW! – can also consider similar possibilities and ideas. For example, a merchant who sells furniture could consider having an app developed that allows potential customers to view the furniture in their own home, seeing how different customization options (such as different colours or fabrics) look for a chair or sofa, how the positioning for a table could work, and so on. Merchants selling ‘white goods’, such as kitchen appliances, or audio-visual equipment could equally do the same, allowing the overlay of a new fridge-freezer or cooker into the customer’s own kitchen.
Engagement with customers and ensuring their retention remains as important as ever. These examples allow the consumer to better visualise how the product could be incorporated into their home environment. The use of AR / MR tools, when considered with the consumer in mind, can help create a fuller experience that gives the consumer greater information and certainty regarding their potential purchase. It is a something that eCommerce merchants can develop and use to gain an additional edge against their competitors.
There has been considerable hype surrounding VR and AR for several years, with the promises of what was possible sometimes getting ahead of what was technologically feasible (at least for a reasonable price) and what consumers were ready to consider. The situation has progressed though. The cost of developing AR tools and apps has come down, and consumers are much more willing to engage with the MR / AR world (just look at the PokemonGo craze!) There are possibilities that eCommerce merchants should seriously think about and consider if their business can use MR / AR for that extra advantage.
 By Giovanni Vincenti – http://www.teachingthroughmuves.info/, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14956549