HOW COVID-19 IS AFFECTING THE DEVELOPMENT OF VIRTUAL AND AUGMENTED REALITY

It is not new to highlight how Covid-19 is changing our lives and the dynamics of the global economy. What interests us now, is to understand how this phenomenon will affect our sector, namely that of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

With a large number of individuals in the world forced to work, learn, buy, meet - in a few words: to live - remotely, our routines have undergone an afterthought. Many are wondering if once the emergency is over they will return to the office as before or if the organization of work in companies will change radically; if we can go to the shopping center, to the cinema and to the restaurant as carefree as we have always done or if our habits will also have to be remodeled.

The path of diffusion of new technologies has always been difficult to predict, since it is linked to many factors: people's motivations, available infrastructures, costs, current legislation, the investment will of large groups. Today, these factors are joined by the new difficult health context, which can also influence the development path of a technology.

But how can Covid-19 affect the growth of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality?

Working remotely in Virtual Reality to continue planning and deciding together


In recent weeks, companies and organizations have been learning to work remotely. Employees are exploring all types of video conferencing, instant messaging, file sending and sharing platforms. However, there are even more advanced ways to work in a team without being side by side: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality.

Because if a video call is better than a conventional call, Virtual Reality far surpasses any other tool: by sharing the same virtual space, you can work together in real time in a truly collaborative way. From an engineering design to a product design study, passing from a simple marketing meeting, the Virtual Reality environment allows each participant to interact with 3D elements and find themselves within absolutely realistic simulations.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of Virtual Reality is its ability to make individuals feel like they are in the same space. And without the need to move, less time and money is wasted, with great relief for the budget. An additional advantage of Virtual Reality is the elimination of distractions: people can fully concentrate on what is happening around them. It is estimated that there is at least a 25% increase in attention during a Virtual Reality meeting compared to a video conference.

Considering all the advantages - efficiency, attention, enhanced team work, reduced travel costs, less environmental impact - Virtual Reality is to be considered an excellent communication and collaboration tool. And if today Virtual Reality can be an exceptional medicine to treat the wounds of the moment, those who started to adopt it as an emergency measure could decide to use it even in the long term.


A collaborative session with FrameS

Virtual Reality events to overcome the lockdown


The most evident consequence of the epidemic and lockdown was the cancellation of all scheduled "physical" events. From fairs to meetings, the limitation to travel and aggregation has eliminated the activities of the event sector.

But what if these collective moments moved into the virtual environment?

HTC, headset manufacturer for Virtual Reality, held its first fully virtual VIVE Ecosystem Conference on March 18th. 2,000 people from over 55 countries attended the event. It was the first event scheduled to be held live to be completely replaced by an Extended Reality (XR) event, a term that includes Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality.

This experience, revolutionary not so much for what concerns the technology used, but more in the change of paradigm it brings into play, teaches that it is possible to overcome physical barriers between people. Also in this case, from an emergency solution, the organization of virtual events could become a valid option even in "business as usual” times.


Virtual points of sale instead of real ones


According to a global Nielsen research prior to the Covid-19 epidemic, a large portion of consumers was already predisposed to virtual purchases at the end of 2019. Let's see the most interesting data.

  • 64%: it is the share of respondents who complain of too many daily commitments and limited time available. These consumers normally turn to technology to make life easier.

  • 51%: those who have declared that they want to use Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality to evaluate products before purchasing.

  • 43%: respondents who would like to use these technologies also in physical stores.

With the lockdown in different parts of the world, entering a real store for shopping is becoming increasingly complicated. But if consumers cannot go to the store, then the store will go to the consumers: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality contain all the potential to bring the shopping experience directly at home.

Companies that know how to exploit these tools will be able to reach consumers where they are, with informative, personalized and convincing experiences. In some markets this is already reality, with apps that use Augmented Reality for example to show how a piece of furniture will look inside an apartment or how a bag goes with a dress.

If consumers are already predisposed to using these technologies for their purchases, it is logical to think that current problems can give a boost to an even more massive adoption of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in marketing and sales.

Home entertainment is more thriving than ever


Forced into their homes, "children of all ages" find a great source of fun in home entertainment. Whether it's online or offline, for the creators of Virtual and Augmented Reality systems this situation could be an opportunity to develop and promote their products.

While the pandemic has caused an almost total abandonment of Virtual Reality in theme parks and shopping malls, its use can certainly increase in the field of videogames and other forms of digital entertainment, such as virtual travel or museum tours, or in social platforms based on Virtual Reality such as AltspaceVR, Bigscreen, Rec Room and VRChat.




Virtual and Augmented Reality activate new training courses


In recent years, many companies have entrusted employee training to Virtual Reality, with the effect of saving money and making learning more effective. Since the virus is preventing workers and trainers from traveling, Virtual Reality can now be the way to hold or follow a lesson without leaving home.

Companies such as Apple and Microsoft, for example, in the need to find new suppliers outside China (the first nation hit by the lockdown), have used Virtual Reality to train new partners, in order not to interrupt the supply chain. Not only that: several companies, forced to close production and to leave employees at home, took advantage of this to activate remote training courses, thus taking advantage of the moment of forced break to update employees and workers.

To address the ongoing pandemic, Oxford Medical Simulation (OMS) has made a Virtual Reality medical training system available to healthcare facilities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom: training administered in this way has served to train medical personnel and additional nursing, intended to strengthen the staff of the hospitals engaged in the care of patients from Covid-19.

Conclusions: Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for business continuity


While the impact of Coronavirus is harming people and businesses, we are realizing how useful technologies can be to address the problem. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality can be used for various purposes, promoting distance work and training, supporting the sale of products and services, allowing the economic ecosystem to not stop completely.

Today is still too early to assess how the world will come out of shock from Covid-19, and whether new technologies will be considered part of the solution. At present, many companies will be thinking about short-term solutions to start operating safely again; if, however, a medium-long term perspective were adopted, it would be clear that investments in Virtual and Augmented Reality would guarantee many private companies and public bodies greater operational continuity.

We certainly don't want to give up face-to-face meetings, big events, tourism, dinners at restaurants or shopping in the center of our cities. But if two or three months of stop are able to seriously jeopardize the survival of a company or the economy of an entire country, the time has come to equip ourselves to face the difficulties that we have learned to know and that - in a similar way - could happen again tomorrow.

Technology, and innovation, are above all for this.

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