ISABEL RUBIO ARROYO | Tungsteno
Virtual reality is already used to train workers in high-risk environments, to know what the pillars of a building under construction will look like, or to carry out marketing campaigns. In the same way, augmented and mixed reality have captivated thousands of companies around the world. But these immersive techniques have not managed to enthral the general public in the same way. After the failures of projects such as Google Glasses or virtual reality cinemas, will they ever be able to make the jump to the end consumer?
Extended reality is a concept that brings together augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. The mainstreaming of these technologies in society is proceeding more slowly than was anticipated five years ago. This is how Diego Laforga, head of communication at Isostopy, a company specialising in extended reality, explains it: "When the first virtual reality devices appeared, a certain media bubble was generated that spoke of astronomical figures and a massive adoption of extended reality that is far from being fulfilled today, at least at the user level."
For this expert, the fact that companies are the first to adopt a new technology is a constant that has occurred since the beginning of the so-called digital revolution. "We already saw it with the start of the Internet or even with mobile telephony, which had its first success stories in military and business areas and now in a second phase among the general public," he explains.
Whether Google Glass makes a spectacular comeback or not, it is untrue to say that it has failed. A new improved version for business has been launched: Glass Enterprise Edition 2. Credit: Google.
Social networks and gaming, pioneers
Even so, these technologies continue to grow and take an increasing share of the market. Virtual reality is especially successful in the gaming sector, with increasingly advanced headsets. According to Laforga, the devices that come onto the market each year triple the performance of the previous year in terms of quality and the immersive experience. In this sector, the leading application last year was Beat Saber, a game that combines physical skills and music, and which has sold more than a million units.
Augmented reality on social networks has also taken off in recent months. Filters in applications such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or Tik Tok have gone viral. In addition, apps such as Leo AR are among the most downloaded in Apple and Google stores and many others on education, decoration or astronomy have appeared. Complete Anatomy is an app for the study of the human body that is used frequently in schools in the United States and Night Sky helps to learn about the constellations. "The creation of AR Core software for Android devices and AR Kit for Apple has played a key role in this, facilitating the work of developers," explains Laforga.
There are also brands that have seen a great opportunity in this field to boost their sales. In 2017, Ikea presented Ikea place. This app allows users to position the furniture from their catalogue in any room and see how it would look before they buy it. Google Maps wants its users to use augmented reality to better orient themselves while walking. And there are even rumours that Apple is developing AR glasses.
One of the limitations in the massive implementation of immersive technologies is its focus in the professional field, where it is already used in health or construction. Credit: Microsoft.
Limitations hindering widespread use
Of the three technologies that make up extended reality —virtual, augmented and mixed— it is the latter that is furthest behind at the user level. It mixes aspects of augmented and virtual reality by allowing the user to overlay virtual objects onto a real environment and interact with them. Laforga blames this delay on the fact that it is the newest technique and that the few companies developing the hardware necessary for its use are more focused on the professional environment than on entertainment.
There are some limitations that hinder the use of these technologies from becoming widespread. In the case of virtual reality, a few years ago there were arguments about the high price, the limited quality of the experiences or the discomfort of the devices themselves. But, as Laforga points out, these handicaps have been disappearing: "Today we can buy Oculus Quests, which offers autonomy, image quality and an immense catalogue of applications, for less than 450 euros, half the cost of a high-end phone."
The main problem is the entry barrier. "Users still have difficulty acquiring a device of this type," he says. In the case of mixed reality, there are only a couple of models on the market, and they have a price and a catalogue of applications that place them in a spectrum far from the general public.
The future of mixed reality
Despite these limitations, in recent years there has been a revolution in each and every one of the fields that make up extended reality, thanks to different technical advances. "For example, in the case of virtual reality, the biggest jump has been the appearance of stand-alone devices, which are those glasses that don’t need to be connected to a computer by a wire or use a mobile device as a processor," explains Laforga.
The experts agree that it is difficult to predict what will happen in a few years, since these ever-changing technologies are advancing at dizzying speeds. The predictions, according to Laforga, suggest that mixed reality will be the prevailing technology and will even overtake mobile phones. Each user would have a small device that would be placed in front of their eyes like a pair of glasses and would allow them to interact with their physical environment by superimposing various layers of information.
"Let's imagine, for example, that we can walk down the street with our virtual assistant who walks beside us, sidestepping the obstacles that it finds, while reminding us that at noon we have a meeting or telling us which street we should take to get to the hairdresser's. It sounds like science fiction, but if in the early 2000s they had told us that our mobile phones were going to be computers from which we could do almost anything, we would have thought they were crazy too," concludes the expert.
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Tungsteno is a journalism laboratory to scan the essence of innovation. Devised by Materia Publicaciones Científicas for Sacyr’s blog.