Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) offer paths to experiences that, while not exactly “real,” access alternative and blended experiential domains that can enhance everyday life. The travel industry, spectator sports and, of course, digital gaming are arenas ripe with abundant opportunities on the cusp of genuinely universal accessibility. But leisure and entertainment applications are far from the only ways that AR and VR will become pervasive in our digitally dominated world. Here, I touch on three industrial applications of AR and VR being explored by digital leaders around the globe —where lives are being saved, manual tasks are being automated and shopping experiences are being enhanced.
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What are AR and VR?
Before jumping into specific discussions about how AR and VR are being applied in the real-world, it’s worthwhile to take a step back and distinguish between these two often-conflated technologies.
Virtual reality—VR is a completely simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Virtual reality systems use either headsets or multi-projected environments to generate realistic images, sounds and other sensations that simulate a user’s physical presence in a virtual environment. You can look around the artificial world, move around in it, and interact with virtual features or items.
Augmented reality—AR is an interactive experience of a real-world environment in which objects that reside in the real world are enhanced by computer-generated perceptual information—sometimes across multiple sensory systems. AR incorporates a combination of real and virtual worlds, real-time interaction, and accurate three-dimensional (3D) imaging of virtual and real objects. The overlaid experience is interwoven with the physical world and perceived as an integrated, immersive environment.
How holograms are revolutionizing cardiac care
Cardiac arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) is a potentially serious heart condition that is much more common than you might suspect. About 5% of the U.S. population experiences arrhythmias,[i] which can lead to stroke, fainting and even death.
One of the treatment options for arrhythmias is a catheter ablation, which uses radiofrequency heat energy to burn a small area of heart tissue to stop irregular heartbeats. Typically, an electro-cardiologist must mentally combine multiple two-dimensional (2D) images of the heart displayed on different monitors in real-time to determine what tissue to ablate during the procedure.
Husband and wife team Dr. Jonathan Silva and Dr. Jennifer Silva at Washington University in St. Louis created the Enhanced Electrophysiology Visualization and Interaction System (ĒLVIS)[ii] to help physicians visualize the interior of the heart during ablation procedures. ĒLVIS combines AR software with Microsoft’s HoloLens headset to convert commercially available electroanatomic and catheter data into a 3D holographic image of the patient’s heart with real-time catheter locations. The physician optimizes the real-time visualization by gesturing to control the headset and move around the inside of 3D heart image—all while keeping hands sterile during the procedure.
The potential for improved patient care and long-term cost savings make this AR implementation extremely attractive. According to Washington University in St. Louis, this new procedure has already proven to improve the accuracy of ablation procedures. Potential benefits include a decreased need for repeat procedures and reduced procedure duration, resulting in a projected savings of $370 million annually.
Source: Washington University in St. Louis
AR, VR boost MRO logistics and operations efficiency
The Covid-19 pandemic had a profound impact on maintenance and repair operations (MRO) and logistics in the air transport industry. However, according to UK-based trade publication Aviation Business News, the use of AR and VR is helping companies overcome operational challenges, resulting in improved effectiveness and lower expenditures[iii]. MRO logistics companies have invested in both VR and AR, leading to improved service to customers while making processes more efficient and boosting performance.
For example, the Swiss MRO logistics provider Kuehne+Nagel has implemented AR in its operations in many elements across the company’s logistics processes, deploying a concept called “robotic process automation” and using AR in its MRO logistics operations and business units to automate processes.
Equinix customer FIEGE Group is another digital leader implementing AR and VR strategies as part of a comprehensive digital transformation initiative. The global logistics company’s AR/VR strategy is an essential element of its next-generation digital infrastructure architecture, which also includes automating warehouse operations via AR/VR goggles for real-time inventory fulfillment and management, drone-assisted stocktaking, robots for moving inventory, and IoT, social analytics and digital twin implementations. The company leverages a “pick-by-vision” AR solution by Picavi (illustrated in the following photograph) that enables FIEGE employees to use smart glasses to order-pick inventory—saving valuable time in order fulfillment and inventory management.
Source: FIEGE Group
Amazon brings AR to hair services and online shopping
With in-store visits heavily limited during lockdowns, AR adoption for shopping has more than doubled in the past year, according to market research firm eMarketer. Just 5% of US adults said they had used AR or VR while shopping in a December 2019 eMarketer/Bizrate Insights survey[iv]. By February 2021, 11% said they had done so, and another 34% said that they were at least somewhat interested in trying it[v].
In April, Amazon announced the opening of a hair salon in London as a way to “showcase new products and technology.[vi]” The salon will use AR to show customers how their hair could look after using various products, which customers can then purchase via QR code. Other Amazon experimental AR initiatives include a launch of an AR tool for furniture shopping[vii] in August 2020 and a co-marketing deal with L’Oréal as a part of its ModiFace lipstick try-on feature AR application that was introduced for its Maybelline brand in 2019[viii].
Digital infrastructure implications for rising AR and VR implementation
The emergence of AR and VR across an array of industries in widely diverse settings illustrates how our world is becoming increasingly data-dependent and interconnected. The cumulative effects of all that data-dense information transiting between users, servers, number-crunching computers and content providers leads to elevated demand for high-bandwidth, low-latency connections and instant access to VR/AR partner ecosystems.
As the world’s digital infrastructure company, Equinix provides the foundation for ensuring that these technologies can be seamlessly integrated into the everyday digital landscape.
Within our Platform Equinix® architecture, all the dominant cloud providers, major global networks and essential technology providers are co-resident within a single, coherent digital framework. Platform Equinix allows you to access all the partners you need to achieve your AR and VR deployment vision. Having said that, it’s likely that the technology and content providers you need are distributed among multiple clouds. That’s where our hybrid multicloud solution comes into play by allowing you to concurrently connect to all the right clouds and to access all the services and resources you need. It’s an environment that blends private and public cloud infrastructures and simplifies global resource connectivity.
The digital infrastructure services on Platform Equinix—such as Equinix Fabric™, Network Edge and Equinix Metal™—are designed for emergent virtual capabilities at the edge, such as AR and VR. They simplify and speed accessing and integrating technology innovations and the growing multiplicity of digital service provider and partner ecosystems via direct and secure private interconnection.
Learn more by reading about our Platform Equinix Vision Paper
You also may want to read:
- Future of Logistics – Redefining Asset Movement
- A Blueprint for DX Success: Start with Hybrid Infrastructure and Connected Ecosystems
[iii] Aviation Business News, “Technology in action: how virtual and augmented reality are boosting MRO and logistics.” December 16, 2020
[iv] eMarketer, “How Interested Are US Internet Users in Using AR and VR While Shopping?” chart. December 17, 2019.
[vii] TechCrunch, “Amazon rolls out a new AR shopping feature for viewing multiple items at once.” August 25, 2020.
[viii] Marketing Dive, “Amazon rolls out AR lipstick try-ons via L’Oréal’s ModiFace.” June 5, 2019.