Breaking boundaries with immersive experiences
We’re all accustomed to the routine ways in which we do things such as interact with each other, carry out physical tasks or travel to different places. But there may be times when we’re restricted in our ability to carry out these physical interactions, whether we are forced to, like many of us are now, or due to limitations as a result of cost, time or both. And increasingly, our interactions with the digital world are dominating our experiences.
These two worlds - physical and digital - are often quite separated (just ask someone who is streaming a video on their mobile device while you’re talking to them) and you can see the barriers that exist. We are social by nature and even when we’re in our digital world, we often choose to connect with each other through voice, video and messaging. These mediums provide a platform to share our thoughts and experiences and in business, they are proving to be an essential way (and right now, likely the only way) for employees to collaborate with each other and to engage with customers.
Mobile continues to play a huge role in how we communicate. From 2G to 4G, our capability has improved with every generation and now video is the pervasive form. Still, as good as today’s video chat and conferencing platforms are, there are richer and more immersive ways we can connect with each other, explore the world and visualize the vast array of information of the physical environment we live and work in. From 360-degree live streaming, to augmented and virtual reality, these technologies provide a higher level of engagement and give us new ways to discover, experience and work together - while reducing the need for these interactions to be in person or face-to-face.
With 360-degree live streaming, we go from merely watching a concert or sporting event at home on a device, to feeling as if we are there and sharing this experience with others. As social distancing was enforced, I missed out on the opportunity to see my favourite band with a group of my friends and would love to have had this option! And for industry, there are possibilities as well. For example, remote site walkthroughs for the real estate and construction industries, and surveillance monitoring of premises allows employees to view these locations and interact with the team on the ground without the need to physically be on location.
Increasing our knowledge
There are many ways in which augmented reality (AR) can be used. For example, in education, it can help to deepen learning by providing more engaging experiences of complex subjects and bring history to life by visualizing a view of the past on top of the world we see today. Imagine how this could support teachers, children and families to bring home-schooling efforts to another level especially in the challenging times we’re experiencing today. In the healthcare industry, the technology to display critical data during surgical procedures gives clinical staff the ability to view information hands-free without the need to look at separate displays.
In a consumer context, we can see how AR could enhance our shopping experiences by overlaying product information when we view merchandise or enhance our exploration of points of interest around a city by adding interesting facts and helpful hints. In business, AR can be used to provide real-time data when viewing complex machinery in a factory, helping operations personnel to maintain expensive equipment, see detailed information about potential problems and receive interactive guidance to fix issues without the need for experts on-site.
Virtual reality (VR) changes the way we experience entertainment, in particular with gaming - taking us from controlling the character to being the character. And with multi-player capabilities, we can still enjoy the camaraderie of others while being immersed in a virtual world. Social media can be extended beyond posting text and video, allowing people to hang-out in any type of virtual space together. How about a dance party in the club, or a meet up at a cafe? Many businesses are now using these virtual environments to help in the design of new products, allowing employees to work together to simulate how they might operate in a specific setting, helping to reduce costs and stream-line training to those whose job is in a more a hazardous working environment.
Bringing us together
Ultimately, whatever type of immersive experience we engage with, we must ensure that the network can provide the required bandwidth and latency to deliver this richer content and be able to do this at massive scale. 5G will make this a reality. Someday, we’ll look back and realize how the mobile networks and platforms we use today were just the start of connecting our physical and digital worlds and, in the not so distant future, we’ll be bridging them. Clearly this is not about the replacement of all travel and in-person events. But where previously we might have seen these experiences as merely fun or convenient, the changes happening throughout our world may accelerate them to the point of necessity. One thing I feel for sure, anything we can do that breaks the boundaries and removes the restrictions on how we interact can only help to unite us and drive a positive impact for all.
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