Demand for Realities Technology
Over the past couple of weeks, I've spent some time at the VR Bar in my neighborhood. I was pretty fascinated when I saw their logo on the street sign outside and it was a first for me to walk into an empty, white storefront that's open for business. Its a really fun time in there. My first visit was my only one putting the headset on though as I was more interested in seeing how all the other people that came in experienced virtual reality in this setting and how they reacted. Most were curious and excited when they walked in and awestruck when they left. Almost all were VR first-timers. Maybe that's not surprising for now but, from an admittedly tiny sample set, it was evidence of the mass audience stance on virtual entertainment. They're ready for it but they aren't yet daily patrons of the VR Bar.
Picking through why this is the tepid state of mass consumer behavior regarding virtual and augmented reality has been done a bunch already. I thought it would be more interesting to try to identify sectors displaying the potential for immediate adoption and enduring engagement with reality technologies. I did this by calling or talking to people in eight different industries that it seemed to me would benefit from ar/vr. Doing my best not to ask leading questions, I thought these insiders would either confirm or deny that potential in describing their industry's status quo. From my conversations, two industries in particular have functional, physical world limitations begging for reality tech improvements: education - specifically history and natural sciences - and the arts and entertainment sub-sector of museums, galleries and historical sites. Here are a few soundbites from what they told me:
"History is boring! And I mean that with affection. It is a subject that literally can't jump off the textbook page. So my students are left to come up with their own mental visualizations of the places, things, and people we study with very little ability to have a direct or palpable experience with any of them."
- My High School U.S. History Teacher
"Regarding both initial training and advanced research, I'd say most life sciences, especially the biologies are at the mercy of the microscope and the limitations of human small motor skills. The technology and tools we have as scientists today are outstanding and profound, but its hard to teach or take an entire course with one eye closed squinting into a microscope."
- Biology Professor, City College of New York
"In the past three years or so, we've seen a nice uptick in attendance by shifting the museum-going experience to a digital-enhanced one that driven through smart devices, phones, tablets, headphones. The next wave as I see it would be a more constant blending of the real works of art and artifacts that we display with the virtual manifestations of the worlds, peoples, and ideas those pieces represent."
- Assessment Analyst, American Alliance of Museums
I don't believe that realities technology requires all-or-nothing levels of consumer adoption to translate into a sustainable, growing industry. The date in the future when there's headset in every home (or room) will be a tremendous marker of the technology's saturation, but that future does not preclude virtual and augmented reality products from bringing unprecedented value to existing sectors. The quotes above represent three such areas for which the core tenants of why they exist at all would be made stronger and more applicable right now with realities technology. There are undoubtedly many more examples of obvious application or stated sector demand.
Technology is transformative. Novel technologies can take us from our known present into a reimagined, remarkable future. VR and AR actually transport us to parts unknown, creating fully realized, virtual realms for us to explore unlike any concrete reality that most of us have ever experienced. This is fascinating and amazing. Though such profound technology should not be marked as a failure or cast off as ahead of its time up until the day when it has shown every one of us these expansive, new worlds. Paradigm-shifting technologies break down existing barriers to the knowledge, people, and phenomena of the present world along the way to that remarkable future they create.