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AR & VR World 2018: Future gains of immersive tech justify early hype

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AR & VR World 2018: Future gains of immersive tech justify early hype

The early hype of virtual reality and augmented reality may have faded but speakers at this year's AR & VR World event in London believe the two technologies will play a long-term role in transforming a range of industries.

Speaking during a June 13 panel at the annual conference for the reality tech community, experts from the telecom, automotive, industrial and manufacturing sectors agreed that the future pay-off of immersive tech could be substantial as VR and AR tools become easier to navigate.

SNL ImageLeft to right: James Watson, Richard Rabbitz, Michael Rosam, Paul Davies and Jawad Arshad
Source: S&P Global Market Intelligence

"Clearly there's a lot of hype but we also see that there is a lot of [promise] and a lot of value being generated from these technologies," said Michael Rosam, head of business innovation of Motorsports at McLaren Applied Technologies.

"I think we're at an inflection point now where the next couple of years are going to see it grow very quickly," he told the crowd.

Yet, cynicism around the emerging technology has prevailed due to a number of shortcomings.

Half a decade after Facebook Inc.'s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus in 2014 which for many represented the first major M&A push in VR headset sales have fallen short of earlier projections and monetization of VR platforms has been slow to materialize.

Adding to that, the steep price points associated with high-end VR headsets, coupled with the technical hurdles consumers must overcome to run VR software, have added to the criticism.

And with an acute lack of profitable stand-alone businesses in AR and VR, as well as a shortage of premium content, many believe the technology is still years away from mass-market adoption.

Nevertheless, the hype is justified, according to the panelists, as they said that the next few years could be a watershed moment for immersive tools, particularly in enterprise.

"I have been around long enough to see a few [technology] cycles go through. Since [the Oculus acquisition], this industry has continued to explode," said Richard Rabbitz, principal member of engineering staff at Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems.

CCS Insight's latest consumer report appears to support his claim. Its market forecast estimates that the global market for VR and augmented reality headsets will grow by 50% each year for the next five years, with 121 million units generating $9.9 billion in sales by 2022.

Aside from boosting manufacturing efforts and a swathe of potential uses in healthcare, AR and VR have also had a considerable impact on the content and entertainment space, where they are used to create more immersive experiences for consumers.

"I see a lot of opportunity for using [AR & VR] to augment and improve the visual experience across linear and OTT applications," Rosam said.

In developing "amazing experiences for fans," the sports industry is able to counteract the continued drop-off in consumption by younger audiences, which plagues the entire entertainment ecosystem, he added.

With demand for immersive experiences fueling changes in the way sports content is produced, created and distributed, VR in sports is expected to see continued momentum during this year's soccer World Cup, which will be streamed live in VR through the 21st Century Fox Inc.-owned FOX Sports VR app.

These developments follow last year's first-ever 360-degree VR broadcast of the UEFA Champions League soccer final, which was aired by BT Group's BT Sport, Sweden's Modern Times Group, as well as FOX Sports. Sky PLC's German arm also delivered the footage in VR in collaboration with Sony Corp.'s Playstation VR.

Meanwhile, from a telecoms perspective, operators equally see the reality technologies as a "promising" opportunity to help deliver next-generation digital experiences for consumers, according to Jawad Arshad, digital strategy consultant at Norwegian telecom operator Telenor ASA.

"We are enabling the AR and VR ecosystem to utilize our capabilities and consumer engagement [in order] to build that next-generation experience," he told delegates, adding that the transition from 4G to 5G would help lower the barriers to entry in this market.

That said, a fundamental challenge remains: the practical implementation of reality tech.

"The issue that we have is that there needs to be more understanding of how [these tools] can be applied in real life, as opposed to just making it work in a one-off demo to wow everybody," according to Paul Davies, associate technical fellow at Boeing Research and Technology.

The challenge will be in getting AR and VR from that siloed environment into enterprise, he concluded.

Additional AR & VR World 2018 coverage

Augmented, mixed reality gain momentum in the enterprise