Immersive Technologies and their contribution towards smart city development
Category: #blogs  By Hrishikesh Kadam  Date: 2019-09-05
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Immersive Technologies and their contribution towards smart city development

Immersive technologies or extended reality (XR) is any technology that extends, emulates and recreates the reality we experience by merging the virtual and physical worlds and providing a fully immersive experience through digital simulation. These technologies are currently taking the world by storm. XR can be implemented on several different levels based on human participation:

  • Augmented Reality (AR): In AR, digital imagery is overlaid on the real world. The technology is slightly less intense compared to VR and the scope for interaction is marginal. For instance, Snapchat filters allow users to overlay images onto their faces. Another excellent example is Pokémon Go, where users walk around with their devices to find and capture virtually existent Pokémon that are overlaid on their view.
     
  • Virtual Reality (VR): At the opposite end of the immersion spectrum is VR, where the real world is shut out using a head-mounted display (HMD) that delivers a 360-degree view of a virtual environment, apparently fooling the brain into believing they are, for instance, swimming under the ocean or walking on the moon.
     
  • Mixed Reality (MR): A combination of VR and AR, mixed reality enables users to use voice commands, or even hand and eye gestures to interact with the digital world by layering it over the actual environment. While the technology marks a giant leap in immersive tech, it is yet to go mainstream.

How will immersive technologies help shape smart cities?

While trending technologies such as big data, cloud, AI and IoT play a massive role in making smart cities a reality, AR and VR can significantly enhance residents’ self-reliance and decision-making. XR have unique and compelling applications in smart cities, like the ones described below:

AR in smart cities:

With the advent of high-speed network connectivity, augmented reality technology has evolved enough to transform cities into smart, digital and connected ecosystems. The technology will impact cities in the following ways:

  • Navigation: Navigation apps are one of the most commonly used tools by commuters in urban cities. Rather than providing users with a complicated map for navigation, AR can make use of the phone camera to get the user’s location or related information and augment navigational content on the phone display, thereby simplifying navigation. The much anticipated AR navigation in Google Maps is a prime example of the technology.
     
  • Medical services: Along with upgrading the standard of living, smart societies will also focus on enhancing residents’ health and mental well-being. While technology has always positively impacted the healthcare sector, AR’s potential in the sector is absolutely fresh and innovative. The technology can provide patients better insights about their medical conditions, helping patients and the medical staff to be on the same page.
     
  • Disaster response: When a disaster strikes, rescue units should have seamless communication with others to receive and convey detailed information about current situations. These officials require prompt decision-making abilities as well as proper tools and support to carry out relief and safety operations. AR tools can provide proper support and best assistance in these situations. 

VR in smart cities

Virtual reality, a technology that immerses users into a virtual environment by displaying an illusionary version of reality, has the following potential applications in smart cities:

  • Urban planning: Smart cities focus on optimized use of space, limiting carbon emissions and making transportation easier by incorporating cameras, sensors and actuators while designing infrastructures. City planners can use VR to effectively assess whether the designed model fits the existing infrastructural space and constraints.
     
  • Education: Use of VR will provide an innovative way to make learning easy and more understandable, while enhancing knowledge retention for students and fostering their career. A lecturer in Netherlands has even been researching the use of VR glasses to tackle the shortage of teachers in the country.
     
  • Police training: VR can realistically immerse the police officers into a virtual training designed to provide real-life locations and threat situations. This will actually train police officers to face any kind of foreseeable emergency and learn to deal with dangerous situations.

With the availability of consistent internet connectivity and affordable hardware, immersive technologies have immense potential to revolutionize the lifestyle of people and deliver engaging experiences to smart city residents.

Wearable XR could be the next big thing after smartphones

The very thought of wearing a computer seems pretty bizarre, but the technology is already here. The most recent news comes from Snapchat parent company Snap Inc. The brand had recently rolled out Spectacles 3, a third generation of its AR sunglasses with two HD cameras that allow adding 3D effects to videos. The new version also allows users to upload pictures and videos it captures to Snapchat.

Such innovations demonstrate that blending of immersive tech and wearable computers could gradually ease smartphone usage for some social tasks. However, majority of XR devices still require typing, tapping or swiping to operate. Even most consumer VR HMDs need a smartphone to operate them. These emerging products are constantly evolving and exemplify a considerable shift from the technology people use to technology people wear.

While defense and medical applications are currently driving these developments, it won’t be long before everyone gets their hands on wearable AR, which represent the next level of access and knowledge. Immersive technology will further evolve to become more human-centric, a way to interact with one another.

Some other promising applications of immersive tech

  • Training: Immersive technologies can provide hyper-realistic training tools that can help soldiers, pilots, astronauts, healthcare professionals, and more learn how to respond to challenging situations without actually putting their lives or anyone else’s at risk.
     
  • Marketing: XR will unlock fresh new possibilities for marketing professionals to engage and interact with potential consumers and clients. The technology will also transform online shopping into an immersive experience for customers.
     
  • Retail: Extended reality will provide customers the ability to try a product virtually before they purchase it. Renowned watch maker Rolex has an AR application that enables customers to try on watches on their wrists, and furniture brand IKEA gives customers the ability to place furniture into their homes merely using their smartphone.
     
  • Gaming: The gaming industry has been one of the first adopters of immersive technology. Launch of PlayStation VR and the growing popularity of VR arcades in the coming years will surely transform the world of video games. Leading game developer Ubisoft has launched five VR gaming titles till date and is in the works to create a new product based on one of major IPs.
     
  • Art: Many museums are using extended reality to allow visitors to interact with pieces and feel a connection with the artist. Visitors and art enthusiasts can now even place themselves into the landscape of the painting. Those who are unable to travel to popular museums can now use XR applications to view rare works of art.

Owing to numerous benefits and a broad application scope, it is quite clear that immersive technology is here to stay and is sliding into the stage alongside industrial revolution 4.0. The technology is positively influencing industries that have not experienced a major technological shift in a long time.

Major challenges XR developers need to overcome

Although immersive technologies are slowly making their way into people’s day-to-day lives, there are still certain key challenges that need to be tackled. Firstly, XR devices collect and process a large amount of personal and very detailed data about users’ activities, and even their emotions at any given time, which needs to be protected.

Moreover, many business organizations are unable to cope with high development and implementation costs associated with these technologies. With each passing day, we are advancing one step closer to solving these problems and we are bound to witness more and more mainstream applications of immersive technologies in the near future.

Analysts and researchers have estimated that close to 70% of small to midsize businesses will be experimenting with extended reality by 2022, with almost 40% presently testing and piloting AR and VR use cases.

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About Author

Hrishikesh Kadam    

Hrishikesh Kadam

A graduate in electronics and telecommunication engineering, Hrishikesh Kadam has always found writing fascinating. Driven by a never-ending passion for content creation combined with a bit of experience in writing personal blogs, Hrishikesh blends his technical knowl...

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