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Immersive Technology – Staying Competitive

There is increasing awareness and use of immersive technology in the industrial sectors as more companies see Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) as significant tools in the workplace.

At present, it is VR and AR that are the most prominent technologies, but even now they could still be considered ‘fledgling’ in the industrial sectors, however, “moving towards VR and AR is simply the next natural step in staying competitive,” claims Jeremy Dalton, VR/AR Lead at PwC UK in his article ‘The Rise and Rise of Immersive Technologies’.1

What are exactly are these technologies:

  • Virtual reality: computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as headsets and motion-control interfaces – Oxford Living Dictionary
  • Augmented reality: a type of interactive, reality-based display environment that takes the capabilities of a computer-generated display, sound, text and effects to enhance the user’s real-world experience – Techopedia
  • Mixed reality: merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualisations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time – Foundry

While these technologies have been predominantly used in the big-budget entertainment, games and media industries, the potential of AR and VR is now been recognised by the likes of aerospace, automotive, construction, utilities and defence sectors, which are all exploring the opportunities and benefits.

In a more concerted bid to develop and exploit these opportunities, Immerse UK was established in 2016 as it was obvious that the sector needed a more robust and organised centrum.

In May this year, Immerse UK, via Innovate UK, produced its first report into the industry2, which was followed two months later by the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) report on Immersive Technology in Manufacturing3.

Immerse UK’s report established that there is a healthy and burgeoning Immersive Technology industry, as it identified there are 1,000 immersive-specialist companies in the UK employing around 4,500 people, generating £660 million in sales.

As the Immersive Technology industry grows, so is the uptake, with the HVMC’s report identifying a significant increase over the past three years.

HVMC surveyed individuals across various manufacturing sectors and found that 31% had started using Immersive Technology in the past year, with 53% using it for between one and three years. This, the report concluded, was predominantly due to the availability of lower cost barrier to VR equipment such as Oculus headsets, HTC Vive and Microsoft Hololens.

The report also delved into how these technologies were being used with the top three areas being: design (23%), stakeholder engagement (19%) and training (19%). Manufacture and assembly were both 13%.

But it is established there are wider uses for these, particularly based on the industrial sectors with the potential of ‘right first time’, for example, within the construction industry for large scale projects.

HVMC identified that immersive technologies have the power to deliver substantial gains including:

  • design and prototyping
  • reducing costs and environmentally damaging waste
  • providing more effective education and training
  • facilitating remote maintenance and repair
  • making manufacturing processes more efficient.

One respondent back this up as they identified that the technology had saved their business “£180,000 by not having to build real-life prototypes”.

But both reports did identify that there are barriers to the increased take up of the technology, particularly for smaller businesses. Concerns included:

  • Accessibility and applicability of the technology
  • Content creation – how it would be created, its reliability and accuracy
  • Standards, security, and IPR ownership
  • Justifying costs for immersive technologies versus the benefits

Despite these barriers, commonplace for emerging industries, there is optimism in the benefits that immersive technology can deliver to the UK and explains why there is £33m of investment from the UK Government to further cement the UK’s role as a world leader in AR, VR and MR.

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