Immersive tech, like virtual reality, has an image problem.

Virtual reality has not taken the world by storm. Augmented reality and other immersive tech, are not mainstream preoccupations either. In the professional world of immersive tech evangelists, such an opinion is tantamount to heresy. Unfortunately, it’s true. Average consumers see immersive tech like VR as a gimmick, a plaything. The headset is perceived as merely a McGuffin for Hollywood films like Ready Player One and Tron: Legacy.

In the real world, AR is for catching Pikachu, and VR is for slicing through flying neon crates while listening to palpitating pop anthems.

Tech professionals have known for a while that there is a feeling of inevitability surrounding immersive tech. It simply will ­change our lives as we know them. The applications are too sophisticated and broad for this not to be true.

However, the power of immersive tech can’t be readily communicated if it doesn’t solve its image problem. Extended reality can’t take off if no one believes in it. When you drop the bombshell buzzword ‘Metaverse’ into the conversation, all anyone thinks of is Mark Zuckerberg’s goofy bobble-headed avatar.

So far, the Metaverse hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Why This Image Problem Matters

In order to drive adoption and value in any new technology, users need to understand how it works and what it can do. Once they understand this, they will be able to use it to fulfil the needs of businesses and consumers. For instance, smartphones gave everyone fast internet in their pocket. For immersive tech, this looks like creating practical applications for VR and AR, driven by the needs of consumers.

You may think that the fact that the technology is actually useful is most significant. At big Metaverse conferences like Augmented World Expo and  Immerse Global Summit, the vast applications for immersive tech are proudly on display.

Companies are using virtual reality to train medical professionals to do intricate and difficult surgeries. In some cases, VR has been used to perform remote surgeries.

Pilots are regularly trained in VR simulations nowadays. Designers are creating digital twins of real places. These are lifelike digital recreations that get updated in real-time as the real place changes. VR has also been consistently proven as a brilliant tool for occupational training.

“AR is for catching Pikachu, and VR is for slicing through flying neon crates while listening to palpitating pop anthems.”

Why We Should Be Optimistic About Immersive Tech

More companies than you’d expect are already doing incredible things with immersive technology. BMW employees are being trained to set-up factories using VR, so the process is safer and more cost-efficient. Medical facilities like LA Hospital and Máxima Medical Centre In the Netherlands, are using immersive technology to train their staff in “high-risk areas such as childbirth, surgery and cancer”.

Medical applications for immersive tech already exist, and further iterations have the potential to revolutionise the world of surgery as we know it.

AR has also made its way into the operating room. In 2020, neurosurgeons from John Hopkins University used augmented reality goggles to help accurately place 6 screws into the spine of a patient. AR is becoming a more common tool for teaching medical students about the complex, and often overlapping, systems of the body in an unobstructed way.

Other industries like aviation have robust VR applications for flight simulation and astronaut training. Airbus and Rolls-Royce train their aviation engineers in simulated environments, whereas Boeing has spearheaded VR training for astronauts. By this token, large engineering and manufacturing firms are already scaling their training needs using VR headsets and immersive simulations.

None of this incredible work is seen by the world in lieu of the drama surrounding Facebook’s recent cataclysmic downturn, and the abject failure that the launch of the Metaverse has been so far.

Is VR Hammer In Search Of A Nail?

At the moment, mainstream presumptions about VR aren’t flattering. It’s seen as the expensive and cumbersome pursuit of gamer nerds. When it is used for marketing or product development, AR or VR is seen as a gimmick. A flashy once-off for a trade show or shareholder’s banquet.

The truth is that companies across the globe are doing creative and innovative work using immersive tech that doesn’t get the limelight. The technology is enabling a host of novel applications.

VR is becoming sophisticated enough to build lifelike 3D avatars of real people. With all of this investment and excitement from inside the industry about immerse tech, it is surprising how little of it reaches the mainstream. It is fair to assume that the VR marketing guy is asleep at the wheel.

At the recent ‘Immerse Global Summit’ event in Madeira, speakers like Monica Arés and Amy Peck spoke about what is already possible using VR and AR, as well as predictions about the future of the Metaverse and immersive technology.

So How Should We Think About This Technology?

Much like the smartphone, immersive tech will become seamlessly integrated into our lives. The Metaverse is unlikely to be a ‘place that you visit’. Rather, it should be thought of a collection of technologies that creates of digital layer of information overlayed on top of the real world.

Mixed reality devices are becoming simpler and slicker. Within the next decade, they will be indistinguishable from ordinary glasses. We will be chatting to gran in VR, while checking the rating of the coffee shop across the road in AR.

“We will be chatting to gran in VR, while checking the rating of the coffee shop across the road in AR.”

The true power of immersive tech has yet to be seen by ordinary people. It’s high-time that the industry focuses a little less of internal evangelism, and a little more on sharing their creations with the plebeian riff-raff.

Immersive technology has the power to engage and delight your users.