10 mixed reality trends to expect in 2020

Advancements in AR and VR have set the stage for mixed reality. Here's what to expect, according to industry experts.

The purpose of mixed reality (XR), or the convergence of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), is to create an immersive experience for individuals, connecting the interactive and physical worlds. 

Most people associate mixed reality with VR headsets such as the Oculus Quest, Oculus Go, Sony PlayStation VR, HP Reverb, Samsung Gear VR, and Valve Index. Through these headsets, which are primarily used for gaming, users are placed in a different environment via headset and can interact with that environment using provided hand controls. 

SEE: Augmented reality for business: Cheat sheet (free PDF)  (TechRepublic)

Mixed reality is in its early stages, leaving primary use cases to historically be reserved for gaming. However, a shift began in 2019: Nearly 90% of businesses said they were exploring, piloting or deploying mixed reality, according to Harvard Business Review Analytic Services's Mixed Reality: A New Dimension of Work survey. 

The majority (69%) of businesses in that same survey said mixed reality was crucial to achieving their organization's strategic goals. These business use cases began in 2019, but the year 2020 might actually see them come to fruition. 

To prepare for mixed reality in 2020, here are some of the biggest predictions from industry experts. 

Top 10 mixed reality predictions 

1. Mixed reality at scale 

"Prior to 2020, there were pilot experiments in AR and VR. Now we're seeing the preparation for mass deployments within companies, so shifting from testing to scale," said Brian Lozes, CEO and founder of Kinemagic, an AR and VR software provider. 

"As those deployments begin, look for digital twins to assess projects and facilities from the command center of an operator's desk, rather than in-office only. VR availability will become widespread and the cost will drop as adoption skyrockets," Lozes said. "Applications for VR include a range of productivity-enhancing, cost-saving, and safety-oriented activities, such as training and multi-user collaboration."

2. More use cases in more industries

"In 2020, you'll see businesses and enterprises adopting AR/VR/MR that wouldn't normally be able to afford it, outside of the military and medical industries that have bigger budgets for visualizations," said Tim Turcich, senior software engineer at Bohemia Interactive Simulations.

"2020 looks like a steady adoption towards training applications for things like basic employment," Turcich said. "You already see this happening for companies like Walmart." 

3. Wearables will go up a notch

"In the next few years, we will see the size of XR wearables reduce to that of a pair of eyeglasses," said Kelly Malone, chief revenue officer, Taqtile, an AR, VR, and MR software provider. "Not only will the size and weight decrease, but the processing capability and power of the device will increase, all while the price becomes more affordable.

"As technology advances, we can also expect AI (artificial intelligence) to play a bigger role through the use of passive cameras on headsets themselves to constantly be capturing motion to begin inferring the user's next steps," Malone continued. "This will prove especially beneficial in industries that utilize XR solutions to train employees by tracking the movement of machines and people, taking that data and analyzing how to best optimize efficiencies."

4. Collaboration across any distance

"We're seeing strong interest in immersive learning capabilities that allow employees to collaborate and learn regardless of distance, without real-world risks," said Raffaella Camera, global head of innovation and market strategy at Accenture XR. "Industries with potentially dangerous working environments, such as energy, manufacturing or construction are exploring these capabilities, and we expect this to continue.

5. Optimized marketing for in-person retail 

"Mixed reality is in demand as consumers begin to merge and overlap offline to online experiences," said Bridget Westerholz, managing rirector at FUSE marketing group. "There is an increasing demand for experiences and industries like retail are no longer going to be focused on just selling products, but delivering an experience.

"Marketers see the need for better customer experiences and therefore are increasing their budgets to improve their personalization efforts. Mixed reality is part of the outcome and allows the consumer experience to be elevated."

6. Enhanced online shopping 

"With the growth and adoption in mobile, web, and immersive platforms, augmented reality, virtual reality, and 3D XR are poised to grow in 2020 as a new means for shopping online," said Neil Trevett, president of The Khronos Group, a group of hardware and software companies advancing AR/VR standards.

"In the new decade, product manufacturers, retailers, marketing, and advertising platforms will be able to use XR to show virtual products to end-users to help them better understand a product online prior to purchasing and to help build brand loyalty after purchase," Trevett said,

"With XR, consumers will be able to view and interact with products in virtual showrooms or placed virtually in their own homes—changing the very nature of online shopping," Trevett added. 

SEE: Mixed reality in business report: Despite potential uses, enterprise implementation lags (TechRepublic Premium)

7. Public service and defense applications

"One vertical we'll see mixed reality have an impact on is public service and defense. For example, fire-fighters will use active display and XR technology to increase situational awareness in life-threatening scenarios," said Ben Lamm, CEO of Hypergiant Industries, an AIproducts and services company.

"The same can be possible for military training and deployment," Lamm said. "The next decade will equip people in tactical situations with the ability to complete tasks and missions in ways that are smarter, more efficient and safer than ever before."

8. Construction and real estate use cases   

"Wider use of lower-cost reality capture devices will push forward Mixed Reality implementations this year," said Jesse Casman, co-organizer of developers site theta360.guide

"In particular, reality capture will make significant progress in the construction and real estate industries, with a focus on adding overlaid data to imagery, including using lower cost 360 degree cameras and adding depth measurements, point cloud data, AI and more," Casman said. "Zillow (real estate) and HoloBuilder (construction), for example, support 360 degree cameras for documenting, reporting, and communicating in new and interesting ways."

9. Interactive training and learning
"As the war for talent increases with increased job specialization, so too will the demand on employees' time. Traditional classroom training sessions are ineffective due to the drain on people-hours and company resources," said Michael Casale, chief science officer of Strivr, a company specializing in immersive learning. 

"Furthermore, they have been shown to be less than ideal in promoting learning retention of important concepts. To counter this, businesses will increasingly need to turn to technology platforms that deliver learning to learners where they are at, on their own time," Casale said.

"Technology such as virtual reality, augmented reality, telepresence and virtual interactivity have all been shown to boost retention, save money and provide a more engaging 'on-demand' experience," Casale said. "Expect to see increased investment in these technology platforms as XR experiences become more integrated in the workplace over the next decade."

10. Advancements in entertainment  

Just because mixed reality has been traditionally focused on gaming, doesn't mean it has to stop. 

"This year we will see a lot more focus on consumers—entertainment and games," said Alex Shrestha, developer for VR live streaming platform oQQur. "With adoption of 5G, cheaper devices and more people working in the gaming space, it will get easier to build, test and uncover new human behaviors." 

For more, check out Future of 5G: To mixed reality and beyond on TechRepublic.

Also see 

Brainstorming. Virtual Reality Glasses. Look.

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