The world famous futurist, Ray Kurzweil, wrote back in 2001 that “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century – it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).” This is indeed what we are witnessing as technology now evolves exponentially rather than linearly. The World Economic Forum published a compelling article about this phenomenon last year entitled “The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond.” It characterizes the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a “fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are two of the leading, emerging technologies that are now driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0).
The World Economic Forum identifies the following three main reasons why this revolution is happening: velocity, scope, and systems impact.
Velocity refers to the frequency of technological breakthroughs. A major driving force behind these breakthroughs is Moore’s Law, which states that computer processing speeds will double every 18 months. While this rate has slowed a bit in recent years, it is still driving the pace of digital evolution and fueling a massive increase in the amount of data. The volume of data worldwide grew to 462 exabytes in 2012 and is expecting to reach 15,000 exabytes by 2020.
Faster processing and increasing digitalization is already driving advancements in 3D rendering software that enables developers to create VR and AR content using photorealistic lighting and colors. Gone are the days where the graphics look like Ms. Pac-Man and in are the days where off the shelf technologies will power truly amazing VR and AR experiences for use cases that go far beyond gaming.
Breakthroughs are not only becoming more and more frequent, but there are disrupting nearly every industry. Industry 4.0 is being fueled by substantial investments where industrial automation alone is forecasted to increase from €160 billion in 2013 to approximately €195 billion by 2018.
With the sheer amount of data exploding, industries must be able to effectively analyze to generate relevant intelligence. VR and AR can be used to facilitate interactive visualization and collaboration in live environments. This is commonly referred to as “serious games” as they can offer solutions to problems without disrupting actual production processes.
A great example of “systems impact” is how Airbus has useds VR and AR “in every phase, and every area, of the aircraft's development, from the cockpit to the engine and wings, virtual reality really comes into its own for cabin design.” It turns out that the A380 was the first aircraft ever to be totally designed in 3D, all the way from the initial request of the customer to the finalization of the aircraft.
Back in the old days, cabin design ideas would be created using a 2D sketching device and bound together in a big, fat catalog. Customers would then have to laboriously flip through the catalog page by page to identify what they wanted. Using VR and 3D, customers can actively collaborate with Airbus so that the decision-making process is highly efficient. Due to advances in technology, Airbus can now offer an AR experience to its customers that renders photorealistic imagery of surfaces and textures.
INDUSTRY 4.0 AND VR/AR FUSION
The velocity, scope, and system impact of Industry 4.0 are the principal reasons behind Kurzweil’s 2001 prophecy. The “Factories of the Future” are already being built and VR and AR are being used to develop and refine designs at early stages of the production process. This means rapid iterations can occur between cross-functional teams to drive the decision-making process and ensure buy-in during the development process. This collaborative approach extends itself to not only manufacturing, but other key industries such as healthcare, travel, space exploration, and education.
While VR and AR receives a lot of press through big names like Facebook, Google, and Apple, these technologies are largely misunderstood. They are commonly associated with personal entertainment and not viewed as ones that offer a wide range of applications that empower engineering practices and scientific processes. VR can simulate sensations such as vision, sound, touch, smell, and even taste. AR can transform your view of the world into an interactive experience fueled by real-time data.
Industry 4.0 is well underway and smart businesses and investors will not wait for the “Aha” moment to recognize its enormous potential. The velocity of change that is happening right now is unparalleled in human history. Just in the past ten years, we have seen the rise of game changing technologies such as wireless Internet, smartphones, and the rise of social media. Going forward, the fusion of VR and AR into Industry 4.0 will enable the visualization of massive amounts of data to drive collaboration and innovation. While it is true that gaming will continue to drive the evolution of VR and AR, it will be the wide adoption of these technologies by industries that drive “serious gaming.” Change is happening faster than we can notice and the businesses of tomorrow are investing today.