Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed:
Charting the New Reality
TJ McCue
The new 2017 Ford GT cannot help but attract attention with its elegant design and ultra-muscle car look. So much attention, that 6,506 people applied to become “ambassadors,” but only 500 will get the opportunity after spending $450,000 to get one.

Despite the price tag, part of this incredible vehicle design work took place inside the Ford Immersive Vehicle Environment (FIVE) Lab. Not long ago, I spent a day inside the lab, a virtual- reality environment where designers and engineers test different vehicle prototypes and an almost infinite variety of details on those vehicles. My virtual vehicle experience was with a Ford Mustang, however; the GT was probably confidential.

Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and now, the term “mixed reality” (MR) are tossed around as ways to solve real-world design and business challenges. Here are a few relevant Small Business examples of how the technology is being used—from marketing to product design to improving technician field work and safety. VR/AR/MR is more than just for video gamers now.

VR usually requires a more immersive experience; you put on the Oculus Rift or Microsoft HoloLens, and move about in a virtual space. There are limits to where and how you can engage a customer, obviously. There are many new VR/AR studios starting up to serve a customer experience need. Loook studio in Seattle and Marxent in Ohio and Florida are two that come to mind.
With AR and MR, specifically, you are not limited by the VR requirements of being in one place. AR/MR make your smartphone or tablet more usable, able to potentially interact with images and sensors (most often GPS sensors, allowing you to pull up additional information, augmenting your current experience with more data) that give you more information and data as you move about or do a specific task.
Many AR/MR applications are marketing-focused, and that serves a real need for small business owners. You can create an app that allows your customer to have a richer, more comprehensive experience with your products or services. Retailers are frequently creating apps and experiences for in-store customers. Wikitude, an independent AR platform, has a terrific AR portfolio to give you a range of ideas for how you might use AR in your work. This April 2016 piece in the Harvard Business Review, What Marketers Need to Understand About Augmented Reality by Ana Javornik, is an excellent reality check on whether AR might be right for your business.
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Beyond retail, companies with equipment and machines are actively looking to leverage the current Internet of Things trends where machines talk to machines. DAQRI, an enterprise augmented reality company, based in Los Angeles, is connecting their DAQRI Smart Helmet to those machines, virtually. AR will allow dozens of sensors to deliver synchronized data about an industrial environment to the user (via their helmet). This could serve as a training tool, as a technician’s help manual, or in any number of ways where real-time data can improve a worker’s knowledge or safety.

Remember, you do not need to be Ford Motor Corporation to make a VR/AR/MR lab of your own. Hardware and software is more accessible and affordable than ever, and you might even test the waters yourself. Perhaps you are using the new Lenovo Tango phone; if you are, let us know what you are doing in VR/AR/MR in the comments.
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