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Virtual reality and artificial intelligence: The now and the future

12th June 2018

Categories: Latest News

Mark Bridgeman

Chief Operating Officer and UK Managing Director, EON Reality

Acronyms rule the world. VR, AR, SLAM, MR, XR, AVR, AI, ML, PL, PA: no business is complete without its tools and toys. (Acronyms are explained at the end of this article). These letters are both the tools and toys responsible for the last five or so years of an onslaught of rapid change across computing, interaction and knowledge transfer as we know it.

We can take two key examples of this digital transformation in tandem: Virtual Reality (VR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Commentators usually evoke the so-called “death of the mobile”, or the “death of the desktop” when making slightly mystified projections about these letters and acronyms. While there are nuggets of truth in the hype, the idea of a mobile is simply changing into something wearable.

The way in which we interact with digital information daily is evolving, and it’s galloping at a faster pace than many have ever imagined.

But, there are still huge leaps in research to be achieved globally. Naturally this is something we’re achieving in Manchester already at EON Reality, and our research and development very much competes in a global race for how VR + AI are already transforming the way many industries and educational institutions operate.

To understand these ideas, we need to ask two questions. Firstly, how are Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence working together right now? And secondly, what has EON Reality in Manchester learned so far?

VR + AI: Serious Games, Serious Industry Training

The operations which take on VR with AI are typically in advanced scenario training, procedure training, and health, safety, security and virtual environment simulation training. VR’s effectively relies on the depth of its immersion. That means photorealistic virtual worlds that ‘feel real’, seamless haptic feedback, and data which can track and predict workforce behaviours on an individual basis.

What we’re finding at EON Reality is that manufacturing, aerospace, healthcare, energy, security and defence industries are all utilising virtual reality for “serious games”.

We call it Virtual Training - because real learning and muscle memory takes place in these environments. In keeping with this, we’ve actually invented a software product in Manchester called Virtual Trainer. The use of immersive platforms marks a sea change from linear, 2D video learning and slide presentations typified in workplace learning. By recreating physical spaces as a digital twin, VR and AR provide companies with cost-effective options where training has a direct impact on operations. For businesses across the Fortune 500, we are finding that astronomical travel costs and carbon footprint associated with comprehensive onboarding and compliance training are being reduced dramatically.

Where AI comes into play, is the use of the data garnered from people training in virtual worlds, interacting with real objects and automated lesson plans.

Sure, there are lingering beliefs that you can’t replace the real world. And this is true. But with a HTC Vive, an Oculus Rift or a StarVR display plus a laptop and accurate tracking data then the oil field, or the demand-centre factory line comes to the student rather than the other way around. We are finding that virtual training is generating the same, and usually better learning outcomes than 2D training and the occasional site visit. We’re proud to have the opportunity with EON Reality to be shaping a sustainable, digital future from Manchester.

VR + AI = click and bricks marketing

VR has been the ‘Nice-To-Have’ in marketing for long time, and there’s been some confusion in this world around what is VR, and what is just a set of 360 videos. Please note, they are not the same! True Virtual Reality (True VR) determines immersion beyond the ‘watcher’, and demands the attention and interaction of the actor, or the person experiencing the environment. This is defined by user input and decision making, so for example using handheld controllers which deliver haptic feedback based on user actions; or armbands, biosensors, steering wheels, gloves, and even ‘second skin’ suits which to the same. We are starting to learn more about VR, AI and other sensory input, such talking, listening and even olfactory cues.

Point of sale campaigns and brand activation are becoming more prominent in the customer experience (CX) journey for many sectors. With more touchpoints in this journey than ever before, it makes complete sense to use immersive, smart experiences as a natural part of the CX journey.

In keeping with this, VR is moving towards generative environments which a type of AI can determine itself. At EON Reality, we see this as full body, real-time avatars which we have already developed. If immersive experiences can be made individual, then can immersive worlds themselves do the same? With the right data, we think it will. True VR environments are as challenging, interactive and as convincing as the real-world.

VR + AI = Healthcare Futurism

Just to give a small example of this in one key global industry sector: AI is a leading driver of growth in healthcare and medicine.

Frost & Sullivan, a major U.S. analyst firm, predicts that AI will generate £5B in healthcare by 2021, and the numbers from peer researchers largely concur. 

And why are these numbers so big? It is due to the potential for patient information. For a start, healthcare information can be better categorised, securely stored and utilised to generate appointments, prescriptions and recommend intelligent hospital scheduling. This has the potential to save millions for healthcare providers everywhere.

As for the expertise of AI: personalised, always learning and always connected information is driving the kind of research which is opening doors for personalised, precision diagnostics and personalised, precision medicine.

We know there’s no such thing as a silver bullet, and this is exactly what Artificial Intelligence is primed for: evolving, always learning, clever systems which take on data lakes of information to facilitate beneficial, life-changing solutions.

This is a basic example, but imagine this. Say you want to be at optimum health for a marathon next year. So, you consult your personal AI healthcare assistant in your Google Glass or from your smart watch (as examples), and your healthcare AI takes on the form of an autonomous assistant available in VR or AR which is plugged into your healthcare records. The AI collates a mass of data – which can be from biosensors, your medical history, predictive analytics and habits from your daily life. The AI recommends everything, from a series of nutrition serums, to personal trainers. Your AI assistant speaks to you across lots of interfaces, such as devices which engage you in VR and AR. Your AI assistant sits on your virtual desktop and works busily in the background, organising your prescriptions, nutrition and 3D prints everything close to home. Your AI Assistant then assigns a human personal trainer to suit your personality, and work with its ongoing data to help you get the best results.

This is close to where we already are, isn’t it? Yet this is the kind of very-near reality we are starting to already enjoy.

But before we reach the heady heights – there’s work to be done.

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