Immersing in XR
Immersive technology (XR) merges a wide range of tech from photography, video, VR and AR. Its devices and applications have many industries rethink work and learning in physical spaces. What’s more, COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated significantly the interest in immersive solutions. This was discussed during WET 13th WIEF Global Discourse on Immersive Technologies webinar on 26 May 2022. Below are some highlights from the online session.
Meet the Speakers
– Roc Chyarop Burapat, Chief Metaverse Officer, Nimit Nation, Thailand
– Terence Loo, CEO and Co-founder, Serl.io, Singapore
– Professor Dr Rahmita Wirza O.K. Rahmat, Department of Multimedia, Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology, University Putra Malaysia
– Raymond Siva, Senior Vice President Digital Investment, Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation, Malaysia
Defining Immersive Technology (XR)
Extracting from various sources online, in summary, immersive or extended reality (XR) is defined as the unification of virtual content with physical environment. This results in a blended reality. An immersive experience is where virtual elements within a physical environment become one. Thus, users are not conscious of the virtual and the physical realities, treating both as one immersive reality. Technologies of XR include among others, VR, AR, mixed reality, holography, telepresence and FPV (first-person view).
The Usefulness of XR
Terence Loo: The key word is digital. The ubiquity of our interactions with digital media across the board, is starting to blur the lines between what is our digital interfaces with digital information and content. It goes beyond visual and we are able to engage deeper into the digital world, if you will. It gives us a different way of experiencing it and to extract value from it. Or even to drive efficiency in the real world, at least from our standpoint – the enterprises and organisations. The focus is the experiential engagements that can be driven from a closer and more intimate engagement with the digital environment, digital content, media, data and more, as well as open up new opportunities. All of which will affect bottom lines.
Roc Chyarop Burapat: These technologies are so important because they allow engagement. For example, there is synergy between street artists and a local community through interaction within the physical and virtual worlds. Through these technologies, we will adapt to a new audience.
Dr Rahmita Wirza Rahmat: For a social interaction or point of view, the best people to answer that would be the younger generations. They are into it, already focusing on XR. Through games, for instance, they experience social life. We do not lose that human touch, even though we are in an immersive world.
Terence: This technology goes far beyond just entertainment and hopefully, will make human lives better instead of dystopic. A change of mindset is needed to deal with the digital world today since it is a big part of reality. You will be hard-pressed to function meaningfully without dealing with anything digital. Balance is everything and how it influences assessment in the real world because with every technology and innovation, it is a double-edged sword. Still, a digital immersive world can help people envision things that can be created and changed for better results.
Roc: I saw my seven-year-old daughter interact with her friends on a platform called RoadBlock. It was beautiful the way she learned things like history. That gave me plenty of inspiration. Technology is a tool that every generation can use to express themselves and even create their own economy.
Dr Rahmita: Other uses of XR can include as a platform on which to train staff or students because it reduces cost. You are able to simulate a real environment and make as many mistakes.
Terence: XR is the broad term I use. It is one technology pillar in itself. In Singapore, there is a lot of focus on innovation by the government. XR is one of them. How can this technology better the delivery of services? First, ensuring that the infrastructure and scalability are there because we are talking about delivery to millions of people. Maybe, with the services the government offers, and if you need to talk to a government official, perhaps you can meet them in the metaverse to communicate rather than having to write letters that reach no results. Connection between municipal officials and the community would be great. The next point is education – educating people about the technology. Then, data privacy.
Roc: How do I make money from this technology? Let me give you an example: a couple of years ago, the Thai government asked me to promote Thai textile around the world. So, I worked with Spark Studio and on Facebook. I asked myself what would be good value and relatable to the world? I dug into a more sustainable Thai silk. I started to use AI and created a gamification to encourage engagement. I collaborated with editors to make a collection. I learned that with gamification, people could learn [about products or services] from the beginning. It bridged the knowledge [with the product] and made it relevant to everyone.
Dr Rahmita: There are many industries – from engineering to medical – looking to adopt mixed media to give better work experience for their staff. For [visually impaired] people, imagine creating AR for training purposes. We need to educate people to make them understand that a lot of things can be done.
Terence: This technology can close the knowledge gap due to disabilities such as using spatial audio to help the visually impaired. Realise that XR immerses your senses. What excites me about this technology is not so much of what I know, but what I don’t know might happen.
Dr Rahmita: Yes, learning and teaching will change and evolve into immersive experiential learning [and teaching].
Terence: When it comes to education, it splits into knowledge base and skill based. For example, you can put a pilot in a simulator for millions of hours, but you still have to have them fly the plane. Unless we are so dissociated from the real world that it doesn’t matter. But we are not quite there yet. So, this technology is the next best thing in terms of accessing certain training or learning scenarios that may not be otherwise accessible due to, perhaps, weather constraints.
Digital Citizen Know-how
As a human being, how do we ready ourselves to be digital citizens? What skill sets are required to navigate the changes?
Dr Rahmita: It is difficult to answer those questions because it depends on the generation. Users of this moment do not find it difficult to adapt.
Roc: To ensure that future generations will be ready for digital adoption, at the moment, we are building the first gateway. It is like preschool for everyone and they need to pass this learning curve.
Terence: Do you experience any lasting physical effects, health wise, from using AR tools? Short answer is yes. Let me qualify that I assume, you’re talking about head-mounted devices here. There are certain guidelines and at this point, most devices have a minimum age requirement and not to be used by very young children. There are a lot of studies going on right now on the impact of these tools. Health wise, it concerns vision but right now, I do not think there is any concrete findings yet. I do not recommend users to put on those devices all day long or an extended period of time.
Roc: I think the best case for AR and VR meet reality in the next five years would be big development in technology to benefit disabled people. An example is for people who cannot hear, they can feel wavelengths, or wave sounds, through their heart.
Terence: What I am looking forward to in this field is holograms. And that comes up to two things – one, we do not have to look at a phone or put on head gear for AR and two, real time applications such as real time 3D scans of yourself talking to someone like a hologram.
Dr Rahmita: The application to learn sports, so introverts can learn and meet people in VR. The second thing is indications where we collaborate with others and choose a teacher we want to learn from.
To summarise, XR is fundamentally changing how we work, live, socialise and more. 5G, speeding up internet connection by 20 times quicker, accelerates this evolution. Together, these two elements ‘bridge the gap between the digital and physical worlds’, especially for the likes of Ericsson that is discovering how to harness ‘5G opportunities for immersive experiences’.
The usefulness of XR, as a January 2022 Forbes article forecasted and the speakers affirmed, extends to making it possible for students to visualise concepts in ‘interesting and engaging ways’ improving knowledge retention by up to 90 per cent, instead of ‘simply reading dry facts’. Also, VR can be used to ‘train and simulate operating in dangerous situations, such as the FLAIM system used to train firefighters to tackle wildfire and aircraft fires’. While ‘AR is increasingly being used to provide real-time inputs to trainees during on-the-job learning, such as using computer vision-equipped glasses and headsets to recognise and warn of potential dangers in the work environment’.
As we move into the digital sphere more and more, XR offers innovative ways of experiencing a new reality. What this means is bigger opportunities to explore a new space for work and collaborations that transcends borders as well as alleviating social activities such as digital game-playing. XR is the future. And the future is here.
Main photo from Envato.