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Immersive Futures

Even better than the real thing

Pervasiveness of data threatens to overwhelm humans; immersive technologies provide a way forward, offering fresh opportunities for business leaders to reach further than ever before.

COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated the shift to remote working and the blurring of work, home and social boundaries. From this point there will be no return – even after the coronavirus outbreak is under control.

This swift transition to remote working as a new normal is accelerating Immersive Futures to enable people to deal with global digitalization and the creation of huge amounts of data.

Data is pervasive, not only in the office, but also at home, in public spaces or even in retail stores. The human mind – however brilliant – cannot digest and make sense of this ever-growing volume of data, and immersive technologies will bridge this gap through a human-centric approach.

Technologies such as gesture-free commands, natural-language processing and brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) open new possibilities for seamless interaction with data, replacing the tools we use today, such as keyboard, mouse or even touchscreen. Users will need a natural augmentation of their senses with ‘zero touch’ interaction and rich 3D visualization of data.

The rise of machine-to-machine communications with sensors everywhere will create an environment that not only excludes but that is hostile to humans. The development of Digital Twins in smart factories, meanwhile, will provide intelligible interactions for users. Extended reality technology – such as augmented reality and virtual reality – will be crucial to humanizing these complex environments.

Who needs to press the flesh?

There is a new normal driving the need for these technologies. The increasing complexity of tasks and processes – often involving global travel – is no longer an option for many reasons, not least social distancing due to COVID-19. Businesses that adopt immersive technologies will help employees become more autonomous and address social issues caused by the lack of direct personal presence.

At work, immersive technologies will help employees to train and complete tasks autonomously, such as using natural-language processing to help turn speech into text. These tools will reduce the need for physical collaboration, helping remote workers to feel physically closer than they really are.

The shift from hands-free to gesture-free interfaces through BCIs will help humans to rely less on manual control processes and to interact seamlessly with data. The rapid deployment of 5G networks, combined with continuing growth in cloud computing, will help to accelerate the adoption of these new digital interfaces.

Reach out and almost touch someone

People globally now rely on consumer technologies in their daily lives, a trend that has been hastened by the adoption of 5G, cloud computing and artificial intelligence (AI). Immersive Futures represents a new opportunity for organizations to build on this adoption and to reach citizens in fresh ways.

To reach more consumers – especially the next generation of citizens, who are more culturally, environmentally and socio-economically aware – business leaders must provide exactly what these individuals want: seamless, engaging experiences that are accessible everywhere.

At home or in the street, wearables will offer an extension of AI services that are already deployed in smart homes and cities. This is a chance to help citizens interact with their environments, and data exploitation by pioneering organizations will drive the creation of new services.

Organizations need to focus on how to deliver digital innovations that replicate and improve customer experiences. For example, using chatbots in a world where digital voice agents and wearables understand and speak our language.

In clothing and homeware retail, and also automotive and real estate, customers can now use immersive technologies to visualize products and services in their lives head of purchase. From virtual try-ons to 3D-product inspections, technology not only improves the customer experience but allows businesses to reduce the size of showrooms.

We want to be together

Immersive technologies provide the foundation for the ultimate user experience – the one we don’t perceive. As futuristic as this sounds, it relies on technologies that are already on the shelf or will reach mainstream soon. The task for enterprises is to consider how they can exploit these advances.

Enterprises should partner with major vendors and innovative start-ups that can scale their solutions to defined standards. Most crucially of all, enterprises should adopt a user-centric approach that re-imagines processes from the employee and customer perspective.

The digitization of experience due to COVID-19 is a springboard for future advancements. Employees and consumers are getting used to improved online experiences everywhere; they expect these technologies to address other concerns too, notably sustainability and safety and how their data is exploited.

Business leaders will need to balance the opportunity of exploiting data through immersive technology with human aspiration – it will need a re-think that getting right will open the way for user acceptance and adoption of seamless interaction possibilities between the physical and digital worlds.