Remember the Star Wars scene where the death star is 3D projected into the rebel’s central command? Or the hologram adverts popping up in Minority Report? Thanks to new technology, that’s no longer just sci-fi from a movie.

minority report AR

Before you panic – nobody has built a death star, and no one is getting arrested for ‘pre-crimes’ ala Minority Report!

Those holographic maps, and floating virtual control panels that operators appear to be able to touch and scroll through, are examples of what is now existing and viable technology.

Stepping into a virtual world provides endless opportunities to develop new products, so it’s little wonder new tech start-ups are racing to build incredible new devices that were previously only possible in sci-fi.

In fact, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) developments are really starting to hit their stride, especially AR for action-oriented tasks and VR for training purposes.

Augmented reality vs. virtual reality – what’s the difference?

AR adds digital elements to a live view often by using the camera on a smartphone. VR implies a complete immersion experience that shuts out the physical world. AR allows users to interact with the real world with enhanced features and additions, and VR allows people to enter a world or scenario is completely removed from real-life surroundings.

AR on phone

In an education setting, for example, VR could allow students to ‘travel back in time’ to a historical period using VR technology. AR, on the other hand, can be used within training scenarios to show what a product, colour scheme or design style would look like if applied to the real-life space students are occupying.

In terms of industrial applications, AR systems are already in use in several sectors including aerospace, defence, and oil and gas. BAE, a multinational defence, security, and aerospace company, has created interactive work instructions that have enabled the company to train its staff 30-40% more efficiently. In addition, many oil and gas firms are using AR technology to simulate disasters for cost-effective training purposes.

Is VR and AR worth the hype?

In short – yes.

There are, frankly, endless possibilities to apply VR and AR tech within our world – from defence to cinema, manufacturing to marketing, and medical to flight simulation.

Real-world examples of virtual reality applications

VR is increasingly used to provide learners with a virtual environment where they can develop their skills without the real-world consequences of failing – or even dying. The military was a first-adopter and pioneer in VR development; the Virtual Battlespace Software Series (VBS) is the U.S. Army’s flagship training game and is also used by the UK Ministry of Defence and others.  

Nobody can hear you scream in space – so let’s practice it A LOT before we go up there. NASA has used VR technology for decades in their immersive VR to train astronauts while their feet are still firmly on the ground. From a specialised Virtual Reality Laboratory (VRL), trainee astronauts use real-time graphics and motion simulators and a tendon-activated robotic device on their hands to mimic the actual sensations of handling objects in space.

There are huge benefits for medicine too. VR can bring learning to life in a far more interactive manner than traditional training materials such as textbooks. Through VR, fledgling surgeons can experience complex surgeries without stepping into the operating room. On April 14, 2016, Shafi Ahmed was the first surgeon to broadcast an operation in virtual reality, allowing viewers to follow the surgery in real-time from the surgeon’s perspective.

Getting your 3D goggles at the cinema has become a normal experience. If we assume the technology will deliver everything promised, a future cinema could be just a space where people come together wearing VR headsets or some form of immersive device.

Augmented reality at work

Although adoption of AR has been tentative -not helped by the privacy issues and derisive comments made by those few people who wore Google Glass-  there’s been quiet but steady advances made in commercialised, industrial applications of the technology. AR is slowly but surely transforming the way companies design, manufacture, operate and service products. It’s clear that software developers, industrial products, automation, electronics and high-tech sectors are all moving quickly to capitalise on the AR opportunity. According to a Beecham Research report, the AR market is beginning to accelerate and could be worth around $800M by 2020.

There might even be X-ray specs

Smart glasses have received a tech makeover. Tech start-up, Magic Leap, has recently launched a new, futuristic pair of AR glasses.  Magic Leap One glasses are designed to enhance the world with digital objects and images while allowing you to interact with everything real that’s going on around you. Now on sale in the U.S. for $2,200, the headset combines natural light waves with synthetic lightfields to create an “unbelievably believable experience.”

Magic Leap One glasses


It’s expected that more and more businesses will place smart glasses at the core of their Internet of Things (IoT) systems, as they look to make workers more productive and to streamline their back-end operations. For example, if an operator can look inside a device without opening the lid and act on the information being returned, it’s much faster and less expensive to maintain a system and diagnose faults.

VR, AR and now MR

The term Mixed Reality (MR) is one of the most recent developments, combining elements of both AR and VR and allowing real-world and digital objects to interact. If Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 system lives up to the marketing video, there’s an MR revolution on our doorstep, where virtual pop-up screens and immersive graphics are used to break down complex tasks into simple steps than an operator can follow. The Hololens 2 video is worth checking out here especially if you’re looking to perform a heart bypass or service a motorbike!

The impact of AR and VR technologies on design electronic design is two-fold – both in how products are designed and the types of products.

All three of these technologies (AR, VR and MR) could be used throughout the design stage of commercial manufacturing to streamline processes, test the designs and advise on component suitability or even obsolescence issues if plugged into big data. However, it may take time for electronic engineers to think of ways in which AR can provide tangible efficiency improvement. Many believe we are still waiting for better technology.

The electronic devices themselves will become more personal, more ergonomic – more humanised. They’ll be greater use of sensors, in-ear devices, micro near-eye displays, flexible and moulded electronics and ergonomic near-invisible hidden technology. We should expect these devices to become part of the fabric of our lives.

To see a real-life example of how we helped a start-up AR company to volume manufacture, take a look at our case study.

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