Sports Video Group reported back in November that augmented and virtual reality is where many companies are investing; SVG cited a report that stated that these tech platforms “…recorded more than $2 billion in total investment so far in 2020.”
Augmented and virtual reality is the future for many industries. While the use of augmented and virtual reality has grown in recent years, the sudden shutdown of many businesses because of Covid might have fueled interest in this type of technology.
Customers might not have been able to visit stores or even tour museums. However, virtual and augmented reality served to enhance a seemingly one-dimensional online visit and helped recreate the in-person experience that was lacking during the pandemic.
The rise of virtual and augmented reality points to an ever-changing dynamic in the realm of user experience. This technology extends beyond bulky headsets used to play video games or even augmented reality online features that allow shoppers to virtually try on shades of lipstick or maybe even clothes. AR and VR is used across numerous industries, including healthcare and automotive. Smart glasses give technicians insight to a car’s mechanics and they also may provide assistance to surgeons and medical professionals. For example, some platforms act as simulations for surgeons.
Yet, the use of this technology is being eyed by other industries that may have more interest in dipping a foot into the deeper end of the virtual pool. So who’s looking at expanding or even introducing virtual and augmented reality offerings? Here’s some predictions and insight about the future role of AR and VR in fashion, the beauty industry, and mental health.
In October, Vogue Business asked the question: “Smart Glasses: Should Fashion Buy In?” The article was accompanied by a sketch of a mannequin standing on a platform with smart glasses highlighting different aspects of the outfit, including the price and stock quantities. The article (which is behind a paywall) delved into “…the risks and rewards of wearable AR.”
The question of fashion’s involvement in augmented reality or virtual reality experiences is extremely relevant, especially as the industry grapples with the limitations of the ongoing pandemic. While the use of smart glasses could provide instant feedback about the availability of a shirt or provide data on the price, the use of the technology could be more immersive.
Before Covid, fashion editors and perhaps other industry insiders, too, (and celebrities) took their seats at Fashion Week events, as they watched show after show of new collections from designers. These events were hosted in New York, Milan, Paris and other major cities. During 2020, though, these shows went virtual…and online.
While the pandemic might not have changed Fashion Week for good, what if it ushered in the potential for virtual experiences? What if editors used virtual reality goggles or smart glasses to watch fashion shows from their offices? Attendance could be a virtual experience, with every editor now securing a front row seat at exclusive events. Sound futuristic? According to FashionWeekOnline, it’s already in the works.
Apps from fashion publications also could be a future hub for virtual or augmented reality experiences. Vogue offers its Runway app, which allows users to peruse items from every major designer’s collection. Users also can view videos of runway shows, and, for each collection, they also can view reviews. While the app is interactive, it doesn’t provide augmented or virtual experiences. However, Vogue dipped into augmented reality experience back in 2018; partnering with Apple, Vogue offered an experience that elevated iMessage with Vogue Effect. With this experience, per Vogue, “…your ho-hum reality will instantly morph into a fully functional world of glinting lights and thumping music.”
Vogue Singapore also recently let readers experience an augmented reality element of a fashion show. Model Fiona Xie could be placed anywhere to have her showcase Valentino right in the user’s own surroundings. The experience was the work of HoloMe.
The Beauty Industry
Going to the spa or the salon is a relaxing experience, but with augmented reality and virtual reality the decadence of that relaxation is now elevated. In 2019, Professional Beauty reported that Bellacures has introduced virtual reality experiences for patrons. During manicures and pedicures, guests can be transported to beautiful spaces in Hawaii, New York or Iceland. To enhance the virtual experience, scents, sounds and even the treatments complement the chosen location.
However, remote beauty appointments also have become a reality. The company 10to8 wrote about how professionals can provide virtual experiences to guests. But these experiences didn’t require goggles or a headset, although maybe in the future they will. Instead, 10to8 focused on webinars or other types of services to help clients.
Then there are virtual ‘try-on’ experiences. Ulta and Sephora both offer these features to users via their apps. Many cosmetic companies also offer their own ‘try-on’ experiences, too. But what might the future look like for the beauty industry, especially post-Covid?
The use of augmented and virtual reality might become extremely user immersive. Depending on the gadgets that individuals own at home—VR headsets, smart glasses, etc.—the user experience might become part of the action. That is, what if the future allows for a stylist to enter the home as an avatar, giving makeup tutorials or other guidance one-on-one. Maybe the user has products at home and takes lessons on styling their hair or trying out new makeup looks.
What about try-on experiences related to actual clothing? Could the future include avatars that are displayed before us and virtually model new dresses, shirts, shoes or other wardrobe essentials? This could include a perfect representation of the individual, right down to the exact measurements. Then choosing the right size or fit wouldn’t even be a problem!
Of course, these hypothetical situations are simply…hypothetical. We don’t know where augmented and virtual reality will take the beauty industry. But, as technology is changing every year, maybe the industry moves towards these virtual or augmented experiences.
Healthcare: Virtual Mental Health Services
Scientific American wrote about virtual reality being used to aid services for mental health. The publication explained that virtual reality is used as a safe means of “exposure therapy” for some patients.
This means that those struggling with anxiety or specific phobias can enter a virtual realm to help treat these fears and, hopefully, overcome them. Scientific American cited the fear of heights as an example and how virtual reality may be used to expose someone who is afraid of heights to buildings of increasing height.
The patient wouldn’t actually be standing on top of a real building. Instead, they will be safely exposed to the idea of these heights in a virtual realm. Their therapist would be right next to them to help as needed.
Scientific American also noted that virtual reality can help with diagnoses, too. In fact, virtual reality experiences may help clinicians in diagnosing autism and Alzheimer’s Disease. Virtual reality can help with assessing a patient for certain conditions because it mimics actual real life circumstances; per the publication, “…because VR imitates the patient’s everyday environment, it also lets clinicians test symptoms that are usually out of reach.” Scientific American talked to a researcher who noted that virtual reality might not be in every neurologist’s office, but that the technology would be most useful for clinical drug trials (for Alzheimer’s).
The article also talked about one of the more obvious ways that virtual reality could affect mental health treatments: AI and virtual sessions. While the idea behind virtual sessions might sound appealing, especially for those who might not have the financial means to pay for weekly sessions, one expert cited in the article pointed out a potential concern for allowing patients to seek virtual help…especially if that help was sought after a self-diagnosis:
“When people start to self-diagnose and self-treat, buying software off the web, you’re opening the door to a slippery slope of mistreatment,” Albert “Skip” Rizzo, director for medical virtual reality at University of Southern California’s (USC) Institute for Creative Technologies, said in an interview with Scientific American. “The next biggest controversy [in] psychology is going to be: How far can we go with AI and virtual therapists?”
Maybe that is the big question at hand for all industries in general. How far can we go with virtual reality? And AI? More importantly, how far should we go with this technology? The door is wide open for engineers and scientists to explore new ways to use virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual and/or augmented reality experiences already assist doctors, and they also help consumers, too. Major technology companies are exploring new ways to integrate this technology into everyday gadgets like glasses, and our phones already include artificial intelligence in the form of virtual assistants.
Technology could advance to the point of machines or AI taking over; in the automotive industry, the self-driving car is in the future. Maybe retail stores will use virtual reality to allow for customers to try on clothes virtually using a personal avatar. And, in the world of healthcare and especially mental health, virtual visits may be the norm during Covid. But there are potential downsides to using this technology, too. So how far is too far? Perhaps this is the question many experts may need to answer in the future.