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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Why AI with Augmented and Virtual Reality Will Be the Next Big Thing

How AI algorithms and augmented reality displays can transform your business.

For the enterprise, the combination of virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) might be easily overlooked. VR is an emerging technology that modern businesses are keeping an eye on, but it tends to remain at the lower end of the interest scale. AI, on the other hand, is considered important for advancement by many enterprises. However, the connections between AI and VR are deeper than they appear, and their integration will provide a new range of experiences and opportunities.

VR includes both 360-degree graphics and videos such as those for Google Cardboard and augmented reality (AR) displays in which data is overlaid on a view of the outside world.

The combination of VR and AI is only now becoming possible due to:

  • Recent developments in AI, particularly deep learning, that foster real-time image and speech recognition
  • Increased availability and reduced cost of local processing and storage
  • Expanding network bandwidth, allowing richer data streams
  • Availability of AI in the cloud

Real-World Use Cases

Businesses are beginning to show interest in AI, and AI/AR start-ups are beginning to emerge. Eolian applications use AI technologies to reduce human error rates through AR and VR simulations of dangerous tasks. Virtualitics provides data visualization in VR and AR environments through machine learning and AI.

Application of AI to VR enables important possibilities, such as AI-based continuous image recognition reporting results in a VR display. In security, for example, this can be used for identity detection -- to flag images or people for a security guard.

If AR displays such as smart glasses become more common, identity detection can enrich everyday conversations by providing details about the individual you are talking to, such as which projects a colleague is working on.

Deep learning could also be used to train a system to recognize more complex scenarios or components. A camera's view of parts in an engine, for example, could suggest a repair to a technician, with instructions, tests, and approved tolerances immediately pinpointed on the image. One example is Connectar's MRO.AIR, which provides an AR display that uses AI image recognition to streamline complex maintenance in aviation.

Retail provides a number of exciting possibilities for a combined VR/AI approach. Virtual showrooms can provide enhanced product selection while a learning algorithm customizes both products and the buying experience itself. High-tech dressing rooms such as Ralph Lauren's store in NYC provide another example. Sentiment analysis from social media combined with analysis of customer movement using big data and AI is already linking in-store marketing to customer's smartphones.

Additional AR components could allow people to easily locate goods that could be enhanced with promotions such as virtual coupons. Combining an AR interface similar to Pokémon Go with a service such as the IBM Watson-based "Macy's On-Call" in-store virtual assistant is likely to be the next target for retail marketers.

Another key business application is to improve videoconferencing. Videoconferencing suffers because telepresence -- the sense of being in the room -- is often missing. Immersive telepresence enhancements will come by adding elements of VR, AR, and AI to improve the collaborative experience. This may include improved camera tracking to naturally focus upon individual speakers or gestures and AR to provide real-time information on subject matter and participants in areas such as emergency response.

Funding and expertise is increasing in this area, including a new initiative from MIT. MIT Game Lab is creating Play Labs to accelerate start-ups in AR, VR, and AI. That gaming is an early focus of many of these efforts should surprise no one; gaming has historically been popular for trial runs and inspiration for much of today's technology.

The spread of VR/AR is changing the way consumers and employees interact with the world, and AI and machine learning are allowing enterprises to deeply personalize their services. Can AI algorithms and augmented reality displays transform your business?

About the Author

Brian J. Dooley is an author, analyst, and journalist with more than 30 years' experience in analyzing and writing about trends in IT. He has written six books, numerous user manuals, hundreds of reports, and more than 1,000 magazine features. You can contact the author at [email protected].

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