How Businesses Can Drive ROI from Their Mixed Reality Investments
Mixed reality is getting more exciting with every passing year. Unlike virtual reality, where the user is immersed in a fully digital world, mixed reality blends real and digital worlds together, creating completely new use cases. This is not limited to consumer applications like entertainment or gaming but also enables businesses and organizations to design, build, sell, and research things better and more efficiently than ever before.
Thanks to an influx of new devices and applications, like Apple’s much anticipated Vision Pro, the entire mixed reality ecosystem is evolving rapidly. However, choosing the right mixed reality device for your business needs can be tricky.
Different devices are ultimately built with very different audiences and use cases in mind. You’ll need the right tools for the right job, and every device simply won’t be up to the task when it comes to demanding professional use cases.
But how do you evaluate which devices are the right fit for your needs? To better understand what mixed reality devices need to be capable of, you need to start from the use case.
Everything starts from the use case.
To choose the right XR devices and technologies, start by defining what you want to achieve on a higher level. Some of the best-fit use cases for mixed reality with the highest ROI can be found in industrial design and professional simulator training.
In industrial design, mixed reality can shorten design reviews from days to hours, as physical mockups can be replaced with life-size, lifelike digital objects that can be edited in real time. With XR, designers and other stakeholders do not need to be co-located, but can join the session from anywhere in the world. This can save companies tens of thousands of dollars per iteration, and the added speed enables more iterations, ultimately enabling companies to build better products. In addition to the time saved, this can add up to savings of hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars annually.
Similarly, an hour spent in a traditional flight simulator can cost thousands of dollars due to the extremely high purchase price and cost of travel to and operating the simulator. And that’s nothing compared to operating an actual fighter jet, which can cost more than 40,000 dollars per hour. If you are able to replace a flight simulator worth several million dollars with an XR headset or reduce training hours needed in real fighters per trainee by even a fraction, the return on investment of buying a high-end headset costing only four figures is going to be staggeringly high in the long run.
Once you’ve outlined your goals, start mapping your use cases as concretely as possible. Consider practical questions, such as what you want people to achieve in the mixed reality scenario. How will they do the work in practice: do they need to collaborate with others in the same scenario, do they need to move around, do they need to use controllers or tools, or could they use their own hands instead? What kind of visual quality do you need: is it enough if the graphics are simple and game-like, or do you need photorealistic, lifelike visuals?
Answering these practical questions helps you build a wishlist of capabilities and ask the right questions from different technology providers. Only by choosing devices that can deliver on the requirements of your use case will you reach the top-level goals and achieve a sufficient return on investment.
Build a mixed reality checklist.
Once you’ve made the choice to invest in mixed reality, integrating it as part of your business workflows does not simply mean purchasing any device available.
To achieve the best ROI, you need to match device capabilities with your use case, and all devices are not equal for all tasks. Very different things are required from the device for consumer applications such as entertainment or video calls compared to enterprise use cases such as running professional design software.
For example, Autodesk VRED, one the most advanced software for 3D automotive design, is capable of showing a lifelike digital replica of a car, but it requires a headset with extremely high resolution and color reproduction to be able to achieve a level of detail that meets automotive designers’ needs. Once you are able to meet these requirements, the returns can be phenomenal. In the case of Kia, they were able to increase the speed of design reviews by around 98% and achieve major cost savings by implementing a mixed reality program for their global design teams.
To decide on the right kind of device, you should answer at least the following questions.
What software do you need support for?
Which 3D engine or software do you intend to use for mixed reality? This is the most crucial question. Suppose the headset you wish to use has no official support for your intended application. You might need to do dozens or even hundreds of hours of troubleshooting or building custom plugins. In the worst case, you might find out that the devices you’ve purchased won’t even work. By choosing headsets that officially support your critical applications, you can easily save thousands of dollars.
What level of visual quality is needed?
Are you looking for photorealism, or will a lower resolution work? Do you need accurate color reproduction so that colors appear exactly the same as in the real world? Generally speaking, the more accurately you want to match the real world, the more high-end the devices will need to be. If visual quality is important for your use case, it doesn’t make sense to go for a cheaper device simply to save some money, because it will ultimately end up hurting the quality and limiting what can be achieved.
In most cases, better visual quality also means you need devices tethered to a computer. This is especially true for industrial 3D design and simulation software, such as Autodesk VRED or Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D, which can work with lower end headsets as well, but require headsets with extremely high visual fidelity in order for the user to experience lifelike visuals. This is because standalone headsets use different chipsets compared to PC-powered headsets. While standalone headsets are more mobile, they simply can’t produce the same kind of visual quality in professional applications that tethered headsets offer.
What are the tracking requirements?
Tracking allows VR/XR applications to synchronize your movements in the real world with those in the virtual environment in real time. Without proper tracking, if you try to lean or move your head’s position, the entire virtual world would move with your head’s movement because it would not be tracked. This would create an unrealistic virtual experience and even cause cybersickness.
There are several positional tracking providers on the market. While several headsets, including the XR-4, already feature inside-out tracking, SteamVR tracking using base stations is still the most well-known and widely used positional tracking method. Other solutions, such as ART and OptiTrack, are also available and can be a better fit in different kinds of industrial VR/XR use cases, such as automotive design, in-car tracking, cockpit integrations, and large-scale tracking.
Is the device meant for a single, specific user or to be worn by several people?
Determining if your device will be mainly for a single user or if multiple people will be wearing the same device at different times is crucial. For example, not all headsets enable you to wear glasses while using them, and this will be a problem if you have multiple people using the same device.
If the user can’t wear glasses, you’ll need to order custom lenses (if the headset even supports switching them yourself) or purchase additional devices for every user with a different vision, increasing costs and reducing usability.
Different people also have different size heads, and the distance between their eyes differs (this is called interpupillary distance, or IPD for short). This means the lenses inside the headset must also be adjusted for each person.
Some headsets do this automatically for each user, while some have manual adjustments. If you need to have a device used by multiple people who are not proficient at using XR headsets, you should choose a device with automatic IPD adjustment.
What kind of control scheme do you need?
You also need to think of the control schemes your applications will need to support. For example, will you use different controllers or do you need support for hand gesture controls?
If your expected end user will have little experience with mixed reality devices, VR controllers or other complex control schemes might not be an ideal solution. In these types of scenarios, built-in hand tracking can be a good choice, since it allows the user to operate using their own hands and also enables easy interaction with tools or controls they are already familiar with (e.g. a steering wheel or airplane cockpit in the case of simulation training). However, this requires hand-tracking support, which is not available on all devices.
Are there special security or privacy requirements?
While some consumer-driven use cases like entertainment are straightforward, professional mixed reality applications might have particular security or privacy requirements. These include medical research, governmental applications, and high-security environments like nuclear power plants or other industrial sites.
For high-security applications, the country of manufacturing or privacy policies can play a big role in choosing a device provider. For example, almost all consumer-oriented devices are manufactured in China, which means they are not compliant with high-security and government use cases. Some consumer-grade devices might even require you to hand over biometric information such as eye-tracking data to third parties.
For the highest security requirements in the United States, devices need to be compliant with Trade Agreements Act (TAA) and other legislation, which is a threshold only a few devices are able to meet. A good example of this is Varjo XR-4 Secure Edition, which is fully TAA compliant, fully offline, and does not require the user to create any kind of account, ensuring total privacy and deployability even in the most secure locations.
What kind of technical support is available?
It’s not just about purchasing the right device. For professional mixed reality use cases, it is very important that there is dedicated support available if any problems arise with the setup.
As use cases and, in particular, the technical aspects of mixed reality simulators can be very specialized, it might be impossible to find solutions on more generic forums that focus mainly on consumer applications. Therefore, you should ensure that the immersive device manufacturer can offer support if or when problems arise and that they can look at those specialized use cases you might be utilizing.
Mixed reality is developing by leaps and bounds, but when it comes to demanding business use cases, all XR devices are not made equal. You need to make sure the devices you consider meet your requirements in terms of visual quality and performance, that they support your critical software, suit single or multi-user setups and offer control schemes that fit those users’ requirements and experience level.
Furthermore, you need to make sure your hardware meets security and privacy requirements when relevant, and that the device provider can offer you support beyond generic forums and similar solutions if problems arise. When you choose devices that match these needs, you are sure to achieve the vast benefits and ROI mixed reality has the potential to unlock.