COVID-19 crisis to spark wave of VR, AR innovation


By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Wednesday, 01 April, 2020



COVID-19 crisis to spark wave of VR, AR innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic could prompt a wave of innovation in virtual and augmented reality applications as the world is forced to adjust to new ways of working during the outbreak, according to University of South Australia Professor Bruce Thomas.

Prof Thomas leads the university’s Australian Research Centre for Interactive and Virtual Environments (IVE), which specialises in developing techniques to enhance virtual interactive experiences.

The crisis has already led to many more Australians becoming acquainted with remote collaboration technologies such as Slack and Zoom, Prof Thomas said.

These technologies will become more and more essential for the continuing functioning of many industries as more of the world goes into lockdown, Prof Thomas said. The increasing reliance on collaboration technologies is expected to result in a number of innovations in these areas.

“Necessity really is the mother of invention, and the current pandemic situation is going to push users and developers of remote collaboration technologies to find out what works and what doesn’t, and what solutions really need to be delivered,” he said.

“Higher uptake and demand usually lead to a technology being scrutinised and refined, so I expect we’ll see some real innovation in this area over the coming months.”

Interest in remote collaboration technology was already high due to its potential to reduce the carbon footprint of many businesses and help the world meet its climate change mitigation targets, so Prof Thomas’s team of researchers are already engaged in a range of AR- and VR-related projects.

One such project involves the development of a system to allow a remote expert to guide an individual through a complex task at another location through a combination of AR and 360° video.

“This will allow highly skilled experts in fields such as medicine, engineering and maintenance to apply their knowledge in multiple locations without having to travel there physically. It’s a bit like when you share your computer desktop with an IT expert, but you are able to share your whole, real-world working environment.”

Researchers from the centre are also working on VR interfaces designed to allow large numbers of users to share the same virtual space, potentially paving the way for fully immersive virtual meetings.

“The back-end capability for this sort of thing is already in place. The challenge is the front end, the interface — how do you share the experience in a meaningful way? How do you have people interact in a lifelike fashion?” Prof Thomas said.

“Related to this, we’re looking at a system that uses physiological data to allow the computer to track emotion and responses, so these can be included as part of the experience, making the interaction far more lifelike.”

With many of its staff working from home themselves, the IVE is anticipating eventually using the crisis as an opportunity to trial some of the centre’s more experimental technologies in a real-world scenario.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Prostock-studio

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