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Extended reality (XR): what is it and how is it relevant to your business?

For this introduction to XR, Clare Cornes from the Hub spoke with Professor David Roberts from the University of Salford – an expert in extended realities, their technical development and their use in a range of fields, including healthcare.

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Professor Roberts’ current work includes contributing to the development and understanding of non-verbal interactions between humans and robots; novel displays to support communication and appearance while people move around tele-shared simulations; and using virtual reality to support mental healthcare treatment.

What is XR?

Extended reality, or “XR”, is an umbrella term which refers to environments generated using technology, including those which are a combination of both real and virtual environments. The term includes both virtual reality (a fully immersive experience) and augmented reality (a method to add or change how the real world is viewed using some form of technology as a lens, for example, a smart phone).

These created realities attempt to replicate, adjust or replace real world stimuli with those generated artificially. The generated stimuli create a feeling of being present in the alternate reality, allowing users to see, hear and understand things in a way that might not be possible in the real world.

While many will associate the use of XR with the video game industry, these technologies are rapidly being adopted across many sectors. XR has allowed industries with very traditional models to adopt new practices that improve business practices or offer new methods of engagement with customers.

Notable recent uses of XR include:

  • Augmented reality in major retailers to allow customers to visualise products in use before purchasing
  • Virtual reality to provide training, including in the retail and medical sectors
  • Virtual reality to visualise technical developments in advance of construction, particularly new buildings, or street scenes

XR is not for every business or suitable for every product, but it may provide an innovative edge for some businesses who can incorporate it into product design, development, marketing, or general business processes.

XR: where do you begin?

For businesses looking to adopt XR related technologies, several aspects may initially appear to be prohibitive. Firstly, it can often appear difficult to find clear information on the best route forwards. Resources are available online, but these may be too generalised, technical, or not applicable for specific sectors.

Secondly, the skills required to generate content for XR may not exist (or may require additional training) in the business. Accessing technical resource and finding training to upskill may be complex, particularly if you are unsure of what is specifically needed.

Finally, software and hardware options are numerous and, if you are unfamiliar with technical jargon, choosing between them can be challenging. When paired with the potentially high costs, making the right decision can be daunting.

However, support is available for those looking to adopt innovative practices. The Innovation Team at the Hub can provide guidance throughout the innovation journey, including when determining whether XR is right for your business, and can provide links to both general and industry specific experts. Alongside this, the Innovation Team can assist with accessing grant funding to move projects forwards.

Top XR tips for businesses

For many organisations, XR will complement or supplement business activities. In advance of implementing any programme of change involving XR, business should consider the following tips:

  1. Research existing use in your sector: Understanding what already exists will provide context for what could be feasible in the short, medium, and long-term for your business. Researching software and hardware, along with skills needed for operating and maintaining software and equipment will give an idea of both the budget and roles needed to embed XR in your organisation.
  1. Critically evaluate whether your product is right for XR: Currently, not everything is translatable into XR. Typically, things that are successful in XR are ones that are difficult to produce in real-world environments: i.e. environments which would be costly or dangerous to replicate, or things that are difficult for people to visualise without assistance.
  1. Examine your existing customers and those you would like to engage to better understand whether XR is the right investment: XR technologies will take time and investment both in planning and implementation. Understanding whether it will make a difference for your customers is critical before making the leap.
  1. Understand how to market the use of XR in your business to your customers: Whilst XR may be a novel attractor to new customers of your business, pitching it correctly will be essential to prevent existing customers being confused or lost to a competitor with more traditional methods.
  1. Create a clear plan for implementation: Embedding XR in your organisation will not happen overnight. By creating a clear plan, you will avoid becoming overwhelmed and will instead understand when outputs are likely to be usable for commercial purposes. New skills and job roles may be required, and everything will need to be to be tested in advance (potentially multiple times!), so a clear plan will help you stay on track.
  1. Do not be afraid to speak to experts: Though XR is still in the stages of early adoption, there are many experts in a range of sectors who could help. This is particularly true in academia. If individuals are identified as part of your research into feasible options for your business, do not hesitate to reach out them to learn more. It is quite likely they will enjoy passing on their expertise!

 

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Clare Cornes

Clare Cornes, Innovation Development Manager (University of Salford)

Clare joined the Business Growth Hub as the Innovation Development Manager for the University of Salford in July 2019. Within this position, Clare uses her passion for new technologies and innovation to support SMEs in working with the University.

Prior to this role, Clare has led an autonomous vehicle development and trials programme for a British automotive manufacturer; managed multiple UK and European funded projects that utilised new technologies to improve local challenges; written national and international position papers analysing new innovations in relation to health and sustainable transport initiatives; and inputted into regional transport strategies to ensure new technologies are considered when designing schemes to solve city region challenges.

Alongside professional roles, Clare is also undertaking a PhD in her spare time, researching the barriers and challenges associated with implementing a sustainable Mobility as a Service (MaaS) system in Greater Manchester, including the policy and regulatory considerations. The research includes understanding what MaaS means in practical terms for transport planners, policy makers, related businesses and users. Through this experience, Clare has developed a skill for translating technical developments into socio-economic impacts and is keen to support SMEs developing innovative products and services as part of their business growth.

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