29th April 2021
Liz O’Driscoll outlines four key benefits of how immersive technologies can really enhance public services
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everyone’s reality. This crisis has catalyzed the need to digitize across sectors and has shown the positive impact technology can have when it comes to working from home at least. But as we look forward, many public service organizations are looking for innovative ways and technologies to enhance services for everyone. One such area is immersive technologies.
From Augmented Reality (AR) to the fully immersive Virtual Reality (VR), immersive technologies vary in terms of complexity, immersion and usually cost. For some, VR and AR are just the latest video-games headset on the market, but their uses are already much wider such as virtual house viewings, training firefighters and workplace safety training. The potential of AR/VR systems is endless: according to Forbes, the market will reach $571bn by 2025 as we continue to see the technologies integrate into our everyday lives.
Immersive technologies have the potential to make a huge difference to the delivery of public services. COVID-19, and continued social distancing, has increased the need for solutions to engage communities and provide essential ‘in field’ services remotely. Unlike many new technologies, there is scope for public services to take a lead on the use of immersive technologies over the private sector. With this in mind, I see four main areas where they are already making an impact and can go further:
1. An answer to the challenges around data visualization
Most industries are trying to make better use of data. There are lots of sophisticated models being developed to go deeper into data sets and derive insights. But when it comes to most organizations and the people who use data to make decisions, it’s difficult to capture this information and make it accessible. Augmented and virtual reality is helping employees and citizens visualize huge volumes of data, often overlaid on real-world context, to improve decision-making.
For example, city authorities are piloting AR and MR (Mixed Reality) to help planners, officials and citizens engage in community planning. Immersive 3D data visualizations can help show what a new housing development might look like, or its impact on traffic patterns. Street maintenance AR can be used to provide council workers with information about asset status, enabling them to visualize information live in the field. Using a smartphone with location data, information from asset management systems could be overlaid onto a physical view, such as asset status, outstanding repair requests and citizen complaints.
2. Remote assistance in the new normal
While the new normal may mean a mix of remote and on-location working, immersive technologies will continue to benefit those working in various locations, supporting live knowledge exchange, and providing faster help and care to those who need it. For example, AR combined with smart devices, can help experts provide remote guidance, and even virtually reach out and support colleagues or customers.
In healthcare, AR is enabling computer-generated features to provide live guidance during surgery. Smart software recognizes anatomy parts, as well as enabling experienced peers to join remotely. Looking at other use cases, AR could help doctors gain an enhanced understanding, as well as enabling a simulated experience of conditions to help classify patient symptoms.
3. Enhanced new and old experiences
Immersive experiences are already widely available from VR headsets for gaming, to AR driven photo-enhancing apps. A virtual ‘try before you buy’ allows customers to see how products look while museums and artists use AR to enrich a visitor’s experience.
After a challenging year for students across the country, interactive learning VR content is creating opportunities for students to experience environments that may not be possible in real life such as underwater or in space. But VR headsets can be expensive, so the biggest opportunity is to deploy AR immersive content that students can access using their own smartphones. AR can give pupils a clearer view of the Egyptian pyramids or Great Barrier Reef in a way that photos or videos can’t – personalizing the learning experience and helping make opportunities available to all.
4. Better training and assessment
Immersive technologies are bringing real life situations to a virtual world in a low-cost environment. They are already recreating physical conditions to train people across multiple areas such as riot training for police, tackling virtual blazes for firefighters or practicing complex surgeries for medical teams. All without putting users or patients at risk.
Elsewhere, Highways England is using VR to enable operators to better understand the impact of its actions on the road network. Police and fire services are also beginning to trial these technologies to provide enhanced realism and greater repeatability for training.
Making extended reality, THE reality
Immersive technologies are increasingly entering our daily lives, and we believe they will make a difference to the delivery of services. Our perspective is that they will open many exciting possibilities for public services and the communities they serve. The health sector is leading the way with widespread deployment, but the potential exists for all to use these technologies to better communicate, understand and connect our world.
We see the biggest opportunity in the creation of AR content that citizens can consume on their smartphone. We believe this will become increasingly relevant as more citizens continue to experience immersive content in their daily lives.
Now is the opportunity for public service organizations to dominate the use cases of an emerging technology. To think not only about how to improve existing service delivery, but to build new service offerings that improve quality of life for everyone in our society.