Artificial Intelligence

The future of immersive technology

11th June 2024
Sheryl Miles
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At the Digital Enterprise Show (DES) in Malaga, industry leaders gathered to discuss the future of immersive technologies, exploring how virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), spatial computing, digital twins, haptic feedback systems, artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain integration are ready and waiting to shake-up the tech landscape.

Speaking on a panel discussion, titled: ‘Immersive Planet Series: 5 Years from Now. Unveiling the 5 key technologies shaping immersive tech industries,’ Andy Fidel, CEO and Creative Strategist at Spatial Networks; Elizabeth Baron, Founder of Immersionary Enterprises; and Mónica Arés, Executive Director at Imperial IDEA Lab highlighted the potential of these technologies have to reshape user experiences, content creation, and industry dynamics.

Unveiling immersive technologies

Carlos Ochoa, President of the VR/AR Association Madrid Chapter, moderated the panel, setting the stage by speaking on the difficulty in predicting the future of immersive technology whilst also impressing the importance of understanding and integrating these advancements.

AI and XR in education

Arés emphasised the transformative impact of AI and XR in education: "AI and XR can understand and then react to our voice, our natural language, our hand gestures ... These will not just be gateways into knowledge; we’re actually going to help unlock the keys to curiosity, creativity, and communication."

Arés also outlined the evolution of technology from passive machines to intelligent systems that enhance human learning by making it more engaging and accessible.

“We put all of the data from [an entire] course, all of the old lectures that have been recorded, all of the reading materials, interviews with the professor, any talks that they've given, and we then replicated the professor itself, and we created an AI driven avatar of his likeness on the screen. So, you're talking to him as an avatar the way you would a zoom call, but he was intelligent through AI. We found that these students started asking questions that they were too embarrassed to ask in class. They were using it to brainstorm … We were seeing this alternate way to communicate and get answers – and you can speak [to the AI avatar] as long as you need it … so it unlocked a whole new way for students to connect to that material. They had their professors in their pocket … We saw immense opportunities for the next stage, [creating] simulations where we can have data driven avatars and you can practice your public speaking, your negotiation skills, whatever it is.”

Digital twins

Explaining the concept of digital twins, Baron stressed their functional purpose beyond simple replication: "A digital twin is a digital replication of something from the physical world ... It is a system that has a function and performs. It's a digital copy of something that's either something you want to make, something you want to experience, or a ‘what if?’ study, and the idea of the digital twin is that it allows the ‘what if?’ study – so it has function and purpose, and it can interact with different stimuli in the environment. It's not solely a copy of an asset. It is a system that has a function and it performs. You can provide engineering inputs, design inputs, to a digital twin and it will act according to what those inputs are. [With a digital twin] you can do research on the art of the possible for product or experience.”

She also highlights the importance of verified data and the holistic approach digital twins offer, enabling comprehensive simulations and enhancing knowledge transfer within complex ecosystems.

Immersive environments

Fidel discussed the future of media and social interaction in immersive environments, noting the depth of connection VR facilitates: "Behind every avatar and every headset is a real personn... In VR, I’m not just present like on Zoom. I’m there. I’m right there with you."

She then spoke on how VR creates a sense of real presence and active participation, fostering genuine interactions and community building.

AI and immersive tech: the convergence of digital and physical worlds

The panellists collectively emphasised the convergence of digital and physical worlds, facilitated by immersive technologies. Arés noted the potential for AI to transform traditional education systems by integrating digital tools seamlessly into learning environments.

"We can start to create AI-driven assistance, AI simulations ... we can help people prepare because the AI is intelligent based on all these different perceptions and experts in the world."

Baron expanded on this by discussing how digital twins can revolutionise product development and manufacturing.

"Digital twins allow simulations and an extension of knowledge ... They provide directionally correct answers sooner and produce a ripple effect where information becomes known that you wouldn’t have had any other way of understanding previously."

Challenges and opportunities

While the potential of these technologies is immense, the panellists acknowledge the challenges in adoption and integration.

Pointing out that resistance to change and the disparate nature of technological advancements hindering progress, Baron said: "Every single technology has a group of experts ... but once you start to connect them, they supercharge a lot of the innovation and value."

Baron also emphasised the importance of human experience and social interaction in leveraging these technologies effectively: "The technology is an enabler, but we matter ... We need these interactions, and we need to have the technology work for us."

The discussion at DES highlighted that the future of immersive technology lies in the seamless integration of digital and physical realms, driven by AI and other emerging technologies. Commented Baron: "We need to have faith in [the technology] in a way, but we also have to use our experience and our knowledge to set the stage for how we’re going to go in the future."

These panellist insights shed light on the importance of collaboration, adaptability, and innovation in harnessing the full potential of immersive technologies to transform industries and enhance human experiences.

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