KPMG report on XR 2021 - 2030
Updated: Oct 5, 2021
KPMG recently asked me to respond to questions for a white paper report from thought leaders around the world in the field of XR. These are my thoughts only on the subject and not from the white paper which is still in production. I hope some of my answers are represented in KPMG's white paper but no matter it was an interesting exercise.
My professional life spans 40 years, staying digital relevant by constantly moving forward, spending 80% of my time providing up-to-date expertise and skills in full-time and consulting roles and 20% of my time in R&D as Extreme Digital (www.extreme.com.au). I have followed this innovation process from the beginning of my career and have delivered literally thousands of customer projects. During the past decade I’ve researched and worked in the fields of (Natural User Interface tech) NUI, UX, Spatial Interaction Design, XR and Cloud Computing, having acquired insights and forward thinking when considering new market opportunities, user/customer behaviour, creative thinking, innovation strategies and technology. I have broad industry consulting experience and a skill set across various technology innovation sectors including Digital Media, UX, XR, AI, IoT, ICT, Cloud Computing (IaaS, SaaS) CMS, CRM, Tech Start-ups and Venture Capital.
Q1. Why do you think XR will become more important?
The cost of face-to-face meetings has significantly increased and for a long time during and still after the worst of the Covid 19 pandemic actual business meetings and industry events are not possible at all. It will be a slow recovery if at all back to pre-pandemic business travel and the concept of ‘Living with Covid’ is now the reality of life on our planet. Virtual meetings in Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, etc. have become the norm but are proven to have limitations for engagement and collaboration. My experience in XR virtual meetings started when my XR investment company Extreme Digital Ventures was assisting a new Start-up called SpaceTime XR (www.spacetime.global) with Peter Koch in 2018. The XR collaboration platform enabled both VR, AR headsets and a Zoom style interface to all synchronise around one piece of 3D content. Our target market was the construction, engineering and architecture sectors so our demonstrations had emphasis on risk management and stake holder collaboration during the life cycle of various projects and processes eg. BIM. I have now experienced many other new XR collaboration platforms that have been developed around the world addressing the needs of industry sectors such as Healthcare, Defence, Training, Education, Entertainment and LBE, etc. These days the best online collection of tools, information and industry examples can be found at https://xrcollaboration.com/#xr-resource-guide
Q2. Which industries do you predict to be likely to be early adopters and why?
As I mentioned earlier my original commercial interest for XR was manly in the construction and architecture sectors because it seemed logical since existing 3D content and processes can be animated and manipulated in XR to show multiple people simultaneously spatial dimension and anomalies that are hard to interpret in a 2D form to communicate quickly and easily. Training sectors have also been early adopters such as mining, defence, health and safety, field maintenance, etc. but when you start looking into training applications almost all sectors can benefit from allowing a person to learn or practice a skill, a technique, a process, recognise behaviour, etc. in the relative safety of XR digital twins and simulated environments. My academic research from 2011 to 2015 was looking at qualitative observations of human skills transfer between two subjects immersed in expressive XR prosthesis systems to identify a 'Master and Apprentice' accelerated skills learning model. I was a bit early however because the technology at the time was not immersive enough to be meaningful for my thesis, but I did get to know some very interesting people and develop industry events that discussed and showcased XR from 2012 to 2017 as it emerged.
3. What are the barriers to greater adoption rates?
Friction still exists for the first-time user in current XR solutions around both hardware and software usability. Oculus/Facebook has done a good job making VR hardware/software accessible with the introduction of Quest 1 and 2 and so mobile XR seems to be their focus with aspirations of developing consumer AR/XR devices soon. Their recent Ray-Ban | Facebook sunglasses are an interesting step toward functional digital connectivity in a fashionable consumer product. Of course, the long-awaited Apple XR product offering will likely disrupt all the current players due to Apple’s very loyal global customer base. Microsoft have clearly gone after enterprise, industrial and defence sectors from the outset with HoloLens 1 and 2. Meta showed a lot of promise early on with their developer platforms, but Magic Leap took the lion’s share of start-up funding by raising a whopping $2.6 billion. They have now pivoted sharply from consumer entertainment to focus on enterprise and follow Microsoft’s lead. Most user adoption in VR has been through games and entertainment with Valve and arguably Oculus/Facebook leading the charge. Headsets like HTC Vive, Oculus Rift-S, HP Reverb G2 and Valve’s Index provide a good user experience at an affordable price given you have a gamer level PC to drive them. Content is increasingly sophisticated for the seasoned gamer to step into and enjoy. My experience with first-time users is to put them into what’s called an onboarding experience of which Oculus does this well. In there the first-time user learns how to use the controllers and play with the physics in various environments with objects to interact with. I have found that the elderly users often don’t like being cut off from reality whereas younger people immediately can be delighted and wowed. If someone feels a little motion sick, then I get them out immediately because they will probably be hesitant to try VR again which I see as like getting seasick just the once and then trying to avoid anything to do with the ocean ever again.
Q4. In explaining XR to the uninitiated, what are the best use case studies you would point to?
When I’m explaining why I’m so excited about XR from a business and creative point of view I will point to advancements in health care like Vicarious Surgical, a robotics-based medical company or the $22 Billion HoloLens deal with Microsoft and the US defence force, ChemCave VR reimagining educational experiences, etc. so over the years I continue to collect all kinds of XR use cases, creative and technology updates at www.facebook.com/extremedigitalventures and www.facebook.com/extreme.digital.media and more recently on my new bog on my website www.extreme.com.au/blog
5. How will Covid impact the growth in and take up of applications?
I think I covered some of that question in Q1 but to elaborate on the enhanced experience of XR over a standard virtual meeting, I think being immersed in a Metaverse of sorts with your colleagues provides a much more engaged working session with less external distractions. The spatial audio experience is much more fluid without the stop start nature of people waiting to talk or being interrupted with a question and not hearing it properly. In various XR collaboration software platforms like Rumii and Horizon Workrooms the use of spatial audio provides a sense of your place in the room and people can talk over each other like in the real world, huddle in small groups, whisper in someone’s ear so with all our human senses coming together we can make sense of it all. Even the fact that the avatars currently are mainly cartoon like or could represent any mythical creature, etc. somehow gives everyone the feeling of presence with body, hand movement and voice the immersion creates a feeling of connection. Connection is what people crave in these extended lockdowns which must be a factor to account for a rapid growth in the US of 150 million XR users over 3 years.
6. How can XR be a new space for art meets science?
As I was originally trained in traditional graphic design before desktop tools became available, I appreciate how digital media transformed everything I did in my design practice. Now in what’s being called the ‘Fourth Wave’ of digital transformation I have embraced tools like Tilt Brush, Quill, Medium, SculptrVR, Gravity Sketch, etc. excited to be presented with many more to come. The complexity of data is simplified and profoundly understood when presented as a 3D visualisation and particularly when it can be viewed and manipulated in XR. Mathematical concepts can be explained, hypothetical worlds and scenarios can be explored, the known universe can be travelled. Some of our greatest achievements in science have been imagined long before by artists. I’m sure Leonardo Da Vinci would have used XR to its greatest potential for both art and science as one in the same.
7. What sort of future do you see for developing XR as a new channel standalone for sales of products that may remain digital?
I was with a software company called MetaCreations Corp back in 1999 that developed a 3D visual solution called MetaStream for presenting consumer products on the web and for various reasons it did not go well, and so I quickly moved on to work at IBM as Creative Director at the beginning of eBusiness so I’m still sceptical of what has real customer appeal and what’s just shiny and new. Having said that there has been massive growth for online fashion purchasing so with technology for body scanning to be almost as simple as pointing your iPhone camera around your body the concept of a digital twin avatar of yourself that in XR you can try on cloths to mix and match, see how you look then purchases online, is quickly becoming real. In-game digital purchases have been around for a long time and so that will increasingly be relevant in XR like in the movie Ready Player One it’s well illustrated. There has been much talked about recently of Metaverse worlds and in-world ecommerce with Crypto currencies but still early days, it will happen. Finally, and it can’t be ignored the online adult space has always been way out in front taking advantage of human behaviour and a huge technology driver, just talk to Cisco. An interesting company to keep an eye on (no pun intended) is Real Doll a robotics manufacturer of companion dolls. What I find most interesting here is the mobile AI app they’ve developed to create and evolve personas to ultimately be uploaded into your robotic companion. Again, very early days for this technology but advancing quickly, Tesla has made huge advancements with AI research in the past year by using XR to teach the AI and learn from game simulations and real-world observations.
8. What is your boldest prediction for the 2030 XR landscape?
It is well understood by companies like Apple and UX specialists that simplicity is powerful. Technology needs to be there when you need it and nowhere to be seen when you don’t. In 2030 the world will constantly be being digitally mapped by self-driving vehicles, personal sensors, drones, etc. so the virtual digital twin of our world will be very rich. XR will be ubiquitous, and we’ll have many interface options to interact, communicate and collaborate. Our personal AI digital twins will have developed to be representing us in the Metaverse, completing tasks automatously or controlled directly as a digital prothesis system to our physical reality. Virtual travel, robotic interfaces to physical experiences such as space travel, undersea exploration, working in dangerous environments will be commonplace. Quantum computing and the advancements in science and technology has been exponentially accelerated due to the interface barriers between humans and technology has practically vanished.
All this is possible and probable so long as we can keep the lights on!