UAE can take the lead in AR and VR for government
Augmented reality and virtual reality solutions are moving out of the gaming arena and into practical usage scenarios for a range of purposes across the public sector, writes Sab Budahazi of ARworks
Lately, a lot of ink has been spilled over the fact that Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are expected to be the hottest technology for the next couple of years. In fact, in January, both technologies hit CES — the biggest tech event in the world, which sets the trends in the sector — in a big way with companies such as Google, Samsung or Facebook announcing large investments in AR and VR, and all the others using the technologies to enhance their brands. It is clear that VR and AR are here to stay and will be a key tool in the marketplace.
While Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are commonly associated with gaming, they are used in various industries and have drawn government attention for information technology, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance applications. The application of such technologies offers users entirely new ways of perceiving and interacting with the digital world and its re-emergence has caused enormous excitement across a wide range of sectors. So how can governments take advantage of these technologies?
According to Google’s global interactive tool Consumer Barometer, around 85% of UAE residents access the internet through their smart phones or tablets, and 70% of smartphone users said they would choose to complete a task digitally if the option was available. Knowing the mind-sets of their population, the UAE Federal and Local Governments, and their branches, have extensive plans to digitize government services through apps or online services. But there are more avenues to explore with VR and AR.
Firstly, it might be useful to define precisely what Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are.
Virtual Reality is all about creating an artificial world that users can interact with via computer simulations, including sounds and 3D images or objects in a seemingly physical way — using equipment like headsets or goggles. A VR experience allows users to dive into a virtual world visualizing its elements all around.
Augmented Reality is a technology that mixes real and virtual world elements. It offers real time view of images augmented by video, graphics or GPS data, within applications that blend in with contents in the physical world. AR technology allows visualizing any type of 3D model as if it was actually there. According to information released by ImpactLab, AR solutions will reach a total of 1 billion people by 2020.
Adding value to government
The usage of AR and VR technologies by governments can facilitate knowledge transfer and awaken curiosity in citizens for learning and interacting in an engaging, immersive, and fun way. Here are some examples:
Technology-based approaches to disaster response training through Virtual Reality environments is promising in bridging the gaps of traditional methods. The immersive nature of VR training offers a unique realistic quality that is not generally present in classroom-based or web-based training. Moreover, in the end it can be cheaper and more convenient than large-scale real life drills. As AR-based applications that help people find the nearest coffee shop or petrol station grow in popularity, the public will demand that the emergency services provide AR that gives information to find the fastest way to evacuate, location for clean water or the nearest medical facilities in case of disaster situations.
The ability to introduce practical knowledge to the classroom without actually leaving it, makes educational experience invaluable, stimulates imagination and creativity. Rather than just listening to lectures, students can put words underneath a headset and get a real experience but in a virtual context. For example: when learning about history, with VR, students can enter into ancient buildings, feeling like they are actually there; go to a museum and walk around Mars and learn its characteristics while virtually there; they can travel around the human body’s veins like they are sitting in a tiny submarine and exploring how the organs work. Millennials are very comfortable with all things tech and learning can be much easier and fruitful when it is fun.
Augmented Reality makes visible things that otherwise one wouldn’t be able to see with the naked eye, and this has great potential for clinical purposes. For instance, seeing on top of a table from different angles and distances a 3D model that looks like a real, working organ before a surgery or during medical researches. Investigations across the globe have also proven that Virtual Reality therapy can be as effective as real or imaginary exposure for the treatment of common phobias, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorders. The technology allow the person to disengage immediately from the situation should it become unbearable, and the environment and conditions can be tailored to each case. VR and AR can also be a very interesting tool for public information campaigns about a certain disease, such as diabetes.
Virtual reality has been adopted in many countries by the military for training purposes – flight, battlefield or vehicle simulation, virtual boot camp. It’s particularly useful in training soldiers for combat situations or other dangerous settings where they have to learn how to react without any actual personal danger. If in combat, AR apps can serve as a networked communication system that renders useful battlefield data onto a soldier’s goggles in real time. Virtual maps and 360° view camera imaging can also be rendered to aid a soldier’s navigation and battlefield perspective.
The same advantages and examples can be applied to security, transport or infrastructure. Options are endless, available now, and can be developed in 2-3 months to be experienced through a simple smartphone or VR device. Whilst the demand for AR and VR is currently driven by the consumer and gaming markets the maturity of the technology and its ubiquitous use will drive government departments to exploit the advances made in support of government applications.
Sab Budahazi is CEO for ARworks, a developer of innovative mobile applications.