For the privileged few, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have become commonplace, increasingly used in everything from entertainment and online commerce to healthcare. Many communities, however, still do not experience the real impact of these transformational technologies because of an innovation gap that compounds our digital divides.
Imagine the value of this technology for sectors such as education, mining and tourism, all of which were effectively shut down during the current COVID-19 pandemic. The current global health crisis has shown us how a failure to digitize value chains across sectors has significantly affected social conditions worldwide and highlighted – even exacerbated – the digital divide.
- An estimated 3.7 billion people globally are offline and many more do not enjoy a full digital experience;
- Connecting more people to AR and VR technologies could transform everything from education and healthcare to mining and tourism;
- To take AR and VR mainstream, the right technologies must be enabled and local knowledge and support systems must be established.
There are two concrete ways to help close the digital divide and enable inclusive digital economies:
- establish a sound enabling environment for digital transformation, and
- foster collaborative digital innovation systems that address “Main Street” problems.
AR/VR is mainstream – but only for a small segment of our digital world
For novices, virtual reality and augmented reality can be considered as simulated experiences, where a scenario is replicated in a digital environment and where users are able to interact with that virtual world using computer-based objects.
If you ask young people about VR or AR, they will probably tell you about that latest headset on the market to play video games or engage with social media. You may have come across the technology yourself without really knowing it: virtual clothes shopping, virtual apartment visits, virtual tourism even high-end industrial solutions, such as professional flight simulators. The potential of AR/VR systems is boundless – yet for the moment, access and impact are limited to the very few communities who can afford them.