VR and AR are maturing as healthcare technologies

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have long been the holy grail of communication technology, allowing us to not only see and hear our object of interest, but also virtually imagine that we are physically there. There have been many attempts to achieve mainstream VR success over the decades, with the recently announced metaverse being the most recent bid. However, in the world of healthcare, mixed reality (MR) is present in the medical education space.

A tech startup called GigXR has developed a new technology, HoloScenarios, which is used by medical students to gain experience with medical scenarios. For example, students can simulate a scenario where they encounter a patient with respiratory problems and need to diagnose them correctly.

However, why is the use of MR increasing? Haven’t we made great strides in the world of VR lately? Yes, but there’s a lot more to go. GlobalData predicts that enterprise-level VR will boom in the coming years, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 33%, with revenue reaching a staggering $22 billion by 2030. This is due to VR’s ability to deliver large, expensive, or rare scenarios or objects, allowing salespeople and technical personnel to work with and learn from a model without ever having to move on site. However, according to a report from GlobalData, VR is still plagued by cost and accessibility issues and can “cause accidents and cause nausea with prolonged use.” A recent study from Coburg University in Germany showed that no participant preferred working in VR, in part because of nausea, inability to concentrate or simply the distracting weight of the headset on their head.

Conversely, the corporate space shows a huge interest in developing VR technology, with 10,000 patent applications filed in 2020 alone. Currently, Facebook, Alphabet (Google’s parent company), and Sony are the top three VR patent holders. With this and the coming of the metaverse, we can see the industry doubling the use of VR with many companies expecting it to be the future of work and education. According to GlobalData, VR is widely used as a tool for surgical training or mental health in healthcare.

So what’s so great about MR? Of course, by being ‘blended’ it bypasses many of the problems that normal VR suffers from, such as nausea and bumping into walls or furniture, because the user can still see the world around them. This allows MR to enjoy all the good sides of VR technology while avoiding the bad. In this way, MR has a lot of potential to catch up with and possibly even surpass VR technology in healthcare.

GlobalData currently estimates that by 2030, the VR and AR markets will grow by approximately 25% each to reach a staggering $126 billion by 2030. If MR is allowed to develop sufficiently, it will prove extremely disruptive to this still evolving space and threaten to single-handedly take over the entire market. To achieve this, MR will have to offer a comparable visualization to AR, but with the intuitiveness and interaction of VR. If it achieves both goals, it will easily steal market share.

According to GlobalData, leading companies such as Microsoft are already trying to establish themselves in this area with products like Microsoft Mesh. If companies can move quickly in this new and promising space, they may be able to compete with a technology that delivers all the benefits of VR, without the drawbacks.

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