In this week’s episode of Emotion Lab, David Ripert from Poplar Studio joins Graeme Cox to discuss how immersive technologies are revolutionising user experiences across many different industries and use cases. David draws upon on his 19 years worth of international leadership experience at large multinational companies including Netflix, Google and Youtube. As CEO and co-founder of Poplar Studio, a creative platform that provides award-winning 3D and Augmented Reality (AR) experiences on-demand for Marketing and Commerce and the UK President of the VR/AR Association, he provides his unique insights on the future of immersive technologies.

Companies are forever fighting for consumer attention and engagement. Immersive technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) allow retailers and content creators to step up their engagement game and get creative.  David Ripert notes how our engagement with content on platforms such as YouTube still remains fairly passive  (likes, follows and subscriptions). Immersive technologies allow consumers to interact and engage more actively with content. This is evident through the successes of features such as Instagram Stories and face filters. AR face filters have played a pivotal part in the growth in popularity of applications such as Instagram and Snapchat. These AR experiences have typically been limited to use within a specific app but with the advent of web-based AR filters, consumers no longer need to have applications already downloaded to their device. Apple and Google’s AR platforms allow for easier building of augmented reality experiences, lowering the barrier to entry for creatives wishing to harness the power of these technologies.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the death of the UK high street retail sector. Retailers with a digital presence have thrived over this period, with AR and VR technologies set to revolutionise customer experience. With AR, customers can experience how a product will appear on themselves, in their house, on their kitchen counter, or on their shelf. AR empowers customers to visualise and customise products virtually, resulting in a more impactful, personalised shopping experience. For example, using face tracking technologies, customers are now able to virtually try-on glasses, hats, make-up. As body tracking technologies improve, customers will be able to have a similar level of virtual experience trying on clothes, or watches etc. When customers shop in-person, they’re able to look, touch, and feel products. It is likely that the future of retail stores might look quite different. Imagine stepping into a store where cameras create a volumetric capture of you to create a ‘digital twin’. This digital twin would help with shopping by emulating your sizes, style preferences, body type etc. Graeme built on this idea about a digital twin referring to a digital personal assistant who understands your behavioural likes and dislikes, and therefore can act for you in the digital world to save time. This again raises the question, what is the balance between risk and reward in access to personal data?  As immersive technologies are increasingly adopted throughout the UK and globally, David highlights the importance of continuing conversations about the ways in which data is being used and managed for these new technologies.

As mentioned by Graeme, AR not only has the potential to improve engagement but also provides companies with a deeper level of understanding about how their customers interact with their products and their emotions compared to indirect web-based metrics such as time spent hovering over particular locations on a website. Companies can learn in real-time what customers want based on their reactions and emotions when engaging with products.

Household brand IKEA realised the potential of AR in the retail sector and released the IKEA Place app which allows customers to visualise furniture in their own space through the use of a back camera. Customers want to know whether their purchase suits and fits their needs. By providing customers with the ability to customise products in real-time, AR supports them to make the right choice the first time around. For the retailer, this equates to reduced return rates, less wastage and greater efficiency. For the customer, they can more confidently make buying decisions, meaning greater customer satisfaction and stronger customer brand loyalty. More personalised recommendations and targeted information can be seen as a benefit for both individuals and corporations. However as Graeme notes, there is also a risk of increased erosion of personal privacy as the data that defines us as individuals is shared. How much are consumers willing to share privately with companies to get more customised, relevant information? The answer to this question, David believes, lies in the day-to-day value perceived by consumers sharing their information. David believes that visual searches are the future and will help to make information more accessible and useful for people. With visual search, people can walk with access to rich, useful information overlaid on their environment. These searches could be accessed through AR glasses, smart phones or even smart contact lenses in the future. AR glasses are preferred to phones which can be bothersome, awkward to hold and dangerous.

Immersive technologies are disrupting many industries. Graeme and David spoke particularly about the application of these technologies for soft skills training and therapeutic interventions. David is a non-executive director for Bodyswaps, an award-winning immersive learning platform designed to deliver lasting behavioural change. Some of scenarios on the platform include identifying and managing conflict, preparing for job interviews and challenging leaders about inappropriate behaviour. Soft skills training sessions are normally delivered in the classroom or virtually. Bodyswaps allows learners to safely practice soft skills through realistic workplace scenarios which are available for PC or VR or mobile. Then learners swap bodies and watch themselves back from another perspective, observing their own behaviour and listening to their own voice. This alternative perspective can be hugely powerful, with behavioural analysis providing personalised recommendations to improve. ‘Practice makes perfect. It’s about practicing in a safe environment’ describes David, with the repetition of scenarios helping to improve retention of information and ultimately improve practice.

A study conducted by PWC into the effectiveness of VR found that using virtual reality training was more effective than classroom and e-learning settings at teaching soft skills concepts. Participants who received virtual reality training were more focused, more emotionally connected to the content and more confident to act on what they had learnt compared to the other teaching methods. Another advantage is that immersive technologies and software can be purchased off-the-shelf, deployed and managed at scale to train large workforces. The ability of immersive technologies to allow anyone to “walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes is one of the real powers of VR” describes David. He talks about the powerful and eye-opening work of Chris Milk, who created the first film shot in VR for the United Nations called ‘Clouds Over Sidra’. This film follows a typical day for a 12 year old girl, Sidra who lives in the Za’atari camp in Jordan. It is designed to generate greater empathy for people like Sidra who live in conditions of vulnerability, highlight the realities of living in a refugee camp and inspire global citizens to act. Using the medium of VR, Chris has created a powerful and ‘ultimate empathy machine’.

Immersive technologies are not only being used to create engaging content for entertainment but to also improve lives. Emteq labs uses objective measures of emotion, emotional responses and stress responses to improve therapeutic interventions. VR allows for an individual to be placed in an environment that simulates their phobias in a safe way allowing them to practice their responses. The therapist-patient relationship underpins the success of interventions and so it is very important that the therapist is included in these environments. By tracking objective measures, we can ultimately improve patient outcomes for those going through therapy but also improve the performance of the therapist.

David Ripert is the UK President of the VR AR Association (VRARA), a wide ranging body with 4000+ members across the world including universities, government, investors, startups and corporates. VRARA is focusing heavily on growing and supporting the ecosystem, creating awareness and educating the various stakeholders. As more companies start developing these products, there is a need for investors who understand the potential of immersive technologies to help finance these companies, and governments to support through grants and public funding alongside partnerships with universities.

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