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What if …Reality+Digital Reality becomes … Reality – IV

The expected growth of DIGITAL REALITY, seen through the adoption of Augmented and Virtual Reality. Notice that the expectation is to reach close to 100 B$ in 2025, up from the 26 B$ expected in 2019.. That is 4x in just 6 years. Also of interest the expectation of the adoption of Digital Reality outside of the creative economy. By 2025 the expectation is to see an adoption by many sectors outside the creative ones, an indication that Digital Reality will start percolating the whole business landscape. Image Source: World Economic Forum on data from Goldman Sachs

After the somewhat negative thoughts on Digital Reality, I feel the need to look at the other side of the coin. Digital Reality is raising brows, and debate, when we are becoming part of it, however the use of Digital Reality in manufacturing, education, healthcare and more is showing mostly upsides and no critical downsides. So, let’s take a look, remembering that even in this context we, as human, play a role but I will tackle that later.

Remember that I started these reflections on Digital Reality by noting that one of the key aspects is the possibility of translating the physical world into a virtual world. Today we have this possibility through IoT –Internet of Things and Digital Twins.

Industry started many years ago, basically as soon as mini-computers (remember DEC?) had their way into the production environment, to create digital models of products as part of the design phase. The software supporting the creation of these models have become more and more sophisticated, flexible and performant, supporting simulation and linking various suppliers in the value chain. By the 80ies Boeing was able to design the 777 airplane completely in the cyberspace, up to the last rivet. No mock up was developed, everything took place in the cyberspace creating a digital plane. All suppliers in the value chain had to move to the cyberspace to design, test and simulate the integration of their components for the digital plane. Customers were made to experience the look and feel of the plane by looking at its digital version and decided on the furbishing based on its digital representation.

The Boeing 777 was probably the first large, complex, manufacturing endeavour that shifted processes to the cyberspace making use of Digital Reality.

Today more and more companies are following in the footsteps of Boeing and working in the cyberspace throughout the value chain has become the way to go.

This is also starting to transform the user experience. Ikea provides an app letting its clients to look at their virtual version of its products overlaying them in their home through augmented reality. Using a tablet or a smartphone camera you get on the screen the image of your living room and you can choose an Ikea product, a vase, a lamp, a chair, a couch… and see how it would fit at your place. Of course, you can change colour of the fabric, try different sizes and move it around to get a feeling of the possibility (watch the clip).

In a way the Ikea app is very basic. There is so much more that could be done to deliver a much better experience. Just to mention a few:

– you should have the capability to rearrange the real objects in your living room to make space for the product (notice how in this situation you are distorting the physical reality through the digital one…);
– you should be able to customise the product and send the customisation request to Ikea to get your on-demand product (yes, this goes beyond augmented reality but it is an integral part of Industry 4.0, and although Ikea at the moment does not support customisation, things will change in the next decade. Notice that this means using Digital Reality to create a new Physical Reality);

– you should be able to simulate, and experience what it means having such a product, e.g. by placing the couch in that corner, how do I see the television? (Using Digital Reality as a mock up of a future Physical Reality)

In the case of Ikea we are looking at the representation in bits, in the cyberspace, of real physical products that we can order right away.

All of this “blubbering” to point out that the boundaries between a physical and a digital reality are not so well defined, we have tools, interfaces that are not just letting us move seamlessly from one to the other, they are also blurring, from a perceptual point of view, those boundaries.

If you like stepping aside in the philosophical domain, you remember the saying the we (humans) are the measure of all things, and in a comment to one of my previous post Heinz points out, correctly, that we as single persons are experiencing unique realities. As the boundaries between physical reality and digital reality blurs, so it blurs our measuring stick.

More to follow.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.