Imagine a world where you can have the experience of attending a football game without actually being there, where you can do your supermarket shopping just by putting on some glasses, or where you can enter a gaming world so realistic you might forget that you’re sitting at home. It is Augmented Reality that will make this world possible, and it is the big trend for 2016. For those of you who don’t know, Augmented Reality is technology that combines Virtual Reality with the real world.
Perhaps surprisingly, Augmented and Virtual Reality have been around for a long time. Virtual Reality was invented by Ivan Sutherland in 1965, computerised digital glasses were invented in the late 1990s and in 2009, virtual reality was named one of the 50 best inventions in Time Magazine. However, with the catatonic failure of Google Glass in 2013 and previously sky-high costs – Virtual Reality glasses cost $50,000 in the early 90s – virtual and augmented reality technologies fell out of favour. But this time it’s different. With Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus Rift for $2B in March 2014 and companies such as Google, Samsung, Sony and Apple going ‘all in’ on Virtual Reality, now is the time to invest in this big trend.
The new face of augmented reality
While Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technology used to conjure up images of sci-fi films, these days the trend is visible in everyday life. Marketers are using the technology more and more: Jaguar Land Rover’s Virtual Experience allowed customers to engage and interact with an almost life-size high resolution of any Juguar or Land Rover vehicle. Users can take a 360 degree interior and exterior view, even opening doors and starting the ignition. Google Cardboard, a VR platform developed by Google for use with a fold-out mount for a mobile phone, has partnered with a variety of companies such as Volvo, who allow users to test-drive a range of their cars with the app. Healthcare is also one of the most important and practical applications of AR technologies.
AccuVein’s Vinny Luciano said 40% of IVs miss the vein on the first stick, with the numbers getting worse for children and the elderly. Accuvein uses augmented reality by using a handheld scanner that projects over skin and shows nurses and doctors where veins are in the patients’ bodies. Luciano estimates that it’s been used on more than 10 million patients, making finding a vein on the first stick 3.5x more likely. What’s more, many people who are blind have some remaining vision. Stephen Hicks, researcher and founder of VA-ST, has created a visor that creates stencil outlines around a person’s face or buildings in order to help those with some remaining vision to improve their vision. The company won the 2014 Google Impact Challenge and are potentially set to be on the market in 2016.
The Facebook catalyst
For investors, AR and VR are two trends that provide significant potential in the future. When asked about his predictions for what social networks will look like in 10 years, Mark Zuckberg said:
I think it’s pretty easy to imagine that in the future we will have something that we can either wear – and it’ll look like normal glasses (so it won’t look weird like some of the stuff that exists today). And you’ll be able to have context with what’s going on around you in the world and communicate with people and not have to disrupt your conversations by looking down. […] We are focused on Augmented Reality.’
When the CEO of a company that has 1.5B actively monthly users – that’s 20% of the world’s population – says that he is focused on AR, it’s a good idea to take note. If just 5% of Facebook users bought the Oculus Rift devices that are set to come out in February next year, that would be 75 million devices sold. What’s more, AR and VR are expected to be the big buzz at the Consumer Electronic Show on 8th January 2016, providing another catalyst for the AR and VR trends. This trend is only set to continue, as analysts estimate that the total addressable market (TAM) is set to increase to $150B by 2020 for AR and VR combined.
Other augmented reality plays
At an all time high of $107.56, some investors may say that the time to invest in Facebook has gone. For an indirect play on the augmented reality play however, consider Cypress Semiconductor Corporation (CY), which merged with Scansion last year. Cypress Semi makes chips for many augmented reality devices and for touchscreens in mobile devices. Their Q3 earnings met analyst’s EPS expectations and management have just announced a $450 million buyback plan.
What’s more, the stock is down 35% from the start of the year, making now a good time to buy. Whether you choose to invest or not, it clear that augmented reality is no longer a futuristic concept. This is a trend that is only just beginning, and the full potential of the technology remains to be seen. With industry giants such as Apple, Google, Sony and Facebook all on board and pushing this technology, investors would be unwise to dismiss this trend as all hype.