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Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag

Information on the project

Virtual and Augmented Reality – development paths, application potentials, technology impacts

Thematic area: Information technologies
Analytical approach: TA project
Topic initiative: Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment
Status: ongoing
Current project phase: Conducting literature analysis and expert interviews
Duration: 2017 till 2018

Background and central aspects of the topic

The term Virtual Reality (VR) refers to a computer-assisted, software-generated simulation of real or fictitious environments the users can enter by means of appropriate human-machine interfaces (e. g. VR glasses) and in which they can interact with the simulated environment. In contrast, Augmented Reality (AR) refers to a computer-generated extension of the perceivable reality. Here, for example, additional information such as texts, images or virtual objects are superimposed into the users’ field of vision, e. g. working instructions displayed on the glasses of an assembly worker.

The intensity of the merger of physical and virtual realities is referred to as level of immersion: While total immersion describes a feeling of getting entirely immersed in a virtual, artificial environment, the real environment is still omnipresent in case of lower levels of immersion (e. g. for AR solutions). For a perfect VR environment, all components of the real world including creatures, objects, natural phenomena as well as their sounds, odours and haptic properties would have to be simulated. However, currently available technical solutions are still far from reaching such results.

Nevertheless, due to continuous performance increases and the beginning degression of costs, technologies originating from the 1960ies are currently in a phase of development during which they are beginning to be used in various professional and private fields of application. Successful application tests include, for example, the treatment of phobias during which the patients are confronted with the fear-inducing situation by means of VR (e. g. contact with spiders, experience of high altitudes).

Due to the multitude of new devices that are put on the market by manufacturers like Samsung, Microsoft, Sony, Google or HTC, particularly the consumer-related multimedia aspect of VR seems to gain momentum. In fact, however, current developments of B2B solutions for industry, medicine, tourism, culture, construction and architecture can easily compare with the consumer sector. This underlines the economic and social relevance of VR and AR.

Objectives and approach

  • What are the areas of private and professional everyday life for which VR and AR technologies are or will become relevant?
  • What is the significance of VR and AR in an increasingly digitalised world and which novel services and business models are to be expected?
  • How will VR and AR change our professional and private everyday life or our way of using media?
  • What are the effects of staying permanently in virtual environments on our physical and mental health?

For the study, the available scientific and grey literature concerning the issue shall be viewed and guideline-based interviews with experts from the different potential fields of application shall be conducted. Based on this, future scenarios shall be developed describing the influence of VR and AR on different living and working environments. Besides the emerging game changers of technological development, the focus is also on considering economic and social consequences. By means of trend radars, further specification and an assessment of the technology impacts shall be carried out.

Then, within the framework of an expert workshop, the trend radars shall be discussed, validated and examined with regard to enabling technologies and cross references concerning several fields of application. The future scenarios and trend radars are intended to provide a fundamental structure of the thematic field of VR and AR, to assess the impacts and consequences of using VR and AR technologies and to identify potential needs for action.

The overall objective of the analysis process is to consider the increasingly complex subject of investigation in a differentiated way, to specify trend-setting challenges of the future developments and to derive associated consequences for economy and society.

Project progress

Based on an analysis of the available scientific and grey literature concerning the topic, the central lines of development of VR and AR technologies as well as the resulting challenges are currently being identified. In parallel, the guideline-based expert interviews mentioned above are being carried out. On this basis, future scenarios and trend radars will be prepared in a next step.