VR and AR Technologies Are Not Just for Gaming


It wasn’t too long ago that people were chasing and catching Pokémon with excitement. (Was that just this past summer?) The explosion of Augmented Reality (AR), and its sister technology Virtual Reality (VR), is changing the way we see the world, literally. Even the White House is looking to capitalize on the success of AR technology with the release of a new White House app called 1600.

It is expected that by the year 2020, VR and AR will become $120-billion industries.  One thing is for certain, as the technologies continue to thrive, it is clear that VR and AR are going to be useful for far more than just gaming.

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever South by South Lawn (SXSL) event. Billed as a “White House festival of ideas, art, and action,” I attended SXSL as a guest of the Creative Alliance – a collective of which Blue Engine is a proud member that brings together technology, design, and communications agencies to donate time, resources and creativity to support public engagement campaigns. From the moment I stepped onto the South Lawn I was impressed. I’ve had the privilege to attend events at the White House before, but the energy of the crowd at SXSL was different. I was expecting an adult science fair, but it felt more like a homecoming.

The presenters and exhibits were thought-provoking, but as a communications strategist, seeing their use of technology for communicating a message was particularly eye opening. Take for example 6×9: A Virtual Experience of Solitary Confinement. This, to me, was the most profound innovation on display at SXSL. A virtual reality experience produced by The Guardian, 6×9 places participants inside a U.S. solitary confinement prison cell for nine minutes and tells the story of the emotional and psychological damage that solitary confinement does to prisoners. You can watch the trailer here.

The immersive nature of this technology made the message from the creators clear: solitary confinement harms people in permanent ways. I am blessed to not have incarcerated loved ones, nor do I personally know of anyone in prison, but I left the exhibit questioning the purpose of the practice, something I had not previously spent much time thinking about. In fact, since attending SXSL I’ve not only reflected on those nine minutes and what it brought to life for me for the first time, but I’ve also been considering what I can do to bring broader attention to the urgent need to end the practice of solitary confinement all together. I’ve talked about my experience at SXSL with friends, family and colleagues, and while I don’t have the magic answer on how we improve our criminal justice system, I’m talking about it and fostering dialogue with new audiences. In short: A virtual reality experience brought me from awareness, to caring to an urgent need to drive action, all in nine short minutes.

As we look to the future of the communications industry, the use of virtual and augmented reality technologies will likely play a growing role in how we reach existing audiences with new content and how we expose new audiences to our core messages. Light years beyond the days of simply sending press releases to share announcements, through VR and AR agencies, companies and even campaigns will be able to communicate feeling, space and tone on behalf of clients from remote distances. People will be able to participate in shared experiences – something that is critical to motivating action in support of a movement.

It is exciting to think about how we can use VR and AR technologies to push boundaries, collaborate and embrace innovation. By doing so, we not only succeed for our businesses, but have an opportunity to do so for our society as well.