Horse’s Mouth: Cathy Hackl, futurist

At Adobe’s Summit 2019, technology, particularly how businesses can take advantage of it, was the great topic of focus. One of the speakers who really got attendees talking was AR and VR futurist Cathy Hackl, who joined the summit to talk about the different realities of the future and what they mean for businesses. 

On all the ‘R’s

There’s a lot of terms — AR, VR, MR [mixed reality]and now XR.

In the industry, we are using XR as an umbrella term for all the realities. To some people, it stands for ‘extended reality’ while for others ‘X’ is treated as a variable.

Another term I’ve heard growing in use is ‘spatial computing’ to talk about that combination of blending the digital and the physical into our technology and our reality. That’s a term you will see more often.

On the appeal of MR for customers

It’s facilitating a transaction where I don’t have to go somewhere to try something on and purchase it.

Eventually what you are going to be able to do is put on something like Magic Leap [a head-mounted virtual retinal display]and see a mannequin with a dress on that you can change the colour and pattern on — and that mannequin is actually going to be a volumetric scale of you.

While that’s not possible yet, it’s coming as we can see in an example like Stitch Fix, a subscription clothing service.

Recently it partnered with a company that has 3D scanners at gyms so at the gym you get scanned to track how you’re losing weight and how you’re measuring and they share that scan with Stitch Fix so it can change the clothes they are sending you.

On the scalability of different realities

VR, as it stands, is hard to scale because you have to put the person through the headset. Right now, the easiest way to scale something immersive right now is through mobile AR because a big percentage of the population that has a mobile has one that can view AR.

On the results

The result is brands are having show people want to move away from being shown a flat photo to a full visualization.

For example, Build.com, an app that is for building products, saw a 400 percent increase in sales online of products that were AR enabled.

Houzz [a home décor company]has proven that mobile AR can increase sales conversation rates by 11 times the rate without AR.

Bobbi Brown cosmetics has been testing out augmented reality and they’ve seen three times the click through rate to the number of website purchases using AR versus a regular video ad and an average user spent 61 seconds engaging with those AR ads.

On 5G opening a new door

One of the killer applications of 5G will be VR and AR because there won’t be latency — you’ll be able to put on a headset and have a hologrammed person collaborate with you because there won’t be latency.

I don’t like to say how far off that we are because I think it depends on a lot of factors and it’s a conversation not just about AR and VR but also the emerging technologies because AI, 5G and Blockchain, VR and AR all have to move forward together.

On re-designing design

When you talk about augmented and virtual reality you are talking about content expanding beyond content that is flat — it’s moving to content that is 360 degrees.

AR is powerful in that if you are designing a product for function in the real world, it’s liberating you from just having to work on the flat screen. Yeah right now it might be a 3D model but it’s still a flat screen.

As an example, with AR you can have a 3D model in front of you and you can make changes to it in your space.

And when you are actually able to grab that 3D model and put it in reality and walk around and have different people looking at it and making changes, that’s powerful.

On the future of storytelling

Some of these immersive technologies allow you to move away from the concept of storytelling as a passive concept to what many of us are calling ‘story living’, where you have agency in the story — when you put your headset on you can look where ever you want. While the director of the piece is going to want you to look a certain way because there’s probably some action to see but if you want to look another way you can.

A recent example is Netflix’s Bandersnatch, which is a concept of branching narrative where the person watching it has control. By selecting ‘option A’ you can choose to follow this guy or pick ‘option B’ to jump out the window. Everyone would have a different experience and a different way to watch it.

And because people want agency and that personalised experience, we are starting to see more money being spent on this.

On its aid to training

it’s interesting to see how the technology is being used in training.

For example, I advised UPS as a VR expert and they now use virtual reality to train their drivers. New drivers coming into the business put a headset on and do modules to avoid hazards and they practice and practice before they start work.

It’s also a way to gamify the training, particularly when you have the younger generations coming into the workforce and they won’t read the book you tell them to read.

If you can add VR and gamify that training, it makes it more attractive for the younger people coming into the workforce.

On the factory of the future

We are all preoccupied with AI taking over jobs and automating them but in reality, you can use virtual realities to augment the workforce and give them superpowers in some way.

Put a headset on a low-skill worker and through it, they can access information that makes their skills higher and they are able to do tasks in a different way.

On whether or not a brand should use it

It depends on the brand and who its consumer is. if your brand sells dentures, fake teeth, you probably don’t want to do VR, right? It might not be right for the consumer that you are targeting.

Not every brand has to do it, but I think eventually they will. What I always tell brands is ‘if personal computing, mobile and social media changed your brand and your business model, this is going to change it as well’.

Some things are fads I agree, but I do think the more companies invest in the products and how they present the product to the consumer, the consumer will expect them more and more.

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