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VR and AR are now widely known terms for travel brands but could ‘mixed reality’ deliver something different?

Imagine a day when cognitive artificial intelligence (AI) and customer relationship management insights all come together in a digital display on the screen of a pair of slick high-tech glasses?

Is this the future of customer service for airlines, hotels, cruise companies and more? Stuart Greif, a senior executive at Microsoft, who is speaking in Las Vegas, whose one area of focus is travel and hospitality, believes so.

And no he isn’t talking about virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) glasses but those that deliver mixed reality. While there seems to be some confusion about the distinction between AR and MR, there is a difference. This article from Vox Media company Recode explains, “’mixed reality’ tries to combine the best aspects of both VR and AR, wrapped up in a marketable term that sounds marginally less geeky than its cousins”.

Just for the record, a recent report from the International Data Corporation, found that dedicated AR and VR headsets collectively are expected to grow from just under 10 million units in 2016 to just shy of 100 million units by 2021.

With VR products like Sony PlayStation, HTC Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift expected to ramp up in the second half of 2016, it could be argued that VR leads the way. But IDC Programme Vice President Ryan Reith has said: “It is very clear to us that augmented reality is the larger of the two plays," and is particularly relevant for “deployment in real-time commercial projects with significant ROI”.

IDC talks about the commercial opportunities for AR in vertical markets like healthcare, manufacturing and design, but what about travel?

Many travel firms have experimented with VR and AR, but word on the street is that the real opportunity lies with mixed reality

Certainly, many travel firms have experimented with VR and AR, but word on the street is that the real opportunity lies with mixed reality.

As an example, Air New Zealand recently worked with Dimension Data, a Johannesburg-based IT services company, to develop software for Microsoft’s HoloLens, which, says Greif, is frequently mischaracterised as an AR viewer but in fact delivers mixed reality.

For airlines, as we see from the slide from Air New Zealand, an MR display could feature data about the customer such as a customer's preferred meal and drinks choice, onward travel and loyalty membership details. Details could even be displayed about the person’s onboard duty free purchasing history and more. It could even detect the emotion of the customer by picking up on visual and audio cues.

Greif says: “The timing for such a scenario is up for debate but this type of engagement will happen in the years ahead”.

Having said that, there is plenty of work to do, as a scroll down comments on the YouTube video reveals, not least that the customer might want a more human touch, and there are also issues around privacy.

Greif acknowledges that “yes we could do with a little more eye contact,” and “yes, there are absolutely privacy issues and I don’t believe we are there yet today in terms of society’s acceptance, adoption”. 

But, he points out: “This is not a fully deployed solution. The HoloLens glasses need to come down in form factor, size, weight and to increase the field of vision, and CRM systems too need to be integrated to make the solution work at scale,” he says.

Just look how unsettled and uncomfortable people were when Google Glasses first emerged, but now Apple’s iPhone is doing facial recognition, which will no doubt propel this technology into the mainstream (more on this later this month).

Selfies, social and the show-off era

Indeed, with the rise of mobile cameras, selfie-culture, widespread sharing of personal information on social platforms and so on, it’s fair to say that, like it or not, accepted norms and behaviour have shifted significantly. Ten years ago who would have thought that many ordinary people would be sharing everything from what they had for breakfast to their bathroom beauty secrets and travel snaps – and not just to their friends, but publicly to a global audience.

Commenting about ‘show-off Britain’ in the Guardian, film critic Peter Bradshaw might put it like this: “We’re all at it. Showing people your holiday snaps used to be a byword for dullness. Now we’re incessantly sharing them live on Instagram.”

But for many travel companies, the travellers’ ‘dull’ pursuit has proved to be beneficial both for branding efforts and cutting costs, with those taking great holiday snaps providing free marketing in what we now know as ‘user generated content’. Not so beneficial, perhaps, for pro travel photographers and the traditional print travel rag.

Says Greif: “Socially, people and society are in a different place, and this is even truer for younger folks. The line has moved quite a bit over the past decade.”

Still for privacy advocates, the prospect of a flight attendant having access to personal information overlaid on a screen as they serve you your favourite cocktail may well lead the displayed ‘emotion’ to shift rapidly from ‘calm’ to ‘apoplectic’. So there is work to do.

Greif argues that “opt-in will remain key, and protecting data, just as is the case for other customer data,” but he is clearly an evangelist for mixed reality.

Opt-in will remain key, and protecting data, just as is the case for other customer data

“Once you experience it, even though it sounds like a cliché, you quickly realise how much it will change everything once the technology matures and goes mainstream,” he says.

It depends on how it’s used of course but an early application of HoloLens from a company called Black Marble could help to address one of the primary concerns at crime scenes – contamination of evidence. That might be something that even privacy advocates buy into.  

Join us in Las Vegas next week for EyeforTravel North America 2017 to hear more from Stuart Greif and others tech movers and shakers in online travel

*Note: 20% of all future tickets sales to the event will be donated to the victims and their families*

Main Image Courtesy: affinityvr

 

EyeforTravel North America 2017

October 2017, Las Vegas (USA)

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