As our lives grow more intertwined with digital technologies, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are poised to transform a multitude of sectors—including gaming, marketing, e-commerce, entertainment, the workplace, education, healthcare, and beyond—with their vast potential and promising capabilities.
Indeed, the AR & VR market is projected to grow at an annual rate of 13.75% and is expected to reach a market volume of US$53.7 billion by 2027. These technologies offer enriched experiences by seamlessly merging the virtual and real worlds with enhanced 3-D visuals.
When it comes to augmented reality, almost anyone with a smartphone can get access to it. This technology enhances the user's real-life experience by projecting virtual pictures and characters through a camera or video viewer. Virtual reality, on the other hand, takes it all to another level by producing an entirely computer-generated immersive simulation of an alternate world using special equipment such as computers, sensors, headsets, and gloves.
Together, AR and VR enhance user engagement by creating a fictional world that interacts with the real one, thus leading to an immersive mixed-reality experience.
Given the vast potential of these technologies and market size, several AR and VR companies have been cropping up, so let’s see some of the hottest companies that are set to change the field.
The US-based Magic Leap is building a wearable technology that allows users to interact with digital gadgets in a purely visual cinematic manner. Founded by Brian Schowengerdt and Rony Abovitz in 2010, this startup counts Alibaba Group, Google, Temasek Holdings, a16z, Fidelity Management, and Research Company among its investors.
Magic Leap provides leading wearable technology with its patented Dynamic Digitized Lightfield Signal, which allows for a relatively realistic VR experience with life-like augmented objects. The tech can be used in medicine as well as corporate training and beyond. The company also manufactures and licenses the intellectual property for components crucial in AR devices.
2. Wist Labs
The Wist: Immersive Memories app from Wist Labs allows people to store old “memories” and watch them whenever they want. All you need is a smartphone with AR support or a VR headset.
The way it works is that you record videos of everyday moments, utilizing sensors in new smartphones to capture the footage's 3D information, which is then converted into a VR video. These memories can then be viewed using a mobile AR or VR headset, such as the Meta Quest 2, with support for Quest 3 and the soon-to-launch Apple Vision Pro. However, the app is currently in private beta mode.
This British startup, which has raised over $24 million, uses VR to help deliver cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Defined as a “Breakthrough Device” by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for its treatment of schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses, OxfordVR uses VR headsets to guide patients through everyday situations, which can cause fear and anxiety for those suffering from psychosis.
A clinical review of OxfordVR’s VR treatment has been found to be effective at treating patients with severe agoraphobia or distress. The startup has been running trials with the U.S.-based veterans charity Wounded Warrior Project and the UK’s National Health Service.
AppliedVR is another startup bringing the power of VR to healthcare, chronic pain treatment, to be exact. Its flagship product, the RelieVRx program, consists of a headset and software guiding patients in pain management exercises and was granted marketing authorization by the FDA.
The company aims to expand in providing treatment for different types of chronic pain as well as adjacent areas of behavioral health. It further continues to invest in research and clinical trials for its VR-based therapeutics programs.
AppliedVR has also partnered with esteemed medical institutions like the Cleveland Clinic, Boston Children’s Hospital, Veterans Health Administration, Lovell Government Services, and more.
Founded in 2012 by Palmer Luckey, the VR company was acquired by Meta (previously known as Facebook) for $2 billion. The Oculus VR was the company's first consumer product, which also created the Oculus Rift DK1 and the Oculus Rift DK2. The Oculus Rift VR headset was rebranded as Meta Quest. Most recently, Meta released the Quest 3 VR headset, described as “the first mainstream mixed reality headset” by Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
The company has been focused on building the metaverse and developing new generations of VR headsets. So, virtual reality has been a major initiative for Meta, and with Oculus, Zuckerberg wants to build a platform for many experiences.
Sony has been involved in the AR/VR space for some time now, starting with PlayStation VR. The headset is designed to provide gamers with an immersive VR experience.
Early in 2023, Sony launched PlayStation VR2, which comes with a Sense controller with haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, headset feedback to amplify sensations, 3D Audio, eye tracking, and a high-fidelity visual experience.
A major hardware player in the VR space, Sony’s PSVR 2 has captured 35.9% of the market share, sitting only behind Meta’s 47.8%. To expand beyond hardware, Sony is leaving a mark in the VR space by investing in VR games and experiences, collaborating with other entities in the VR industry, and securing related patents.
Best known for launching the augmented reality game Pokemon Go, Niantic is a company started by Googlers John Hanke and Phil Keslin. Niantic aims to build a digital layer around the real world, enabled by 3D maps, for people to interact with content and experiences.
One of its big products is Lightship, a software development platform through which Niantic provides advanced AR for everyday smartphones and tablets, making it easy to work with and transform the real world, and reach even more users.
In June 2023, the software company announced its rewarded AR ad product that takes advantage of Niantic’s immersive AR technology to help marketers reach gamers in the physical world.
A leading designer and manufacturer of Smart Glasses and AR technology and products, Vuzix caters to enterprise, medical, defense, and consumer markets. Its products include head-mounted smart personal displays and wearable computing devices that offer users a portable, high-quality viewing experience and OEM waveguide optical components and display engines.
Vuzix is a public company that has over 300 patents and numerous IP licenses in the fields of optics, head-mounted displays, and AI Video Eyewear field. And according to the company CEO Paul Travers, the combination of AR and artificial intelligence (AI) can “revolutionize the healthcare industry.”
Unity is a game development engine that developers use to create 2D and 3D graphics environments for games, movies, architecture, and more. The company counts Vancouver Airport Authority, Orlando Economic Partnership, the movie Lion King, directors Steven Spielberg and Denis Villeneuve, and games like Pokemon Go, Subnautica, and Cities: Skylines among its users. In 2023, Unity is among the most used game engines, second to only Unreal Engine, thanks to being accessible and popular with indie developers.
Proximie is a UK-based AR startup that enables healthcare professionals to observe and advise on surgeries virtually. The platform released its smart glasses solution, PxLens, this year after its successful pilot tests last year. This wearable smart glass, whose lenses use Vuzix M4000 along with see-through waveguide technology, is a voice-activated device with commands enabling hands-free control.
It can be quickly set up and paired easily with the Proximie mobile app, as well as be seamlessly integrated with Proximie’s cloud platform for telepresence and content management.
PxLens “improves patient care, training, skills development, and overall surgical efficiency,” said Proximie founder and CEO Dr Nadine Hachach-Haram.
11. Sense Arena
This one is a VR training tool that allows athletes to train mental and cognitive skills every day, anywhere.
Most recently, Sense Arena partnered with the NHL in a multi-year deal, and in Aug. 2023, the company expanded its reach with a multi-year partnership with the ATP Tour to improve athletic performance through mental visualization and preparation.
The platform is powered by a Meta Quest 2 Headset and is paired with haptic sports equipment to offer groundbreaking VR training applications to players of all levels worldwide. It also plans to feature a new integration called Master Your Return, which will be powered by real match data and analytics from pro players.
VRChat is a social platform for users to interact and socialize with each other using a variety of customizable 3D avatars with lip sync, eye tracking/blinking, and a complete range of motion. Users can express themselves with hand gestures, emotes, and emojis, while VRChat’s 3-D spatialized audio enhances the entire experience by simulating the way sounds behave in the real world.
Founded in 2014, this online virtual world platform also allows users to create their own environments and immerse themselves in a variety of virtual experiences. The platform currently supports Steam, Steam VR, Meta Quest, Meta Rift, and Viveport. VRChat Mobile is currently supported on Android 10 or higher but isn’t available on iOS yet.
13. RED 6
Backed by the likes of Lockheed Martin Ventures, Snowpoint Ventures, Moonshots Capital, IronGate Capital Advisors, and Octave Ventures, RED 6 is a creator of ATARS (Advanced Tactical Augmented Reality System), which allows pilots in airplanes in the real world to fly and visually maneuver against any synthetically generated enemy in real-time.
With the ATARS system and the ability to simulate within-visual range dynamic environments, Red 6 brings a new dimension to the training environment, which its CEO, Daniel Robinson, says never existed until now.
ATARS has been integrated into the T-50 platform and related ground-based training systems, while Red 6 has partnered with the UK’s Royal Air Force and NSSIF to supply AR technologies to the UK military flight training ecosystem.
14. Specular Theory
This is an award-winning VR, AR, and AI immersive procedure training application for the consumer, defense, and commercial sectors. Specular Theory offers immersive content and practice through simulated skills tests. While the company’s Daish product line; Daishboard, Daish VR, Daish Flight Sim, and Daish AI, can work independently, they also integrate and work together.
In July this year, the United States Air Force signed a contract with Aero XR Solutions, which is a dynamic joint venture between Specular Theory and Cole Engineering Services, a By Light company.
15. Second Spectrum
The Sports Emmy-winning data and tech company is building a game machine learning software to capture and produce quality data and innovative content for world-leading leagues and media partners. The company’s products use spatiotemporal pattern recognition, machine learning, and computer vision to create sports insight.
Second Spectrum was founded in 2013, and in 2021, it was acquired by Genius Sports Group. In March, it partnered with the NBA to research and develop “Dragon,” a next-generation technology platform that will track “mesh” data.
As we saw, many companies are leveraging augmented reality and virtual reality to change the way we live our lives. These technologies are constantly evolving with ongoing advancements and new developments influencing their growth and adoption.