In 2021, we are going to see significant shifts in Computer Vision, Geospatial and Immersive Audio, while novel technology such as brain-computer interfaces will become more prominent. Here are our predictions for what is guaranteed to be an exhilarating year in immersive tech.

2020 is coming to an end. It’s been an interesting year for all of us, not just considering world events but also how far the market landscape and audience expectations have shifted over the last 12 months. Convergence is fueling innovation within immersive, and as technologies collide, compelling and exciting new ways to play are emerging in this space (more about it here). 

So, are you excited yet? You should be! Well, just before we dive into next year, let’s take a quick look at the XR headlines from 2020:

  • AR became mainstream, officially dropping off Gartner’s hype cycle. It’s now estimated that there are around 600 million AR users globally
  • Apple and Google released exciting new updates to their location anchor tech, which now give us the capability to map virtual content to real-world locations with more precision, in addition to laying the groundwork for collaborative, location-based experiences. 
  • High-speed 5G networks started rolling out, supported by alliances between tech and telecoms companies. 
  • Finally, 2020 was the year of depth, where our devices can now construct a lifelike 3D representation of our space, revolutionising how virtual content interacts with it.

And this is just a sample of what’s happened this year. At PRELOADED, we have been investigating, experimenting and playing with new immersive tech to help our partners understand what the XR roadmap looks like for the next few years. There’s a lot to come, but here’s what we believe will capture the audience’s attention in 2021:

Live maps building the architecture for planet-scale AR.

1. The first digital twin project of a major city will be announced

Similar to 2015, when Google spent an estimated $1-2 billion on mapping the world’s streets, geospatial technology is going to take a giant leap forward in 2021. The ease of access, portability and price point of scanning technology such as LiDAR is accelerating the 3D digitisation of our world. Niantic, Facebook and the countless number of photogrammetry and scanning apps which have emerged over the last six months are actively capturing and recording our spaces. In 2021, we will see large spaces, even cities mapped with an extreme amount of detail and layered with real-time data. This will pave the way for living, breathing maps / Geospatial 2.0, one of the foundational pieces of infrastructure required for AR headsets.

2. The rise of visual positioning systems for location-based content

Unlike GPS, which provides an accuracy of 10 meters (on a good day), Visual Positioning Systems or VPS will enable us to precisely trigger location-based content by just pointing our cameras at a location.

We have already seen demonstrations of this technology by companies such as Scape Technologies (acquired by Facebook), Snap Inc and Microsoft and we know both Google and Apple are actively working on getting this technology integrated into their libraries ready for public use, slated for 2021.

The latest AirPods Max will be able to create a 3D map of your space.

3. Spatial audio will go beyond just listening

2021 will give rise to spatial audio as a utility, enhancing more than just the way we experience music (check out the UWB U1 chip in the latest AirPods Max announced this week). We are going to see more of how immersive audio can augment our hearing, supported by the rapid development of technologies such as beamforming, deep learning, noise cancellation and (unsurprisingly) augmented reality. This convergence will offer new ways for us to navigate space and enable us to have greater control over how we hear, through the active filtering of real-world soundscapes.

Nreal driving early adoption of lightweight AR headsets.

4. The springboard year for AR headsets, but it isn’t there yet

It’s no surprise AR headsets are coming. Qualcomm announced it’s working with partners on a long list of XR devices, Google acquired NORTH, and those rumours of Apple Glass keep on coming. 2021 will be an exciting springboard year for AR headsets. Partnerships such as the recently announced Nreal and Vodafone deal will drive early adoption in the market and provide a large-scale consumer testbed for this technology – priming for years 2022-2023, where this technology is set to begin gaining traction. 

5. The rapid growth of brain-computer interfaces

Albeit a bit of wild card, however, beyond Elon Musk’s Neuralink, we are going to see a lot of market movement around brain-computer interfaces in 2021. Companies such as Facebook have already given us glimpses of the affordances of this technology, creating novel approaches for how we interact with virtual content. Recently, Cognixion announced that its upcoming AR headset will have the ability to provide a voice to people without one. 

So there you have it! 2021 will probably be as eventful as 2020 – at least in the world of immersive tech (hopefully the rescopyt of the world can calm down a bit). If you’re interested in this space, have a read of our 2020 Guide to AR – it’s a good audience-centric overview of this evolving space. 

Header image from Mashable. 

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James is Creative Technology Director at PRELOADED. He is passionate about building inclusive experiences that bring people together, and which educate and entertain.