Virtual and augmented reality are moving well beyond fun and games to affect meaningful (hopefully positive) change across many fields.

Many warnings have been issued pertaining to the augmented reality game of Pokémon Go. In the excitement of the game, players sometimes become inattentive, forget basic safety and are injured. There also have been cases where players were lured to isolated areas and victimized.

While many hospitals ban the game, C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., actually encourages play, employing the game to brighten the hospital experience for its young patients and help foster camaraderie. A physical therapist there also uses it to encourage reluctant children to work a little harder. For example, he might suggest that the Pokémon character is standing a little lower or higher to elicit a deeper bend or higher reach from a young patient.

Such is the power of virtual and augmented reality.

Its reach is growing as the demand for mobile devices expands. BCC Research expects the global market for VR and AR to reach $102 billion 2020, up from about $4.5 billion in 2015—a compound annual growth rate of 67 percent. Most of demand has been for gaming and military applications, but education is moving up fast and retail is also exploring its potential.

For example, schools and companies can harness its power to engage and to personalize the learning experience. Every teacher knows that students differ in their learning styles, so it’s often a challenge to reach everyone without turning off someone. Giving an AR device to a student, providing several alternative ways to acquire information and allowing them to control the speed and order of their learning can improve the learning dynamic.

AR is being employed to invoke an emotional response along with an intellectual one. Researchers at the University of British Columbia are using augmented reality and gamification to teach students about climate change by overlaying graphics on videos of a real B.C-town of Delta, B.C. and visually displaying how climate change could affect it.

Retailers are experimenting and using with augmented and virtual reality to draw customers to their online stores and give them the confidence to buy. Ikea’s new catalogue application takes some of the guesswork out of catalogue shopping. It enables customers to “virtually place” a life-size piece of furniture in their own home and see if the size, shape and color will work before they buy, eliminating a major barrier to online purchases and reducing returns. And once the purchase arrives, customers can use that same application to display a picture of how to assemble it.

AR is also a natural in the health field. Applications were developed to save physician time by allowed a patient’s visit to be streamed live to a secure scribe for record taking. In another practical use, an Italian company developed an application that allows medical students to remotely join an operating theater when the surgeon is wearing the AR glasses.

The training potential of AR and VR are easily applied to the insurance world, where the technologies can be used to train or retrain field claim adjustors in a controlled setting, providing specific scenarios to help them quickly refine their knowledge and skills. But insurer use of these kinds of technology can certainly go beyond that.

For example, claimants frequently take photos of motor vehicle accidents and upload them to their carriers, but these photos may not clearly show what the insurer needs. AR can improve on that. By pointing a smartphone or other AR device at the damaged vehicle, the claimant could give the adjustor access to a dynamic, real-time view of the problem. Taking it further, the adjustor, now able to see the damage from his desk, could focus on the specific auto parts that will need to be replaced. And those parts could be overlaid with the price and labor estimate to repair or replace each part. AR or VR could also provide sophisticated visual scenarios to help the adjustor reconstruct the accident and accurately assess fault.

Altered reality seems made for insurers handling catastrophes. It can be very difficult to mentally reconstruct an area when a hurricane, earthquake or a manmade peril has flattened a neighborhood. In extreme cases, building footprints may be missing. Enabling a cat adjustor to walk around a destroyed neighborhood with goggles that allow him to see what had been there before could eliminate some of the barriers to claim settlement and improve satisfaction for employees and claimants.

Of course, altering reality has its safety issues that the insurance industry may have to address, but even this is a marketing opportunity. A bank in Russia has a promotion offering customers free Pokémon Go insurance of up to 50,000 rubles (almost $800) to compensate players injured while playing the augmented reality game.

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