Extended reality sees potential, challenges across multiple industries

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A new GAO report itemizes how extended reality technologies can be used, and what other emerging tech needs to be bolstered to support its implementation.

A litany of opportunities exist for extended reality technology within the federal government, along with a series of drawbacks that call for enhanced cybersecurity and industry standards, according to a report released on Jan. 26.

Experts at the Government Accountability Office compiled extensive research on extended reality as a burgeoning tech field, defined as augmented, mixed and virtual reality environments.

The report outlined several of the applications in government that could benefit from it, including workplace collaboration, data analytics and therapeutic treatments for a variety of health conditions. 

“Extended reality (XR) technologies combine elements of the real world and the digital world to create new kinds of interactivity and perception,” the report begins. “XR provides new ways to access and use information to train, educate, entertain and collaborate.”

Forms of extended reality are usually conveyed through a medium like virtual reality goggles or headsets, headphones and other interactive devices. These mediating devices transmit digital information to human senses, allowing engagement between virtual experiences and physical human commands. 

Much of the potential suggested in the report lies within the medical fields. One example is using virtual reality to help treat addiction patients, with a doctor monitoring their physical responses to potential external stimuli, and using simulations to help train surgeons prior to operating on a patient. 

Other benefits of extended reality technology include professionals in the construction and science fields, some of whom already use extended reality as a lower-cost form of job training. 

Because this unique data is still transmitted and shared through networks or an individual storage center, interference and hacking remain issues. 

“XR will require more diverse and complex data, offering new targets for cyberattack and exploitation,” the report notes.

But before cybersecurity concerns, there are questions around the maturity of the sector itself. GAO authors note that the actual implementation of extended reality technologies are few and far between, partially due to a need for other supporting emerging technologies, like 5G network expansion and artificial intelligence, to gain widespread traction.

Cultivating a workforce that can help develop and engineer these products is also a challenge. Improved regulation and standards within the industry are also critical to addressing software vulnerabilities and other ethical questions. 

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