March 10, 2022
The decision by Microsoft to invest $64 billion in a gaming company is just another recent example of the big investments being made by global tech giants in extended, virtual or augmented reality. Facebook, Microsoft, Nvidia, Google and Apple are some of the other well-known companies investing in this advanced technology.
To experience this new world will require consumers to wear virtual reality headsets, and so far, the reluctance to do so is the biggest barrier to adoption. However, many are expecting virtual reality to catch up with its promising capabilities. How will this technology revolutionize the business of food suppliers, restaurants, and retail?
In the gaming world, a metaverse can integrate virtual and physical spaces as well as virtual economies.
Popularized in science fiction, metaverse probably first became known by mainstream consumers during the Pokemon Go craze of 2016, when people used smartphones to ‘catch’ pokemon around town. Second Life and Fortnite games also include the metaverse concept.
The challenges centered around creating a metaverse, include the technological limitations of programming, hardware (headset) development and the costs of creating and running extended reality (XR) systems. So far people have not taken to wearing goggles, glasses, or headsets for extended periods of time, with many finding them ‘nausea inducing.’
The Future of Food and Extended Reality
Most of what you hear about the metaverse is hype, but there are five areas where XR tools are starting to make a real difference in agriculture and food.
Observation and Visualization
XR enables farmers to augment what they see with their eyes to visualize soil fertility, production quality, pests and diseases across an entire farm, and use that data to select optimal crops and management practices. In indoor livestock facilities, augmented reality (AR) – which includes technology that monitors ventilation, air quality and temperature; computing devices, like animal sensors; and artificial intelligence (AI), such ascamera vision, are combined to give farmers the opportunity to monitor animal health and well-being in real time. Outdoors, AR applications can track and adjust digital boundaries for grazing.
Some metaverse-type initiatives in agriculture include:
SPARKLE (EU) demonstrates XR applications for agriculture, including monitoring farms, student and worker training, and tool and equipment assessment.
QR menus help expand information available to consumers. Bareburger burger chains use Snapchat’s AR technology to show hyper-realistic food images. Hololamp is a hands-free, glasses-free, AR projection machine that projects the menu (with images and video) onto the customers restaurant table.
2. Origin of Food and Ingredients
QR codes have become increasingly popular on food packaging and menus. Enhanced by AR, your smart phone can yield information on nutrition, product composition, and the origin of dairy products. AR enhanced QR codesallow shoppers to "visit" farms, learn cooking techniques as well as other activities. Examples include:
ABP Food Group and ASDA in the United Kingdom uses Aircards to build an interactive, immersive AR experience, demonstrating how to cook a perfect steak as part of a larger consumer education campaign.
FarmVR combines GeoAR, Geolocation, 3D Modeling, Data Visualization, and Virtual Farm Tours to create an interactive environment to inform consumers about where their food comes from.
Patrón Tequila’s AR enhanced app experience shows where the Agave comes from and how to make the perfect tequila.
Queppelin AR Smart Glasses integrate visual observations with virtual information in a hands-free platform for farmers to facilitate decision making and to give consumers “eye-witness’ information about their food sources.
3. Staff Training
Immersive e-learning experiences transforms staff training, bringing advanced precision methods and techniques to geographically dispersed farms. Examples include:
Väderstad, whose app allows farmers to calibrate their machinery from their smartphone while making training and equipment familiarization easy and fast.
Cornell University veterinary school uses virtual reality (VR) to teach anatomy, allowing students to experience new techniques before trying them on live animals. The University of Liverpool uses interactive fiberglass model cows with VR to teach veterinarian students what to expect when operating.
XR is being used for training in food safety and quality control.
4. Enhance Efficiency and Safety
AR technology can help farmers select optimal tools and equipment for specific tasks. For example, Nedap CowControl uses Microsoft’s Hololense so farmers can integrate digital information with what they see with their eyes. Using actions, hand gestures and voice commands, farmers can interact with the technology naturally, efficiently and successfully. Yeppar utilizes AR, VR, and mixed reality (MR) for field inspections, weather updates and simulated agricultural training.
XR can also improve farm safety (including teaching farm workers how to deal with hazardous materials stored on farm) and can alleviate the challenges of limited emergency response capabilities.
5. Improving Consumer Experience
Consumer-focused AR is largely about storytelling. For example, Augmania’s AR system combines interactive print, live demos and AR experience to tell consumers their food’s story, and lets customers build their own AR experience. Boursin® Sensorium 360 Virtual Reality Experience takes customers on a journey through their cheese production process. Scanning their wine bottle lets 19Crimes Wine customers see and hear the convict’s story. In a cross-promotion, Nestlé cereal boxes had a QR code linked to the movie Rio, through which consumers could play an augmented reality game with Blu, the main character.
So, while the hype of the ‘metaverse’ is entertaining, the agri-food sector is exploring the practical applications of AR. Agricultural XR can helping farmers better understand and manage land resources, enhance productivity, improve time management, streamline training and improve safety. The use of XR in the food sector can enhance consumers experience of milk, cheese and ice-cream among other dairy products in grocery stores, food service and restaurants.