Date posted: 04/03/2021 5 min read

What’s the buzz with AR and VR?

Virtual and augmented reality have added US$46.4 billion to the global economy. How is it being used?

In Brief

  • AR and VR tech are set to add US$1.5 trillion to GDP by 2030.
  • They are being used in the healthcare industry to treat patients suffering from phobias and anxiety disorders.
  • China and the United States lead the way on money spent on AR and VR tech.

Compiled by Amity Delaney

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are growing industries, set to add US$1.5 trillion to global GDP by 2030. They have already contributed US$46.4 billion to the global economy to date. Benefitting a wide range of industries from tourism and health care to gaming and automotive, locally they are also being used by engineers to design safer roads and footpaths – and by architecture firms in the design of buildings.

What is VR and what is AR?

Virtual reality (VR) refers to a computer-generated simulation in which a person can interact and be immersed in an artificial 3D environment by using an electronic device such as special goggles or gloves fitted with sensors.

Augmented reality (AR) uses technology to superimpose information – sounds, images and text – on the world we see. AR adds to the reality we ordinarily see rather than replaces it. Examples are smart glasses such as Google Glass and mobile game Pokémon Go, which has been downloaded more than 1 billion times.

The top 10 industries benefiting from AR and VR







Higher education

Policy advocacy and lobbying


Furniture and homewares

Source: Forbes Agency Council

Fast facts

AR and VR tech have added US$46.4 billion to the global economy to date and are set to add US$1.5 trillion to GDP by 2030.

An estimated 82 million VR headsets were in use as of 2020

It is projected that by 2030, 23 million jobs will be using AR and VR in one way or another

China spent US$5.8 billion on VR/AR in 2020 while the US spent US$5.1 billion

Major players in the VR market include: Sony, Samsung Electronics, Google, Microsoft, HTC and Oculus (owned by Facebook)

The current global market size of AR and VR is US$18.8 billion

Sources: PwC UK Seeing is believing report; 3D insider; Institute for Information & Communication Technology; IDC; Statista; Markets and Markets.


How industry is embracing AR and VR

Healthcare: AR and VR are already used to treat patients suffering from phobias and anxiety disorders. They can be used to help students access operating theatres remotely and increase the opportunities for consultation; to diagnose patients with visual and cognitive impairments by tracking eye movements; and to help people with autism develop social and communication skills.

Automotive: Virtual car simulation can train drivers to stay focused and take note of warning signals. Virtual showrooms are being set up to mimic car dealerships, and mechanics are adopting AR to help service cars. Virtual prototyping is being used by car manufacturers to correct design flaws.

Social networking: Snapchat users can use Snapchat Lenses AR to add 3D effects, objects and transformations to their Snapchats. Face Lenses turn people into puppies and babies, for example, while Landmarkers uses cloud data to power animated AR transformations of famous places. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, London’s Buckingham Palace and New York’s Flatiron Building can be turned into giant pizzas, spew out popcorn or shoot fireworks, for example.

Which regions are leading the way?

According to, these are the four regions that spent the most money on AR and VR in 2020

US$5.8 billion

United States
US$5.1 billion

Western Europe
US$3.3 billion

US$1.8 billion

How are AR and VR being used in Australia and New Zealand?

Pedestrian safety: University of South Australia researchers are creating roads and footpaths in VR to help planners and engineers design a more walkable environment to be used by the elderly.

Education: Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology implemented EON Reality’s VR technology to give students an immersive learning experience delivered via mobile devices during the pandemic lockdowns.

Architecture: Context Architects used virtual reality to explore the design of its new Christchurch office from every angle before committing to it in the real world. It also helps clients improve their understanding of designs and generate real-time feedback.

Infrastructure: Genesis Energy in Auckland now uses Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets to allow its engineers to inspect critical infrastructure remotely.

AR versus VR

Augmented reality Virtual reality 
The system augments the real world Provides a completely immersive virtual environment
Users always have a sense of presence in the real world Visual senses are under the control of the system
25% virtual 75% real world 75% virtual 25% real world
The technology partially immerses the user into action The technology fully immerses the user into action
Requires more than 100mbps of bandwidth Requires at least 50mbps of bandwidth
No headset is needed A headset is needed
Users are still in touch with the real world while interacting with the virtual objects Users are isolated from the real world and are completely immersed in the virtual world
Enhances both real and virtual worlds Enhances a virtual world

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