When I think of virtual reality (“VR”) or augmented reality (“AR”), I usually think of a teenager and his buddies wearing their goggles, playing Call of Duty®, eating Cheetos® and blowing stuff up. Like most folks I know, I do not usually think of VR and AR in the context of business, or as a tool that can be used today to drive productivity, enhance training and improve worker safety. Times, however, might be a changin’…
According to TechTarget, “Augmented reality is the integration of digital information with the user’s environment in real time. Unlike virtual reality, which creates a totally artificial environment, augmented reality uses the existing environment and overlays new information on top of it.” (Source: TechTarget WhatIs?). Put a little more simply: with AR, folks in the workplace can wear glasses or headsets that allow employees to see the world as is, while also layering ‘on top’ of that view additional computer-generated information, including everything from directions and instructions to warnings, part numbers, etc.
For a great example of this, check out this video demo (see YouTube screenshot, above). In the video, a field tech outfitted with Vuzix AR glasses is dispatched to fix lights in a stadium that have gone out during a soccer match. Using the glasses, the tech is able to quickly locate the correct workspace with step-by-step directions, enter the restricted area using the door code he’s provided, replace the faulty part via the guided instructions he receives real-time, and even schedule follow up maintenance with the live support connection. (Source: YouTube, “SAP and Vuzix bring you the future of Field Service,” Feb. 24, 2014). The field support call is fast, seamless, efficient and safe, allowing the match to get back underway in no time.
It turns out there are a lot of these types of solutions in development that organizations large and small are looking at in order to improve performance and customer service. An article published by ZDNet last year discussed some of these solutions and identified ways in which AR might “transform business,” including:
- Training. “Unlike a real-world training scenario, a trainee can play through an AR situation as many times as they need to grasp a concept or a procedure. Training can also be a lot more elaborate — it’s far simpler to have someone take a virtual car engine apart than a real one — and be repeated with as many people as necessary.”
- Visualization. “Melding the virtual and the real in this way offers designers a way of interacting with virtual 3D models of their creations as if they were physical, real-world objects.”
- Customer Service. “[A retail] sales assistant at a make-up counter could use AR glasses to help the customer buy cosmetics that best suits them…Not only could the assistant see what the customer would look like wearing different make-up, they could also get guidance on how to apply it.”
It seems there is a lot of energy surrounding and attention being paid to AR in the workplace at the moment. According to Gartner, the emerging technology has moved out of the “inflated expectations” phase and is now rounding the “trough of disillusionment” on its famed “Hype Cycle.” The tech is also getting serious play at conferences, including the recent CES (Jan 2017), and the upcoming AWE (Augmented World Expo), which will take place May 31-June 2 in Santa Clara (showcase of “200 exhibitors spearheading the widespread embrace of these [AR] technologies by companies in industries including manufacturing, training, transportation, retail, healthcare, aerospace, entertainment and more.”) (Source: ReadITQuik, “How AR + VR is Changing Business,” by News Desk, March 22, 2017).
In short, given recent advances in AR technology and the relevant, applicable solutions now being developed and deployed, it would seem now is the time for leaders – tech-savvy and otherwise – to be asking, “Could AR help us do what we do, better?”