Alternative reality platforms such as virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality and extended reality were touted as the next generation of computing platforms for years -- an idea which has not materialized despite billions of investments, until now.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there recently has been a big push for more adoption of the technology. The sudden need for virtual meetings, remote collaboration, more efficient workflows and reduced IT costs is working in favor of VR and AR in the enterprise.
Here, experts share their experience on the innovative use of VR and AR technology during the pandemic and what the future holds for the industry.
Training and education
One of the most profound impacts of VR is in the training and education space, and for several good reasons, including its speed.
According to Derek Belch, CEO and co-founder of Strivr, an immersive learning solutions provider, VR equipment has enabled Walmart to reduce the time spent training associates -- from eight hours to 15 minutes. Additionally, when Walmart rolls out new equipment, the training can take place even before the machinery arrives.
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VR not only saves the need for employees and trainers to travel, but also spares companies or manufacturers from shutting down an active line for the sake of training frontline workers on safety measures. "Immersive environments allow for mistakes and repetition," Belch said. "In VR, mistakes are free."
The use of VR also allows employees to receive training on critical situations, as is the case with Verizon, which is using the technology to train 22,000 employees on how to react to situations such as an armed robbery. "VR allows them to experientially go through the critical steps of de-escalating a high-risk moment and to make the right decisions under intense pressure," Belch pointed out.
Similarly, Veative Labs offers employees in the power, oil and gas industry a safe training environment where they can learn in a simulated world without being exposed to the hazards. "We are able to assess their performance and compare the employees and determine if they are ready for a certain task or not," said Ankur Aggarwal, CEO at the immersive technology solutions company.
In addition, there are some trainings that just wouldn't be possible without the use of AR and VR technology. Healthcare practitioners rely on cadavers to learn the human anatomy, which is a mandatory practice for training doctors, dentists, as well as surgeons. Unfortunately, the donation of cadavers is at an all-time low, while demand is higher than ever. As demonstrated by MAI's BodyMap, which calls itself the Google Maps of the human body, physicians can train in VR without needing to dissect a real human body -- and without ever going short of supply.
While training in VR also cuts costs considerably, there is a bigger reward, according to Dave Dolan, chief product officer at Veative Labs: People learn better when they do something, compared to when they read about it, he said. The distraction-free and judgment-free environment of VR training helps users focus on learning and enables them to understand a topic further.
Mattney Beck, senior manager of product marketing at Lenovo, backs up this assessment. "Case studies generally show VR offers better and faster learning, with some learning situations proving a 75% retention rate versus only 5% using traditional, lecture style methods," Beck said. "In addition, a 30%-40% increase in learning times and 30%-40% fewer mistakes compared to those conventionally trained can be achieved."
The benefits of AR and VR in the enterprise go beyond the training period, as the technologies can be used to offer field assistance. Veative Labs is using mixed reality to provide frontline workers information about the components they are working on, as well as real-time equipment performance data. By connecting the system to output data from IoT sensors, the safety of the frontline workers is greatly improved. For example, the workers are warned if a certain component is too hot for maintenance and should be revisited later.
The same system also allows users to remotely connect to an expert who can view what they are seeing and offer remote assistance. TeamViewer, a company known for remote connectivity solutions, has released an AR-based platform called Pilot, which lets enterprise technicians, as well as medical professionals, connect to a remote expert who can draw, add text or tag real-world objects to the video stream with 3D markers for reference.
Speaking of travel, one popular trend within the VR industry is performing a virtual walkthrough. Because of travel restrictions, universities and companies across several industries found VR and AR as a better alternative to offer remote walkthroughs to their potential clients. Even exhibitions can be set up and attended remotely.
The added benefit, aside from social distancing, is the ability to alter the exhibited items on the go. For example, a car customer can view a vehicle in different colors before making a purchase. But the technology can also be used in a much more functional purpose. According to Matthew Key, founder and managing director at Engine Creative, the AR experience can make use of hotspots to highlight more information. "Visitors were able to interact with a Honda Civic car and delve into the different engine parts and specifications," he said.
The use of VR and AR enables customers to interact before purchasing and shops have found it as a way to reduce the staggering number of products ordered online that is currently hovering around 30%.
"With COVID-19, we've seen a surge of inquiries to transform retail shopping environments into augmented and virtual experiences that let shoppers navigate [the store] in their own homes," Key added.
The future of VR and AR in the enterprise
In 2019, IDC predicted that spending on AR and VR will reach $160 million in 2023, while PwC predicted a $1.5 trillion market by 2030. Both assessments were conducted before the pandemic, which is already creating a significant boost in the industry. "Since the beginning of March , when much of physical retail shut down, we've seen a 600% increase in AR usage through our customers' websites," said Jon Cheney, co-founder and CEO at Seek, a web-based AR solutions platform. "Our customer data shows conversion rates are increasing anywhere from 10% to as much as 200%."
We'll most likely see another boost come from 5G technology, which enables the use of more lightweight devices, making the headsets more suitable for long-term wearing.