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Companies in a wide variety of industries are increasingly using and benefitting from extended reality (XR) technologies. Find out what these technologies are and how companies are taking advantage of them.
Extended reality (XR) technologies are not just for the gaming and entertainment industries anymore. Companies in a wide variety of industries are increasingly using one or more of the technologies classified under the XR umbrella, which include virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) technologies. Here’s a look at what these technologies are and examples of how they are being used.
VR technologies create computer-generated simulations of 3D environments with which users can interact in a seemingly real way using special equipment such as headsets or gloves with sensors. VR technologies are often used for education and training. For example, Walmart has been using VR headsets to train more than 1 million associates working in its US retail stores. It found that VR training has improved employees’ test scores 10% to 15% as well as enhanced their retention of the material being covered.
Besides being effective, VR technologies provide a safe way to train people who must work in potentially dangerous environments. For example, the US Army uses a VR solution to teach soldiers how to use a complex piece of equipment called the Husky Mounted Detection System. It uses ground penetrating radar to detect the location of buried and surface-laid explosive threats, such as landmines, unexploded ordnance, and weapon caches.
Another area in which VR is gaining momentum is in the building industry. Architects, engineers, and builders are using VR platforms like IrisVR to turn plans and models into VR representations that clients can view with VR headsets to see how the finished buildings will look. Some platforms also provide tools that building professionals can use to hold virtual collaboration sessions and design review meetings in real time.
AR technologies provide composite views by overlaying computer-generated images on top of real-world objects or digital representations of them. A good example is the AccuVein device, which makes it easier for medical professionals to locate veins for blood draws and intravenous procedures. This handheld device creates a map of a patient’s veins and superimposes the map on the person’s skin. It uses a laser-based scanner, processing system, and digital laser projection to create and display the virtual image — all done in real-time and without touching the patient.
Many other manufacturers and retailers are also taking advantage of AR technologies. A common use is creating AR apps that let customers try their products virtually before making a purchase. For example, Sephora’s Virtual Artist app lets customers virtually apply makeup to their faces and L’Oréal Professionnel’s Style My Hair app allows customers to virtually dye their hair to see how they would look. To use them, the customers just need to let the apps scan their face or upload a photo of it. The apps then superimpose the desired cosmetic changes on the scan or photo.
Similarly, the IKEA Place app lets customers see how pieces of furniture would look and fit in their homes. They just need to scan the location in which they want to place the new furniture and select the item they want to add. The app will overlay a 3D, true-to-scale model of the furniture on the scan.
MR technologies merge the real and virtual realms to create a new environment in which physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. Businesses in energy, aerospace, and other highly technical industries sometimes use MR to support technicians, engineers, and other staff working remotely in the field. For example, the Surepoint Group uses an MR solution to support field technicians sent to repair equipment and address other technical issues at remote job sites. It has enabled this oil and gas service provider to solve 60% of issues at remote job sites without sending experts to those locations.
The MR solution, Kognitiv Spark’s RemoteSpark, consists of the Remote Spark software and the Microsoft HoloLens headset. If field technicians run into problems with a repair, they use the headset to establish video calls with experts, who run the software on a desktop computer. The experts see what the technicians see and can drag and drop holographic objects (e.g., 3D CAD files, illustrations, photos) into the technicians’ field of view to help them solve the problems. To aid comprehension, the experts can annotate and animate the objects if desired. Once the technicians see the objects in their headsets, they can manipulate them (e.g., resize or rotate them) if needed.
Equally impressive is the use of MR technologies for virtual collaboration. For instance, Spatial Systems’ Spatial software lets companies hold more collaborative and engaging meetings. Participants using AR or VR headsets appear as 3D avatars of themselves. (They just need to scan a selfie.) The avatars make hand and face gestures based on the participants’ actual movements. The attendees can move about the virtual meeting room (which can be generic or a virtual representation of an actual room) and interact with the 3D objects (e.g., models, images, PDF files) brought into the meeting by participants. Traditional collaboration tools are also available, such as whiteboards and screen sharing.
Interestingly, the company offers a free full-featured version of its software for “individuals & groups who want to experience Spatial.” Anyone can try it, including people who do not have an AR or VR headset. They can attend Spatial meetings using a webcam. However, the experience isn’t as immersive. They appear as a 2D video feed rather than a 3D avatar in the virtual meeting room. Plus, they are unable to move around or interact with objects.
XR Offers Many Benefits
Companies are increasingly turning to XR — and for good reason. As the aforementioned examples show, they can use XR technologies to improve collaboration, deliver essential information to employees, better serve customers, provide more effective on-the-job training, and more. If you are interested in finding out how your business might benefit from XR technologies, contact us.
Business. flickr photo by kevin dooley shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license