Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) took mainstream culture by storm last year, proving itself to be big news and big business. Since AR’s inception in 1994, we have only begun to scratch the surface of its powerful potential to transform enterprise learning.
Pokémon GO quite literally drove users to distraction and made $10M a day at the height of its craze, while Snapchat’s animated filters raked in a healthy profit as millions donned flower crowns, swapped faces, and tried on dog ears. Yet, while this fun and games fueled revenue and captured headlines, AR actually has its roots in a more serious undertaking. In 1994, a pair of engineers were looking for a way to help Boeing factory workers wire a jumbo jet. The engineers penned a research paper that described a pair of “see-thru virtual reality goggles” that would enhance workers’ vision by applying dynamically changing labels and information to the extremely complex task –an overlay they dubbed “augmented reality”.1 Nearly 25 years later, we have only begun to scratch the surface of AR’s powerful potential to transform enterprise learning.
Humans learn most efficiently when we are personally and highly involved, and when we want to (or have to) understand our surroundings.
From Babies to Boomers: A Shared Reality
The Boeing engineers recognized a timeless truth: that humans learn most efficiently when we are personally and highly involved, and when we want to (or have to) understand our surroundings. It’s the way babies learn the basic rules of their world, or abilities like walking and talking – they look, move, grasp, speak, and their environment responds. It’s an ingrained process we never outgrow. Unfortunately, as we move through life, most modes of training take us farther away from the natural immersion through which we learn best. As students, we read 2-D information, take tests that gauge our memory rather than our ability, and spend hours in classroom discussions. As employees, we read orientation guides, company policies, and user manuals in hard copy or on a computer screen. Apart from hands-on apprenticeships, most of our learning is removed from our actual doing.
At the same time, the market is creating an ever-increasing (and increasingly dire) need for lifelong learning. Rapid advancements in technology are disrupting industries and rendering jobs obsolete. As productivity sputters, companies are searching for ways to quickly upskill their workers and increase efficiency and output. Training humans to understand complex machine operation and maintenance is essential but demanding. In-person trainings are effective, but cost-intense and often risky, requiring a physical machine and a human trainer. Written or illustrated procedures and manuals, even in digital form, demand strict attention and discipline from the trainees. Tests to gauge successful knowledge transfer do not resemble a real-world scenario and rarely reinforce relevant behavior. It seems as jobs become more complex, the need to rekindle our innate human ability to learn becomes more essential.
Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented/Mixed Reality (AR/MR) have the power to disrupt enterprise training on all levels and tap into our natural desire for experiential learning.
Immersion Learning Meets Industry 4.0
VR has been hyped as the entertainment medium of the future due to its ability to place a user in a game or experience, not only as a spectator, but as the main actor. Yet, its real value lies far beyond the power to entertain. Its power to educate is the true secret weapon.
Immersive environments offer several advantages over traditional teaching methods. AR and VR can be used to train existing workers or onboard new employees by immersing them in highly realistic virtual work environments. At the same time, trainings can start before the actual physical objects are built, which can reduce time-to-market by enabling parallel training and roll-out processes. Repeatability and measurability are also key factors when it comes to tracking and improving learning improvement and performance. VR/AR/MR technology can track every move a user makes and tie it back to key objectives, enabling statistical analysis and providing deep insights. They also make it possible for supervisors to review video recordings of training sessions to monitor progress and tailor lessons to specific employee needs.
Head-mounted displays such as the HTC Vive® and Microsoft HoloLens® can create digital experiences that extend or fully replace our physical reality. In doing so, they provide trainees with safe (virtual) exposure to complex and potentially dangerous equipment and scenarios, while increasing scalability and improving effectiveness.2
There’s Nothing Like the Real Thing – or Is There?
In VR, the relevant objects and subject matter experts do not have to be physically present – they are visualized based on their 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) data and recorded once the simulation is built. This makes training more cost-effective and scalable, while reducing risk of human injury or damage to sensitive equipment.
The U.S. Military and NASA have been using VR training simulations for this very reason. A real-world battle or actual spacewalk involving untrained participants would put lives at risk.
Virtual Reality creates safe and low-risk training simulations for high-consequence scenarios.
At the same time, the immersion technique is highly effective for learning behavior and processes, and even enables the training of muscle memory for specific tasks, critical in situations where split-second reactions can mean the difference between life and death.
Civilian applications of VR are equally impressive. In the utility sector, DTE Energy revolutionized its technician training by incorporating VR. The first room-scale VR experience launched by DTE Energy and Vectorform on the HTC Vive® is “Working at Heights,” enables technicians to train in real-world situations without exposing them to the dangers of the field. Technicians experience total immersion through realistic graphics, high fidelity interactions, and an intuitive control scheme. The virtual experience utilizes full-room sensing, allowing technicians to walk around and train in a life-like virtual space without the real-world dangers they’d typically encounter. They practice dangerous tasks such as making repairs at heights, performing safety procedures, and eliminating fall hazards – all operations that can’t adequately be described or planned for through a user manual or training video.
The Ultimate Just-In-Time Experience
While VR training immerses learners in a virtual environment, Augmented and Mixed Reality (AR/MR) help learners interact with their actual physical surroundings. One of the best examples is the use of AR smart glasses that overlay video, graphics, or text information onto physical objects, serving as an interactive 3-D manual or maintenance guide directly in worker’s line of sight. An added benefit? These wearables leave their hands free so they can work without interruption – cutting completion time and increasing productivity. AR devices used by Boeing, General Electric, and others have proven to boost workers’ productivity on an array of tasks the very first time they’re used, even without prior training – addressing the growing need to quickly upskill current workers and onboard new ones.3
More than 14 million U.S. workers will wear augmented reality headsets in 2025.
Applications for AR span numerous industries and trades. Furniture hardware manufacturer Blum teamed with Vectorform to build an award-winning app that provides interactive AR support to carpenters and fitters for the convenient assembly of fittings. The aim was to make their everyday work safer and more efficient by providing simple instructions. Carpenters and fitters can intuitively access information and get answers to questions regarding the exact position or precise adjustment of fittings manufactured by Blum. The AR function allows workers to scan the lift mechanism to reveal the drilling positions, along with the exact measurements, to conveniently adjust the fittings.
Immerse Yourself in the Possibilities
Until recently, the investments for such simulations were cost prohibitive, even for larger enterprise budgets. The dawn of consumer VR/AR/MR technology has been a game changer over the past few years, bringing hardware and production costs down significantly. We are now at a point where enterprises can build cost-effective VR/AR/MR simulations to train their future workforce in a modern, scalable, low-risk and safe environment. As enterprise applications take hold, total VR/AR/MR revenue is projected to increase from $5 billion in 2016 to over $162 billion in 2020.4
A useful way to begin assessing how your company can leverage VR/AR/MR is to ask yourself the following questions:
- What are your industry’s most expensive training scenarios?
- What types of manuals are used in your industry?
- How do you currently explain technical details and configurations related to your products?
- Which procedures in your industry entail risky tasks and high-consequence training?
- What types of training can be reinvented in your industry, considering the examples above and their immediate impact?
Are You Ready?
At Vectorform, we help clients respond to these new realities and design customized VR/AR/MR training solutions to make work safer, faster, and more efficient. We believe the potential to transform enterprise training is limitless. If you’d like to learn more, please reach out to us to continue the conversation.
This blog post is the first in a series that presents Vectorform’s perspective on enterprise training. In subsequent blogs, Vectorform will do a deep dive into applying VR/MR/AR in different industries, such as manufacturing, automotive, and utility.