Before you can really consider if AR and VR will have a beneficial impact on your business, you need to get the conversation going, before diving in with full exploration.
In isolation, whilst the AR industry is growing at a rate that estimates its value to be beyond $80 Billion within just a few years, it still is in its infancy when it comes actual adoption and up-scaling to solving real significant business problems.
Though some in the industry are using AR in full scale adoption, the majority are still watching and waiting to see how they can implement it, or waiting to see if it is beneficial at all.
AR might not be the only solution, with many seeing VR as a more suitable technology within certain business problems. These concerns are understandable when you consider the investments required to get a large significant projects off the ground.
But to get that conversation going with a supplier of AR/VR solutions, you need to instigate it amongst yourselves first!
So how do you start, where do you start? What can you utilize to convince others that the conversation is worth starting? Here are six areas that are being discussed amongst my customers today as they explore, with me, the huge, and now practical benefits AR and VR can bring to your organisation.
Do you actually require AR & VR?
It is the first response I get, it is the first response you will get in various forms of course! But it is a fair question. Misconceptions about AR and VR can put people off, they can also switch people on – wasting huge amounts of time and energy.
So, with focus on the industrial enterprise, consider the most basic of facts: There are several standardized types of digital ‘reality’ that you hear buzzing around:
Assisted: A handy 2D digital window offering relevant information such as standard operating procedures (SOP’s) consumed on mobile devices and/or head up displays. Data can be interactive and/or live and manipulated by users and/or process.
Virtual: This is an entirely digital world, where physical reality is fully occluded or replaced by the digital, like 3D or panoramic video and/or images. Data can be interactive and/or live and manipulated by users and/or process.
Augmented: Superimposes virtual objects and digital content (data) onto the physical real world while ensuring correct alignment of both virtual and digital with the physical real world by embedding graphics, text and other synthetic objects within your field of view.
This enhances the users understanding of the situation as data is visualized and seen in context. Data can be interactive and/or live and manipulated by users and/or process.
Mixed: Projects 3D digital content that is spatially aware and responsive. The application understands depth, distance and lighting from the real world. This means digital objects will blend in more naturally and can be manipulated/impacted by the users and/or the real-world environment.
Extended: A mix of all the above where the users consume the experience and content according to the current need and situation. Allows the users to seamlessly switch between digital realities.
Understanding which of these, if any, is relevant to your needs is the first consideration to confirm.
A simple misunderstanding of which “Reality” you really need led many customers along the wrong path, and once established, it is far harder to bring them back and set them forward in the right direction.
Managing your own expectations at the beginning, and the expectations of others around you is a fundamental basic required to avoid a frustrating experience which ends in failure. How do we balance the need for simplicity, user friendliness, user experience, security, cost, scalability, speed which, in short, means time to value?
My view on this is that you should not worry about the base technology, the big players will win the technology race. Your task is to identify business problems and based on that identify the correct digital ‘realities’ which is compliant, according to your state and maturity and road-map, in order to solve them.
All project have priorities – what are yours?
Does the need for remote visual collaboration take precedence over the need to simply convey instructions? Will tasks be simplified by the ability to visualize a process and allow an expert to provide guidance remotely? Can AR / provide a means to alleviate demand on skilled engineers to psychically visit a customer site which we know makes their general availability precious and limited? If so, then AR opens a range of possibilities for solving your challenges.
Oil & Gas companies can implement VR and AR collaboration tools across remote offshore platforms, which allows for an unskilled worker on site to carry out a range of tasks via visual collaboration, for example.
Teams no longer need to fly out to each individual platform to tackle a challenge. Companies no longer need to invest in more skilled resources onsite to deal with challenges than can be tackled with remote, but still expert, guidance.
One skilled individual can guide one or a number of individuals through procedures such as routine tests to inspections & maintenance. Previously, these would only be carried out by a dedicated resource on site.
The weather can of course negatively impact onsite maintenance in such an environment, especially impacting travel and safety. Using remote collaboration tools to avoid the risk of flying a team to a location in questionable weather conditions is a positive use of AR that any conscious Oil & Gas company should be looking at in detail.
The beneficial impact to costs, knowledge, collaboration and safety are clear.
Sound and Vision.
AR and VR are often promoted as visual experiences, often at the cost of its overall abilities to combine all human elements into the experience – Sight, Sound, Smell and Touch.
The benefits of site are clear and well demonstrated. But combine with Audio and you begin to see potential beyond on demand collaboration.
Resource libraries with a walk through for common tasks are available via AR and VR. Simply imagine walking into a room for example, that senses your arrival and fills with objects that talk when approached….
For industry, the ability to project safety procedures on a busy factory floor takes this fun element into practical and functional usage.
Pathways, safety warnings, instructions all available to project onto glasses or screens with an audio explanation / warning system when an individual arrives at a location will save huge amounts of costs, time and energy on health and safety training.
Health and Safety is a constant challenge to keep up to date with, and to train others to follow. AR combined with Audio provides a means to tweak and amend as required, without bringing staff into a classroom.
The layout of a distribution floor, full of potential hazards, can change to reflect demands without taking staff off the floor to educate them first.
Imagine the new layout is from a template plan, uploaded into a central library and triggered when the staff walk into the room. Forklift drivers can follow a path projected, with speed and safety notice warnings, combined with audio confirmations – whilst looking where they are going.
They are no longer not reliant on knowledge, of hand- written notes on a clipboard as the only means to adjust and adapt to “demand and supply”.
Audio-enriched AR will help people to understand the digital world in a completely new way, working in collaboration with visual pointers allowing a user’s full awareness of their surroundings. Properly ‘spatializing’ (positioning) audio in AR will increase comprehension and perceived quality of the total digital experience.
Handsets and HUD’s – Affordable and now adaptable
Both VR and AR have suffered from the perception that the hardware is not only impractical, it is too costly. Up until recently, this was a fair view. Even a few years back, getting a small AR experience from a hand held device would require expensive hardware. A PS Vita, with AR capabilities would set you back $300.
Headsets capable of running on a PC have been pricey, cumbersome and to be honest – Ugly.
Handsets have also been a price squeeze minus of choice and selection, combined with the pain of networks and capacity. A bigger stumbling block than many understand – Until you factor into the equation that around 70-80% of AR experiences are delivered via a handheld device.
But competition is always the instigator of price points dropping, and functionality and style begin to become the main difference between the choices – not the cost. Now there is choice on all vital area’s such as suitability, functionality and cost – more handset manufactures joining the race, and more HUD developers giving the establishment some much needed competition.
Digital eye wear may still be struggling even though it presents a real opportunity for AR to be an even better guide allowing for hands free work.
To break this barrier to adoption, technology and content providers have learned to adapt user experiences and best practices for user devices, that are viable and available in today’s market in order to overcome current business challenges.
Platform support and accessibility is a reality, but what is it?
It is important to consider the end point for your AR and VR efforts.
For many industrial enterprises, keeping track of complex product assemblies, configuration management, product and service life-cycles and their users is already a huge challenge. The idea of mixing AR within these existing processes might sometimes be almost frightening. But AR and VR should be thought of as extension to the already existing data processes. In most cases, business problems are the root cause of why AR and VR are brought into the discussion to be a potential solutions. These technologies certainly bring along the potential as long as the big picture can be understood and capitalized.
In many cases, the problems in existing processes is not visible nor-understood before disruptive thinking is brought into the picture. Also, as AR and VR build upon product and process visualisation, this will also help to visualize existing problems.
OEM’s producing assembly instructions for a product, often realize that they have not described each step in the assembly process within their instructions. This often means that unnecessary training, troubleshooting and cost of non-conformity have been a reality. AR & VR forces process and content improvement to be current and up-to-date for the purpose.
Visualization that is guaranteed to be current and up-to-date adds new pressure on the content flow and related processes. This often happens when products are updated and configurations change.
Not all products are mass produced, many are custom built or configured according to extremely complex recipes. The only solution to this is moving from manual creation to machine generating the experiences that are ‘good enough for the purpose’. This is possible when combining some of today’s enterprise business systems with specific AR and VR tools, forming a platform to configure and build the right solutions. More configure to solve and less build to solve is my preference, and so should be yours, as this will save you time, money and pain.
What Development Platform will you use?
AR content authoring environments are becoming more popular.
Most AR content is custom-coded for demos or one-off applications. This creates challenges when it comes to scaling up to solve real business problems in both functionality and size.
Therefore, AR content authoring environments are becoming more popular, but….
An industrial enterprise-grade solution needs to securely connect to existing and new enterprise systems, to benefit and build from existing data, and scale independent of use case across the enterprise and beyond. The tools and platforms need to consist of configurable building blocks and fundamental enabling best-in-class technologies with focus on fast adoption, scalability and security.
Also, there are readily available and viable solutions for specific use cases like AR remote assistance and AR knowledge capture and transfer for front line workers. These will not force you into long development cycles before a solution is achieved. In fact, these are so simple and easy to understand and use that you will get results immediately. Such solutions should be put into production to immediately begin providing short term business benefits, whilst at the same time the long term benefits are huge.
Also, there are readily available and viable solutions for specific use cases like AR remote assistance and AR knowledge capture and transfer for front line workers. These will not force you into long development cycles before a solution is achieved.
In fact, these are so simple and easy to understand and use that you will get results immediately. Such solutions should be put into production to immediately begin providing short term business benefits, whilst at the same time the long-term benefits are huge.
You might ask yourself; how could we know this, and what is best for us? Partnering with the right experts within the right ecosystem is key.
I hope I have provided some digestible examples to use as starting points in your journey of exploration into the world of fixing business problems by utilising AR & VR solutions. I invite you of course to contact me if you want to explore this more, before you begin or head full speed in the wrong direction, and if you already have, let’s hope it is not too late to fix!.
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