By Tom Allen, Founder, The AI Journal
The irreality of Virtual Reality is having a dramatic impact on the reality of the bottom line, and more and more businesses are getting onboard.
But, as we revealed in a recent report published by The AI Journal, the unique benefits of VR, and its Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality siblings, are not restricted to creating safer and more engaging company training programmes, but are having a significant impact on productivity. How? VR, AR and MR can streamline workflows, improve efficiency and enhance safety, and help manage complex tasks.
That’s why companies were expected to spend $17.8bn in 2018, an increase of nearly 95% more than estimated for 2017, according to an IDC report. But while enthusiasm for the technology is clearly on an upward trajectory, growth in the past year can’t have been helped by the world being forced into lockdown, with businesses having to consider more urgent issues.
That said, for some businesses, the hit taken from COVID-19 has actually helped drive their alternate reality strategies.
It’s why technology giants such as Facebook, which owns Oculus, have made moves during lockdown to “supercharge” remote working and productivity, building on technologies such as Passthrough, which enables workers to switch between the virtual and real world.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told The Verge last May how the social network is going to be “the most forward-leaning company on remote work at our scale”, and explained how AR and VR specifically will give staff who are working from home “remote presence”.
Facebook clearly has a vested interest in VR, having forked out a not insignificant $2bn for Oculus while operating an advertising model intent on linking people to one another virtually.
But AR is also helping companies improve productivity and quality across more physical industries because of its ability to reduce human error, save time, boost efficiency and achieve cost-savings.
For example, staff can use wearable or handheld AR devices to remotely request and access help; or don a VR helmet to receive training; businesses can cut costs (and carbon emissions) by stemming the flow of staff from location to location for work purposes by introducing virtual meetings.
In its Augmented and Virtual Reality in Operations: A guide for investment report, Capgemini Research Institute Technicians said that many enterprises are using AR and VR tech to enhance their business operations and found that 82% of companies that were currently implementing AR or VR said the benefits were either meeting or exceeding expectations. It found that large-scale AR and VR implementations can realise operational benefits of over 10%.
The report quizzed more than 700 executives in the automotive, manufacturing and utilities sectors. While half of those organisations said they were currently not exploring immersive technologies, they added that they would start doing so in the next three years.
More tellingly, nearly half (46%) of respondents said they believed the technology would become mainstream in their organisations within three years, while a further 38% thought it would become so in the next three to five.
Nuts and bolts
Luxury automotive company Porsche is a gleaming example referenced by Capgemini. Staff are being kitted out with AR glasses that overlay step-by-step schematic drawings across their field of view, while also enabling remote engineers to see what the technicians are seeing and doing in order to provide feedback. This has helped slash service resolution times by up to 40%.
Another example is Airbus, which has used VR to allow assembly workers access to digital mock-ups, which can be integrated into production environments. It cut the time typically taken to inspect from three weeks down to just three days.
Capgemini also found that Ford’s use of VR has allowed it to identify and then engineer alternative actions by humans captured by body motion sensors during assembling, resulting in a 70% drop in injuries and a 90% cut to ergonomic issues.
Notably, while strict VR tends to be used more in training situations, it’s the applications of AR/MR that are regarded by companies – particularly those in heavy industries – as the more relevant and widely used of the technologies.
Competition has never been more rife, and boosting margins by increasing productivity through a relatively cheap form of technology is a no-brainer. VR and AR implementation are a worldwide phenomenon, but it’s the US and China that are at the forefront of adoption, where half of all companies are putting VR and AR strategies in place.
The message is clear – an increasing number of major corporations are invested, and investing, in the idea of VR as a powerful tool for bolstering productivity. The rest of the world needs to catch up.