Innovation

Virtual reality and augmented reality in the workplace: A primer for CIOs

Gartner analyst Brian Blau talked to the Gartner Symposium about the use of immersive technologies in business, and how companies can prepare for adoption.

Image: Erin Carson/TechRepublic

There's a sweet spot for how companies should look at augmented reality and virtual reality.

It's somewhere between don't buy into the hype, but also don't ignore AR and VR.

"Your business over the coming years is going to have to change and react to this new form of user interface technology," said Gartner analyst Brian Blau.

Blau is research director in the personal technologies group at Gartner, and gave a talk titled "Immersive Technologies and Ambient Experiences - The Future of Work" at the 2015 Gartner Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

He told the audience, odds are, your business isn't ready.

The talk served as foundational exposure for CIOs and other CXOs. As Blau said, either immersive technology is on the horizon, or someone is already contemplating bringing a headmounted display into the office to see what can be done with it.

He reviewed the current state of immersive interfaces, going from interfaces with low or no immersion, like most of the very early Internet of Things technology, to partial, full—like AR and VR—and advanced immersion, which is far off in the future but would include biometric computing.

There are also ambient experiences, which blend physical, virtual, and sensor-integrated spaces. They leverage UX for proximity, and adapt real-time contextual data. In the workplace, these characteristics work toward creating apps that flow from screen to screen, experience to experience for an "always on" experience.

"Make sure you remove your hype bias and do what's right for your business." Brian Blau

Blau also ran through uses cases for both AR and VR, with a particular eye toward training. Lincoln Electric, for example, uses a VR HMD to train welders. The HMD is actually a welding helmet.

There's also the VR Lab at the Johnson Space Center, which prepares astronauts for spacewalks — a situation where VR shines because of the challenging of trying to recreate space on Earth.

SEE: NASA shows the world its 20-year virtual reality experiment to train astronauts: The inside story

On the AR side, factory workers or field service workers could use some form of smart glasses to increase efficiency or better connect with expertise elsewhere, and even to just keep their hands free during tasks.

Blau said VR adoption will be more driven by consumer demand, whereas AR is at a more immature stage.

Still, Microsoft's HoloLens, which will be available in Q1 of 2016 as a developer edition for $3,000, is best of class for AR or mixed reality, he said, and is certainly getting plenty of attention.

After walking the crowd through some of the bigger players of the past few years—the Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, HoloLens, Google Glass, Google Cardboard, and a 360 camera—Blau said the competitive market around these devices has still yet to be defined.

Looking longterm, he offered various other pieces of advice.

For one, first generation devices will be fine for pilot programs, but companies should wait for the second or third generation for large scale deployments. Along those lines, iteration will be important and should be built into project plans.

Also, it's not just about the devices themselves. "We often talk about augmented reality and virtual reality as technologies, but they're not, they're parts of a bigger solution," he said.

That means things like devices are part of a circle that includes sensors, job specific solutions, and user interfaces. The latter two, he said, should have the focus of your efforts.

Blau also offered these parting recommendations:

+ Plan: Pilot first, recruit immersive developers, develop in-house expertise.

+ Behavior: Identify tasks and situations for behavior change. Redesign for digital touchpoints, HMDs, sensored environments.

+ Design: Design experiences by focusing on the use of immersion. Architect solutions for mapping business data to immersive worlds.

+ Process: Iterate each project to refine out bad UX. Create business-oriented ROI goals, use analytics to measure and improve results.

+ Outlook: Don't let VR/AR hype influence immersive efforts.

"Make sure you remove your hype bias and do what's right for your business," he said.

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About

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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