Innovation

Are AR and VR training technologies ready for the enterprise?

While the technologies remain in their infancy, CIOs and CTOs need to keep augmented and virtual reality tools on their radar for their potential to transform employee onboarding.

As augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) advance, the technologies are becoming more of a reality for enterprise training purposes. But there's still a long way to go before they are anywhere close to commonplace in most business scenarios.

"Right now, we mostly remain in the early testing phase for AR and VR, but employee training is becoming a more common scenario," said J.P. Gownder, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester.

Companies such as Wal-Mart and UPS have rolled out initiatives in VR training, helping new employees master their jobs more quickly and with higher quality and safety. For example, at UPS, new drivers will use VR headsets to simulate city driving conditions during training. And industrial companies are now using AR to help workers identify and fix problems with equipment, in factories or out in the field, Gownder said.

SEE: Virtual and augmented reality policy (Tech Pro Research)

While VR has perhaps made the largest impact on the consumer side thanks to gaming, enterprise AR adoption is further ahead than consumer AR in terms of maturity, according to Tuong Nguyen, principal research analyst at Gartner. Aside from Pokemon Go, most consumers don't know about AR, Nguyen said.

"We're really in the adolescence of AR and VR," Nguyen said. "We've had some time to test it, but it's still in its teenage years, so there are some growing pains to be expected. But we're already starting to see its potential."

According to Nguyen, the top three enterprise AR use cases right now include task itemization (think a tool that gives you a list of what to do on the warehouse floor), design and collaboration (like furniture placement for architectural or aesthetic fit), and video guidance (such as talking to someone and outlining what to do on your screen to finish a job or learn a skill).

"For training, it's helpful for situations that are high risk," Nguyen said. "If it's expensive or dangerous to have someone training in alive environment, but you want them to at least know the muscle movement and the decisions they will need to make, you can have them do it in a virtual space, rather than in the physical world."

This might include military combat training, surgery training, or other emergency response scenario trainings, Nguyen said.

Exploring AR and VR in the enterprise

CIOs and CTOs should keep VR and AR tools on their radar, particularly if they have frequent or large-scale needs for worker training, Gownder said.

A number of products on the market are aiming for enterprise adoption of VR and AR, which up to this point has been stagnant. For example, the HTC Vive Pro and the Oculus for Business bundle could be used for enhancing worker productivity and job training in fields like manufacturing and design, healthcare, transportation, and retail.

Companies that offer VR training products include StriVR, InstaVR, Surgical Theatre, Eon Reality, zSpace, DiscoVR Labs, Immerse Learning, Compedia, and Revinax. On the AR side, use cases are more broad, and companies in the space include Altheer, Daqri, Gravity Jack, IndexAR, Re'flekt, ScopeAR, Ubimax, and Upskill.

SEE: Research: Virtual and augmented reality in the enterprise (Tech Pro Research)

"For any business, when implementing tech, it's either making you money or saving you money," Nguyen said. "When you talk about employee training and use of immersive tech, it tend to be some type of cost savings, whether in the form of less accidents, higher accuracy rates, or fewer mistakes. That's the kind of benefit that the CIO should be expecting."

However, because these are interface technologies, success depends largely on the task, he added.

Nguyen recommends doing some pilot testing to learn how this tech could apply to your company. "Think about how it applies to solving certain problems, as an extension of tech," Nguyen said. "Don't just bring it in and say, 'Let's see what we can do with this.'"

While the entertainment industry remains on the cutting edge of these technologies, "the bigger play long-term are the business verticals," said Todd Richmond, IEEE member and director of the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Southern California. "Medical and education are going to outstrip entertainment with regards to uses for VR and AR."

Perhaps the biggest AR/VR business play in the future will be around telepresence, Richmond said. "It's the promise that has been on the horizon, of being able to telecommute in ways that are meaningful and productive," Richmond said. "We're still not there yet. The immersive stuff is a new medium for communication and collaboration, and it takes time to figure out how to use a new medium effectively."

Richmond recommends interested companies seek out academic conferences and labs that partner with private companies to learn more about how it could fit into their business.

"The trick for the enterprise is going to be figuring out when to make the leap, and when things are mature enough to move from it being a curiosity and set of experiments to being a core part of their business," Richmond said.

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Image: iStockphoto/Wavebreakmedia

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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