The state of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality(VR) technology is nascent in every industry except online gaming, where cutting-edge innovations continuously emerge. AR and VR technology adoption is far more gradual in other industries, with most individuals believing that their greatest impact will be in shopping, travel, and entertainment.
However, Kai Goerlich, SAP's chief futurist at SAP's Innovation Center Network, believes that the first benefits of AR/VR for companies may well be in the areas of remote inspection and plant and equipment maintenance and in product design and simulation.
"A building inspector can walk through a house with a set of AR glasses, see the blueprint of the structure overlays at the top of his AR glasses, and physically inspect the premises for smoke alarms," Goerllch said. "On the spot, he can verify if all smoke alarms are properly placed and installed, and he can note any exceptions."
SEE: Virtual and augmented reality in the enterprise: Cost factors, benefits, future plans (free PDF)
A second use for AR/VR inspection and maintenance involves sites that are inherently dangerous for humans to visit, such as certain areas with nuclear reactor plants or remote geographic areas that mining companies are considering for exploration.
In these cases, a remote operator far away from the site can visualize a location, use AR/VR, and send out a drone or a robot to effect the remote inspections or repairs while observing or operating the drone or robot from afar.
AR and VR have also found an early home in product and design prototyping. Prototyping combines with AR/VR to produce three-dimensional models of structures or products that can be evaluated and then simulated in use. Designers can even conduct "virtual walkthroughs" that help determine whether the electronic proofs of concept work as engineered. The 3D simulation process saves time and money because it's not necessary to build a physical model.
"Collectively, these approaches can all save time, improve safety, and improve operational efficiency while reducing costs," Goerlich said.
SEE: Surgery in virtual reality: How VR could give trainee doctors the feel of real patients (ZDNet)
For companies that have not yet gotten their feet wet with with AR/VR, these initial forays into the business applications of the technology offer easy entry points into AR/VR. It allows them to begin experimenting with the technology and to determine other places where it can serve their needs.
"These use cases are all very straightforward, and we can do them now," Goerlich said.
Here are five steps companies can take to get ready for AR/VR:
1. See what's available in ready-to-go AR/VR technology
If there are use cases where AR/VR is already being used in your industry, take a hard look and see whether any are worth doing a proof of concept for. This gets the technology into your organization where staff and managers can see it in action.
2. Evaluate the business processes in your company to see where AR/VR works best
Once you have a sense of how AR/VR operates in your business, look for other use cases where it can provide benefit; then, work with operations to determine whether there is cost justification.
SEE: IT project cost/benefit calculator (Tech Pro Research)
3. Educate your staff
AR/VR technology used in business is different from how it's used in recreational gaming. In business, AR/VR must connect with many types of business data. It's also going to change workflows and how work is done. When workflows and processes change, employees may resist—and they might fear job loss. This is why employees and managers should be educated about what AR/VR technology can do, how it can help employees and the company, and what the employees' roles will be. The most important thing is to keep communications channels open.
4. Prepare to adapt
AR/VR technology is far from mature. It has hurdles—like the glasses that workers using AR/VR in the field must use. In some cases, looking up at a 3D rendering of a building plan in your glasses, then looking at the physical building, can be disorienting. It can even make some people dizzy. Consequently, there are bound to be "adaptability" issues.
5. Don't procrastinate
There are many reasons to defer AR/VR projects. One is that there are already so many projects on the docket. Don't fall into this trap. If you do, your company risks losing competitive advantage in the market. Although the move into AR/VR technology is gradual, companies are getting onboard with it. Yours should too.
- AI, robotics, IoT, augmented and virtual reality to bolster ICT spending (ZDNet)
- Video: How gaming pushes business technology innovation (TechRepublic)
- Build 30 Mini Virtual Reality Games in Unity 3D From Scratch (TechRepublic Academy)
- 5 iOS augmented reality apps professionals should try today (TechRepublic)
- Report: 53% of mid-sized companies have AR, VR pilot projects underway (TechRepublic)
Has your organization embarked on any planning or implementations of AR/VR technology? Share your experiences and advice with fellow TechRepublic members.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.