Augmented Reality in the workplace. The purpose of this article is to encourage and inspire people to get to grips with this technology. Because the potential is tremendous. Some even say that AR will bring us greater opportunities than the web.
If you are interested in digital transformation, you will find the impact and opportunities of digital transformation in different departments and areas of a company in our series "Digitalisation 2021".
A few years ago, Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) were still regarded as gimmicks or science fiction. Augmented reality is a technology in which physical "real" objects can be overlaid with virtual data and digital objects. This creates an interactive application for users. Among the first applications were, for example, "head-mounted displays" that made it easier to fly fighter jets.
However, these technologies already left the Gartner Hype Cycle of emerging technologies in terms of their marketability in 2019 (Fig. 1 + 2). Meanwhile, we are already in the phases of AI augmented design and AI augmented software engineering (Fig. 3). This means that we are working together with artificial intelligence in these areas. Augmented reality has become one of the key technologies of digital transformation.
Also in Germany, virtual reality is already part of real reality. This is because around 75 % of companies in this country were already using virtual or augmented reality in 2019 or planned to do so in the future. The market and the request are growing, also in the consumer sector (Fig. 4).
Today, augmented reality is used either experimentally or productively in many business areas such as logistics, medicine, engineering, education and transport. With the rapid development of displays and mobile devices in terms of performance as well as functionality, the realisation of powerful augmented reality apps has become easier for all industries.
Here we look at why these new technologies are so popular with organisations and how they can improve both employee performance and employee wellbeing.
What is Augmented Reality?
To begin with, let's clarify the basic terms. In addition to AR, there is VR, MR and XR.
XR stands for extended reality. Extended Reality is an umbrella term that describes all experiences that combine reality with augmented or virtual content. The term includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).
Augmented Reality / AR
Augmented reality combines the real physical and virtual worlds. This means that digital information is superimposed on the physical view. We know this from football on TV - for example, when strategic moves are "traced" or the distance of a free kick is shown with a virtual line.
Virtual Reality / VR
Virtual reality fully immerses people in a digital experience. This literally takes the person out of the present and previous reality they are in. VR is looking into goggles where a digital image is displayed for each eye. The glasses are constructed similar to scuba masks, completely sealed off from the outside to be fully "immersed" in virtual reality.
Mixed Reality / MR
The term Mixed Reality (MR) was created by Microsoft. It describes the combination of seeing and interacting with the physical and digital worlds simultaneously. By others, the term is used to describe the combination of virtual and augmented reality.
What are the advantages of augmented reality in a business context?
The benefits for companies are enormous. The greatest gain is in the area of training and simulation. Historically, virtual and augmented reality can be located in this area. The classic example of VR is the flight simulator, while the head-mounted displays for fighter pilots are an example of AR.
For training, it means higher engagement, safety and availability. The latter ensures that additional time is saved. And of course it also reduces costs in all areas where augmented reality is used.
In addition, the performance of employees increases because information is available more rapidly and easily. That is particularly noticeable in Industry 4.0. It also improves collaboration, especially when participants are in different locations (remote collaboration). This is also true for job interviews, presentations and onboarding processes.
Augmented reality on the job
Remote Work / Remote Collaboration
Most of us have experienced AR through the pandemic during "remote work". Thanks to video conferencing applications such as Zoom, TeamViewer or MS Teams, we got in touch. We were also able to work virtually on documents or presentation slides at the same time (remote collaboration).
Remote collaboration can also take the form of support and remote guidance. For example, IT support: there is a physical problem with a computer. The employee in question uses the camera on her smartphone to give the IT support person a view. The IT support also uses a smartphone and the live video is transmitted to them.
The support team can then directly mark the relevant point in the video transmission ( remote assistance or interactive instructions) if, for example, a cable has come loose, and the person concerned sees this spot displayed in their video. In this way, issues can be solved quickly and easily directly without all parties being in the same room.
Data visualisation and data organisation are becoming increasingly important for organisations in defining and achieving tasks, goals and strategies. However, the amount of data is getting bigger and more complex.
That is why it is important to clearly sort and visualise this data in order to gain important insights. In addition, these methods also help employees to be able to convey data, results and insights to their management, stakeholders or customers. Sales presentations also lead to a more intensive customer experience.
Companies are gaining a real edge in these areas over competitors who are not using these data visualisation and ordering methods (see SpringerLink and Bain & Company results).
Augmented Reality Training
The greatest potential of AR for the workforce is in training and simulation. Gains go far beyond the greatly reduced costs here. Additional significant benefits include a high level of safety, increased engagement and a shortening of the learning curve.
The acquisition costs for AR devices for training are much lower than constructing the training environment in the conventional way. Moreover, the big advantage is that training can take place practically anywhere. This means that there is no need for a central training centre and no need to send staff to be trained there.
In addition, the AR hardware can be used for other purposes, and most people already own their own hardware in the form of smartphones. In this way, AR headsets and smartphone apps replace expensive courses or seminars.
One other point is the avoidance of (costly) errors. When the cost and effort of training is low, the workforce can be trained more frequently - and this can lead to fewer errors in addition to better performance.
Training with augmented reality often has a playful tendency. Gamification comes into play here. Through an interactive, structured and practical way, participants learn with more dedication and commitment. Thanks to the flexible use of AR headsets in combination with smartphones, the pressure of deadlines is reduced considerably.
This is because learners can often learn at their own pace without pressure or performance expectations. This creates a completely different motivation, which also has a positive effect on the entire learning process. This is also because AR training is an exciting as well as imaginative experience.
Speaking of the learning process. In reality, many organisations make the mistake of conducting very theoretical and poorly applied training. It' s a bit like school, where the practical application of what is learned is often missing or not conveyed. Concepts are learnt by heart, but staff do not know how to apply them in the real world.
AR training provides a remedy, combining real-world work environments with overlays for training and expert knowledge. It is an active experience that raises the learning curve.
Some jobs and situations are inherently dangerous, and the training for these jobs are correspondingly just as dangerous or can even be fatal. This is particularly true in the industrial, military and aerospace sectors. With the help of AR, employees can train for these tasks without the risk of injury or severe hazards.
Augmented reality literally opens up a whole new dimension and world that encompasses all areas of our lives. The main reason why many companies still do not take advantage of these opportunities is because they do not know how this technology can be used. Scenarios for the use of AR go far beyond "classic areas" such as medicine, aerospace, industry 4.0, retail or the military.
Remote work / collaboration / assistance, training, knowledge transfer and data visualisation are the new important augmented reality applications, and in combination with virtual reality they reach an additional dimension. And as hardware becomes more and more affordable, the last argument why not to invest in AR falls away. Simply calculate how much money you can save by training with augmented reality. In most cases, this ensures that the purchase is already financed.