Surveying the Land
Whether you are following a checklist, reading a maintenance manual, filling in a form or performing an inspection, chances are that a piece of paper and clipboard is the traditional tool for the job but we must move forward into the digital age.
Many businesses have made progress by offering content in the form of digital documents. While a good step forward, digital documents still provide a fairly flat and static experience and do not take full advantage of what modern technology can offer.
What is xR?
The Extended Reality (xR) tech wave has hit full force and it’s time to take a serious look at what it can do for your business. There are several different x-Realities and they all solve a slightly different problem – from fully immersive to contextual information, these technologies are wide ranging and extremely powerful.
A fully immersive sensory experience, the goal of virtual reality is to transport the user into an entirely separate world. For business, this can be a powerful tool for education and training. For years now, NASA has been using virtual reality as a way to train astronauts and engineers in environments by preparing them for the real performance of delicate and high-risk tasks and procedures.
A blend of the real and the virtual world, mixed reality allows for users to interact with objects overlaid on a real environment. Mixed reality provides capabilities like allowing an aerospace engineer to deconstruct and analyse the parts of a jet engine he is about to repair prior to taking the engine apart.
Augmented reality overlays contextual information on the real world – it recognises where the user is and provides information to objects specific to the environment. Great examples of AR include using image recognition to label the parts of a car when the hood is up or placing valuable real-time sensor data next to complex machinery. AR is still a new field but with companies like Apple behind it, the future is undeniably bright.
Assisted reality provides overlaid content but not specifically attached to objects in the physical world. A powerful tool in business, relevant documentation, instructions or information can be provided without requiring users to fan through pages of manuals or other paper documentation.
The Silver Tsunami
According to Reuters, approximately 50% of aerospace engineers are now eligible for retirement. The knowledge and skills gap that these industries are facing is significant. Businesses need to look into ways of bridging the knowledge gap.
Customers have hundreds, if not thousands of documents defining their standard operating procedures but when tasked with a knowledge transfer need, these documents start to show their deficiencies;
- How long does the process usually take?
- How can the process be improved?
- What could go wrong when following this process?
- What is the best approach?
It is the answer to these questions that experienced and retiring engineers know instinctively and they are taking this knowledge with them into retirement. Extended Reality can play a major role in addressing these problems.
Capturing the Knowledge
Any written documentation is likely to have its own knowledge gaps so capturing what workers actually do is the first key component.
An xR experience that pairs with artificial intelligence is a viable solution. Image and environmental recognition through Machine Learning can begin to identify the steps an engineer takes and convert the captured media and information into work instructions.
Virtual, augmented or assisted reality can then guide new engineers through the steps that were performed, delivering contextual information and step by step instructions.
Taught indirectly by seasoned workers, the entire workforce is now performing tasks based on the skills of seasoned engineers. The trainees are no longer isolated in a classroom with a disconnected series of written instructions, but are performing each task exactly as it should be performed.
Though large-scale deployments of next-generation technology are still around the corner, many companies are investigating these new tools. Most leading industries have run pilots and trials with wearable technology in some form or another. There have been many high profile examples of large companies using these new Extended Reality devices. Just recently Google unveiled a sequel to their Google Glass device, the Glass Enterprise Edition. Google has been secretly working with companies like GE and Volkswagen to perfect this new and exciting technology.
Once these systems are implemented, continuous learning and evolution of processes is unlimited. Machine Learning is great at capturing information, and as a job is performed time and time again the algorithms and models will continuously improve.
Keeping It Simple
Often IT systems focus on the large and complicated problems while the simple, mundane challenges never get addressed. The advantage of approaching small challenges first is the ability to fail fast and learn quick. With fresh thinking and modern technology we can find innovative solutions to not only bridge the gap but make people and tasks more efficient as time goes on.
James Woodall, CTO / Joint Founder of Intoware, a global leader in wearable and headset software development