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The Next Big Thing: Unlocking the Immensity of Virtual Reality

“The future is already here — it's just not very evenly distributed.” — Author William Gibson

You don’t need a face-to-face experience with a virtual reality (VR) enthusiast to sense their undying, impassioned belief in the technology. No matter how skeptical you may be about VR’s sustainable imprint on society and the workplace, there’s a VR evangelist standing by, poised to change your mind and prove you wrong.

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John Buzzell, president of You Are Here Labs, is such an individual. He is convinced that augmented reality (AR) and VR (commonly grouped as XR) will be our new “screen.” Buzzell believes this, he says, because, in his capacity as the leader of an immersive experience lab, he has personally worked on and witnessed hundreds of AR/VR implementations for recruiting, training, sales support and marketing across manufacturing, shipping, energy, telecommunications, automotive, heating and cooling, consumer packaged goods and more.

“While the military and some forward-looking organizations have been investing in AR and VR for decades, a growing number of enterprise companies have recently begun their own exploration, primarily through their marketing and innovation teams,” Buzzell said. “Over the last two years, AR/VR has moved from proofs of concept to the C-suite as they look to scale those successes.”

As demand has increased, the tools and devices to create and consume these immersive experiences have been democratized, he said. “Many development tools are now free or inexpensive to use, and AR/VR devices have moved from the lab to our living rooms, in some applications even working on the humble smartphone.”

Like the personal computer or mobile phone before it, AR and VR offer a broad and versatile opportunity to understand and collaborate using networked computers. 

Definitions

    Augmented reality (AR) overlays abstract digital information contextually into our physical world.

    Virtual reality (VR) enables us to interact physically with a simulated, digital world.

“With these transcendent capabilities, there are boundless applications,” said Buzzell, whose company launched what he claims is the world’s first holographic press release at the PRSA International Conference in October 2018.

The Impact on Human Resources
A 2017 study by the National Training Laboratory revealed dramatically increased retention rates for VR learning (75%) over the retention rates for reading (10%) and lectures (5%). Many companies are already realizing these gains through HR investments in XR, Buzzell said. Some larger examples include United Parcel Service, Delta Airlines, Rolls-Royce Corp., the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, KFC Corp. and Walmart Inc. 

According to Buzzell, companies of any size can leverage AR/VR to recruit and train better employees in the following ways:

  • Recruiting/Hiring: Hiring managers are using VR to introduce candidates to their company, tour facilities and glimpse culture. They also are using VR to evaluate job skills with simulated work scenarios.
  • Onboarding: New hires can learn about company culture and have essential experiences through 360° VR videos. They can find their way around the workplace using AR navigation.
  • Training: Skilled and safe employees are the foundation of any successful company. No longer the domain of innovation labs, many companies are already using AR to deliver digital work instructions, explaining tools and processes to employees, demonstrating key steps and reinforcing safety protocols. They’re using VR to simulate problems and troubleshooting, reducing risks and increasing skills and retention.

In addition to leveraging powerful emerging technologies for recruiting, onboarding, and training, leadership teams across industries are investing to ensure their staff has the right mix of skills and experience to communicate in this new, immersive, three-dimensional medium, Buzzell said.

“Companies of all sizes are considering how their business relies on three-dimensional objects, how digitizing those objects or environments can help them, how they’ll digitize existing objects or adapt CAD files, and what software development resources they’ll need to unlock AR/VR applications for business gains,” he said. “They’re deciding when to build versus buy, and where the greatest potential gains are found.”

The New Visual Medium
For those still skeptical about the degree of impact that AR and VR can have on the workplace, Buzzell suggests looking no further than the internet and how difficult it was for us to anticipate the changes that connecting our computers would bring. People, he said, struggled to imagine the new attitudes and skills that kind of connection would bring.

“We are at a point where digital technologies have evolved to understand and live in our three-dimensional world, as we do,” he said. “For companies interested in remaining competitive, they will have to consider how this new visual medium will affect their industry and business, and their willingness to prepare for the future.”

In large part because smartphone manufacturers have seen their sales plateau, Buzzell says he sees an imminent change coming that will propel AR and VR.

“We can make bigger screens, but not bigger hands, and a 10-hour battery gets you from breakfast to dinner,” he said. “Apple, Samsung, Google, and the rest will need a new device if they’re going to keep consumers spending upwards of $1,000 every two years.”

Similarly, telecommunications carriers have invested heavily in 5G mobile broadband networks, and they need applications that use more data, Buzzell said.

Cloud Computing has brought the costs of storage down dramatically, leading to new applications that can harness exponentially more information, and meanwhile the rapid expansion of IoT devices are bringing more data and interface than ever before. 

“Thankfully, artificial intelligence and machine learning are helping us understand that data in new ways,” he said. “New tech keeps appearing, but our old human brains are struggling to keep up with all the screens and screens come with buttons. As visual creatures, we need a new solution. The 100-plus year old glowing rectangle of a screen can no longer contain the digital world as it dissolves into our physical existence. As you’ll hear from the CEOs of Microsoft, Facebook, Google, and Apple, augmented reality and VR are what’s next.”

While many of us may be dusting ourselves off from the last digital transition, some like Buzzell are already living in the next one. 

“There is certainly plenty of work required, but it will create enormous opportunity yet again,” he said. “I hope your readers will take a moment to remember the adventure and opportunity of their first time on the World Wide Web, or the first time they used an iPhone. We’re on the precipice of another transformational change in the way we live and work. See you in the future!”

VIRTUAL REALITY ROUNDUP

Helping the Auto Industry

Revolutionary virtual reality caves in Ontario, Canada could help automakers and their suppliers become more technologically innovative and competitive in the global marketplace, writes Dave Hall of Automotive News Canada. The $4.6 million three-dimensional cave at Windsor’s Institute for Border Logistics and Security features three screens and will allow companies to test their products in advance and reduce the cost of failures. 

Transforming Retail

Immersive learning, enabled through virtual reality software and headsets, is becoming a mainstay of major retailers, for a variety of scenarios, writes Bryan Pearson of Forbes. Pearson details how stores like Walmart and Lowes are utilizing virtual reality to train their employees when it comes to customer service.

Training in the Workplace

This HR Technologist article outlines how organizations can facilitate diversity training in the workplace using virtual reality. The article explains how virtual reality is helping remove implicit bias through training

Applications and Drawbacks

Danielle Wallace breaks down the benefits and the drawbacks of using virtual and augmented reality in this article for the Association for Talent Development. Wallace provides examples of times businesses have used AR and VR to their benefit, namely by mimicking real-life and potentially dangerous procedures before the skills are taken to the field. Wallace also identifies two limitations of the technology.  

Future of Police Training

A startup called SURVIVR is using virtual reality to empower police officers to better protect communities and themselves, writes Payton Potter in this Dallas Innovates article. Potter tells the story of how what was once an action-horror VR game filled with hordes of demonic creatures has now pivoted into a real-life training for law enforcement.

About the Author

Dan Cafaro is the editor-in-chief of Workspan magazine.


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