“This is not science fiction. If you think back to about 10 years ago, some of the experiences we have right now were science fiction back then,” said tech visionary Dragana Beara about immersive technologies during a webinar recently hosted by MERIT.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies are actively used today for learning and development (L&D) purposes in many other industries. Dragana, the Global Messaging Director for Augmentation & Immersive Technologies at Dell Technologies, together with Martin Sawtell, head of Software Proof of Concept for the Experience Innovation Group, and Matt Coppinger, Director of Immersive Technologies at VMware, provided a fascinating overview of how VR and AR are applied today. The experts also looked five to 10 years into the future to examine what our relationship with immersive technologies and augmented reality is going to be.
A boost to corporate training
A major field where immersive technologies are increasingly being used is corporate training. The technology has evolved rapidly over the last five years. Every year we see new devices and new advances in both software and hardware, Matt said, adding that “at VMware, we have seen a huge number of our customers adopt VR for immersive training purposes.” One of those customers, Johnson & Johnson, conducted a study showing that immersive training is 83% more effective. Other studies have proved that immersive training improves information retention and the ability to repeat tasks. “The other benefit around virtual reality is that this training is digital, which means it’s repeatable, measurable and scalable, so you can send the headsets to your employees and they can conduct the training remotely in a safe environment.”
Immersive training is 83% more effective.
Immersive technology can help teach people do mechanical tasks, but what is more impressive is that it can also help them develop soft skills. For instance, users can go through HR training where they are placed in an office environment with a realistic virtual avatar. The animated person they are speaking to would react to the choices that they make with gestures and facial expressions. When users talk, the application picks up on what they are saying and the conversation flows. There are also speech applications, which can improve presentation skills. Users present their material on a virtual stage and see a virtual crowd, while the application tracks their voice and even their eye movements. If they are not looking at the audience, people will start acting bored and even stand up and leave.
VR and AR are not necessarily limited to training. They can be used for immersive presentations, such as location tours for remote employees who want to walk around the office. Employees can also use the technology to change their state of mind and their mood. There is an app that records people’s current mood and then asks them how they want to change it. Based on their answers, the app will create an audio-visual experience. Users can choose a passive experience to lower their heart rate or an interactive, stimulating one to energise them.
The potential of AR and VR applications across industries
Multiple industries are actively embracing immersive technologies for both commercial and consumer use, according to data from Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research presented by Dragana. One of those industries is gaming. The use of VR and AR, however, goes beyond purely entertainment purposes, with gamification also applied in immersive training programmes. Healthcare is another sector increasingly using VR and AR applications, especially now when contactless experience and telemedicine are so important.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also pushed immersive technologies into the engineering and real estate sectors. A lot of people turned to video and augmented reality when renting and buying homes during a lockdown. Ikea has already come up with a solution for inserting furniture into your own space. And then of course there is the military, which has always been a pioneer in this area, deploying VR and AR tools for combat training and enabling soldiers to experience dangerous situations without actually being in danger. The diverse application of immersive technologies in these sectors is a testimony to the vast untapped potential for L&D departments in the corporate world.
The next computer platform
This potential can arguably increase as VR and AR devices become more user friendly and shrink in size. “Our experience with computing has changed over time,” Martin said, noting that the evolution from the first computers to today’s devices shows that they are becoming increasingly human, transparent, accessible, and relatable. Immersive technologies are expected to follow a similar trajectory. “On the hardware side we will see the merging of AR and VR devices, which will become mixed reality devices and will shrink in size,” Matt said. Over the next 10 years we will see all these devices collapse into one easily wearable form, thus bringing about more mainstream use cases, certainly on the consumer side. Today, Matt said, VR and AR are used for very specific tasks: training, visualisation, augmented workflows or remote systems. But in the future, immersive technology has the potential to become the next computer platform that will be implemented in all business processes.
By Valentin Vassilev