Telstra brought together three experts on immersive new mixed, virtual and augmented reality technologies to discuss trends and business impact in a panel at the Vantage conference in September.
The panel emphasised that one of the most important considerations to make regarding the three technologies is that they each have different strengths and each lends itself to uses that the others do not. Take VR, for example:
“Virtual reality is as the sci-fi films promised,” said Jumpgate VR founder and managing director Anton Andreacchio. “You can put on a headset and go to a new world. But the way we see it is you can bring places and situations to people.”
No longer “a solution looking for a problem,” experts in the field now understand that the value of VR lies in its experiential quality. It connects deeply with people, and so it’s ideal for engagement with art or ideas or keeping everyone on the same page in complex stakeholder environments.
With the AFL, for instance, Andreacchio said they started out using VR to let people run through the banners with their favourite team, but now they use it to livestream games and train players. And even their understanding of how to do this has evolved, as they’ve learned the importance of the relationship dynamics between players and coaches in the training process.
Augmented reality, in contrast, is best utilised to add information to your view of the world, while mixed reality devices such as Microsoft’s HoloLens fall somewhere in between the other two and adds in better capabilities for sharing and collaboration.
Untethered, hands-free, remote computing
Microsoft HoloLens evangelist Lawrence Crumpton said that Microsoft is famous for putting a PC on every desktop, but now 80 percent of workers don’t actually have a PC. That’s as many as two billion people underserved by access to technology, who can’t carry traditional computers around with them and who in many cases do jobs where they can’t hold their hands in front of their face either.
It’s little wonder, then, that mixed reality — which essentially involves wearing a self-contained computer on your face — is quickly transforming how we conduct all sorts of business activities, especially in fields that involve 3D visualisation.
The construction, engineering, architecture and urban design industries have already embraced mixed reality, Crumpton said, because it improves their ability to manage tasks, change workflows and see instructions — all in 3D, without ever having to stare at a manual — and it allows them to get instant feedback about their work.
Specialist engineering firms, too, have found that with mixed reality they now have the capacity to solve problems remotely rather than flying people out to help in person — saving days of lost productivity for both them and their clients on every single machine breakdown or parts failure.
Solving impossible problems
Tatham Oddie, the managing director at Telstra-owned companies Readify and Kloud, talked about how mixed reality helped Qantas re-imagine big problems. The airline dramatically reduced the turnaround time on assessing and repairing damage to aircraft grounded after lightning strikes when it adopted a mixed reality solution that superimposes the inner wiring and systems onto a HoloLens wearer’s view of the plane’s panels — kind of like an x-ray — so now they can trace the problem without pulling anything apart.
The value of mixed reality here is not just on the business productivity side, either. Engineers and architects have begun to use mixed reality to give their clients walk-around tours of buildings during conception and early building phases.
Figuring out whether mixed reality — or perhaps instead AR or VR — will help your business comes down to understanding not only the context of how they each work but also, Andreacchio suggested, the dynamics at play.
The mixed reality solutions that are having the biggest impact consider the interpersonal side of a problem, and they reflect a company’s culture, values and people.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert on the technology to understand how it could fit with your business, however. Crumpton suggested that businesses should look to partners with experience devising and implementing immersive technology solutions — like Telstra and Jumpgate — to help think through a problem. And also to leverage their expertise to chase after the big solutions — because you’ll never get the full benefits of digital transformation if you test the water with small, inconsequential problems.
Instead, he advised attendees, “pick the impossible problem. The thing you cannot solve another way. The thing that will not work on your mobile phone or your tablet or a large screen. The thing that involves people collaborating remotely because now you have a tool that allows you to solve it.”