Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Enterprise Reality


For many people their first experience of a virtual world was at the computer game arcade. Thanks to Google Glass, Facebook's purchase of Oculus Rift, and ever increasing computing power. Augmented, Virtual, and various forms of Mixed Reality are finding a niche in the enterprise. Increasingly for visualisation and use cases where it's 'handy' to be hands free. Displaying and accessing information may make sense via a Virtual or Augmented channel.

Briefly to make some distinctions: Virtual (computer generated), Augmented (computer assisted), and Mixed Reality (anything in between) enable the user to experience and access information that is beyond what their senses can naturally obtain. For example http://secondlife.com is completely computer generated and considered Virtual, whereas http://www.wikitude.com augments reality by overlaying contextual data onto video in real-time.

So if this still sounds all like games and gimmicks how can virtual reality be used effectively in Enterprise? It already is... Consider the following examples:
  • Military Applications (Training and simulations such as flight, parachute, and combat along with Heads Up and Head Mounted Displays for various scenarios e.g. BARS)
  • Design (Computer Aided Design e.g. VRDL)
  • Retail (Try before you buy applications e.g. Ray-Ban and a great augmented pixel article)
  • Medical Applications (Remote presence, 3d imaging refer this medical blog)
  • Education & Training (e.g. Mining training)
  • Real-estate (Virtual tours, walk-through)
  • Asset Management

In addition advertising agencies are using Augmented Reality to bring wow factor and interaction to a variety of brands and products with interesting interactive campaigns aimed at the tech savvy generation.

Key factors when it comes to Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality are the real-time nature and visualisation of information. Additionally depending on the implementation these solutions often contain characteristics such as: immersion, remote or telepresence, private or social interactions, gamification, and hands free operation. And while mostly obvious, the benefits to the use of these technologies come from increased efficiency, safety, customer loyalty and engagement along with a reduction in costs, manual handling, and errors.

Mobile computing and Virtual reality share some common enabling technologies. Looking back at early Virtual Reality is like reminiscing about old Motorola mobile phones. Both used to be chunky, had only basic user interfaces, and simple display ability. Underlying both of course are advancements in hardware and software. For more details refer to my article on the history of mobile computing. So why then is all this “un-reality” not ubiquitous like mobile phones?

A couple of key factors should be considered. Firstly while technology has advanced to a stage where phones can now act as full mobile computing devices the tech curve is still on the rise when it comes to Augmented and Virtual reality. Secondly, mobile computing by its nature has a wide scope of viable use cases. Many would argue that mobile computing is replacing desktop computing, whereas Augmented and Virtual reality only enable consumption of information in a different way.

So is all this un-reality only for high end computers with dedicated hardware? Thankfully mobile phone technology has reached the level where it can support Augmented Reality. In some ways it is currently the perfect technological platform. With a combination of ready availability, processor power, camera, GPS, connectivity, and display. A modern mobile phone is being used as a virtual platform. Obviously it is still early days with the potential of Augmented and Virtual reality continuing to improve in direct relation to advancements in software and hardware price and performance.

Augmentation applications on iOS and Android are gaining popularity and include a variety of useful and fun features such as product visualisations (e.g. Augment), Translations (e.g. Word Lens), Search (e.g. Google Goggles), Compass (e.g. Play Aid) and many more. While these applications are useful in their own right the good news is that additionally they are all paving the way for further refined use of the technology for real benefits.

So will Virtual Reality now explode into the Enterprise? My guess is probably not. This technology is not necessarily (or perhaps just not currently) sensible for all scenarios. Additionally there can be downsides such as privacy concerns, information overload/filtering, and even motion sickness. Perhaps further advancements in display and user input such as holographic, mind machine interfaces, implants, or contact lenses will enable a more ubiquitous reach for these technologies.

For industries and scenarios discussed that are already using the technologies many where early adopters. This is certainly the case for design based industries such as industrial and automotive. There is now some encroachment for certain products with the influx of 3d printing. However a Virtual world allows for a more immersive experience (take for example a concept vehicle). Additionally aeronautical and military applications such as flight simulations are some of the earliest examples of Virtual Technology. For these types of industries/scenarios the Virtual style technology is only going to improve. But for the vast majority of business computer use a Tron style environment is not likely to be productive! From time to time we've all met or worked with someone that seemed to be operating in their own reality. With continued large technology investments becoming commonplace, it won’t be long before the next great advancements in the Mobile Computing, Augmented, and Virtual Reality. This could really change the meaning of “operating in their own reality”. I can only imagine that with Google not grabbing Oculus and with Augmented Reality contact lenses already in production it must be about time for the Google “HoloDeck” announcement. Please count me in as a “Holo-explorer”!

This article was originally published on Enterprise Mobility Network