Heads up: 10 ways VR and AR will invade the workplace

Enterprises are rapidly waking up to the potential for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) across many different functions and industries.

To understand how virtual and augmented reality might be deployed within your business, it’s important to make the distinction between them. The first may help you feel like you’re inside a movie, role-playing game, or conference room, while the second adds layers of contextually-delivered computer data and intelligence to what you’re doing in the real world.

VR usually requires you wear immersive headsets and are connected to state-of-the-art computing equipment (such as an HTC Vive or Oculus). While AR can bring you information on your mobile device, through headphones, by touch using haptic systems, or through your eyes using lightweight connected eyewear.

“AR and VR will transform today’s user experience into a more continuous and contextual one that significantly changes how people interact with each other and computing systems,” said Brian Blau, research vice president at Gartner. To help identify how these technologies may boost your business, we’ve put together this collection of enterprise applications:

1. Communications

Unified communications solutions can be supplemented with AR/VR. Augmented tools within collaboration sessions can track new commitments, while 3D renderings of relevant objects can be shared between those taking part. These solutions don’t need to be sedentary: the Double Robotics Telepresence robot uses an iPad mounted on robotic wheels to represent a person, who could see what the robot’s camera’s saw as they moved around the building.

2. Recruitment

Letting people feel like they are at a company may be of use in recruitment. BetterCloud created a VR-based “day in the life” tour of the company to attract potential hires, who could access it using an app on their smartphone. Many firms like to offer VR tours of their sites, facilities and offices as part of their consumer engagement strategy: Rio Tinto Kennecott and Cisco both offer these.

3. Training

There are multiple implementations for training. The Red Cross is introducing VR into its training scheme to teach Red Cross delegates how to deliver first aid in highly stressful combat zones. Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise is in the business of developing VR training solutions for new employees in the oil and gas industries. Walmart is in the process of introducing VR to its training schemes, and Boeing recently said VR cuts training time by 75 percent.

4. Retail

Retailers are also exploring VR and AR. Giant Swedish retailer, IKEA, recently announced plans to work with Apple’s ARKit to design VR experiences customers can use to virtually place furniture in their homes. It’s not alone. US home improvement store Lowe’s offers Holoroom, a VR space in which customers can virtually test different products before making a purchase. Starbucks, Sauza and others already provide offering AR-enabled apps that combine AR with customers discounts when they pass by a store. Some real estate agents also provide VR tours to clients.

5. Sports

It seems inevitable sports brands will explore this new virtual space. The NBA just announced it will broadcast weekly games with virtual reality features to subscribers of its NBA League Pass, according to a USA Today report. Nascar, NFL – even the Rio Olympics, have all provided access to some of their games via VR.

6. Agriculture

Aria’s recent Smart Dairy 2025 study identified numerous ways in which livestock farmers can use AR. These include optimizing the performance of agricultural technology, location-based alerts for herd tracking and management, even wearables for cattle that accurately track animal health and food consumption.

7. Logistics and transport

Global distributor, DHL, is using AR to reduce errors and increase speed through its Vision Picking Program, which gives workers advanced smartglasses to help them optimize existing processes. So-called “dark supermarkets” – the distribution centers for online supermarket brands – also use AR to help stock pickers put orders together fast. Orange Business is working with WayRay Navion, the world’s first holographic navigation system for drivers that adds AR to the windshield.

8. Product design

Dell EMC and Nike are collaborating to create VR solutions that let designers work freely with advanced materials as they create new products. These virtual prototypes can be tested before being manufactured, accelerating new product design. Ford, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin also use VR for new product design.

9. Industry 4.0

Space-Time Insight provides VR solutions to energy utilities for use in diagnosis of problems with substations and other facilities. Technicians can use a VR headset to figure out what to do even before they visit the facility. “For example, if they get a notification of a flood, they can see how high the water is,” said SVP marketing, Steve Erhlich told Enterprise Apps Today.

10. Medical

Surgeons are already using VR and AR in medical training, for diagnosis, even in the operating theatre. Barts NHS Trust last year used VR to stream a life-saving operation to medical students worldwide.

Enterprise users must look forward to how they will develop with the technology as it evolves. “Plan not for where you think the technology is now, but for where the technology is going to evolve in the next three years,” AMD’s corporate vice president Roy Taylor said.

Take a look at how VR ignited interest at MWC 2016 and explore our other blogs investigating how today’s technology is transforming business.

Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.