AR and VR Training Technologies for Enterprise

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December 10, 2019

As Augmented and Virtual reality technologies mature, they are becoming a viable option for enterprise training. However there is still a way to go before these technologies become commonplace in most business scenarios.

J.P. Gownder, vice president at Forrester states, "Right now, we mostly remain in the early testing phase for AR and VR, but employee training is becoming a more common scenario"

Walmart and UPS are a couple of companies who have rolled out VR training programs. This is helping their new employees master their jobs faster and with higher quality and safety. At UPS, new drivers will use VR headsets to simulate city driving conditions during training. Large mining companies are using AR to help workers identify and fix problems with equipment, in factories or out in the field.

VR has had a huge impact on the customer side of things mostly due to gaming. Enterprise AR adoption is ahead of consumer AR in terms of maturity as said by Tuong Nguyen, who is principal research analyst at Gartner.

He goes on to say "We're really in the adolescence of AR and VR. We've had some time to test it, but it's still in its teenage years, so there are some growing pains to be expected. But we're already starting to see its potential."

The top three enterprise AR use cases right now include video guidance, design and collaboration and task itemization, according to Nguyen.

"For training, it's helpful for situations that are high risk" Nguyen said. "If it's expensive or dangerous to have someone training in a live environment, but you want them to at least know the muscle movement and the decisions they will need to make, you can have them do it in a virtual space, rather than in the physical world." Nguyen states this could include scenarios such as military surgery training, combat training or other emergency response training.

There are a number of products on the market aimed at enterprise adoption of VR/AR technology. A couple of examples are HTC Vive Pro and the Oculus for Business bundle. These can be used for enhancing worker productivity and job training in fields such as manufacturing and design, retail, transportation and healthcare.

Nguyen says "For any business, when implementing tech, it's either making you money or saving you money," and follows on to say "When you talk about employee training and use of immersive tech, it tends to be some type of cost savings, whether in the form of less accidents, higher accuracy rates, or fewer mistakes. That's the kind of benefit that the CIO should be expecting." With this being said, because these are interface technologies, success depends mostly on the task", he added.

Nguyen recommends doing some research and testing to see how these technologies can apply to your company. "Think about how it applies to solving certain problems, as an extension of tech" Nguyen said. "Don't just bring it in and say, let's see what we can do with this.”

The entertainment industry is still the main user of these technologies. Todd Richmond, IEEE member and director of the Mixed Reality Lab at the University of Southern California says "the bigger play long-term are the business verticals" and "Medical and education are going to outstrip entertainment with regards to uses for VR and AR."

The biggest use for AR/VR technologies in the future will be around telepresence, Richmond said. "It's the promise that has been on the horizon, of being able to telecommute in ways that are meaningful and productive," and states, "We're still not there yet. The immersive stuff is a new medium for communication and collaboration, and it takes time to figure out how to use a new medium effectively."

Richmond recommends that companies who are interested, seek out academic conferences to learn more about how it could fit into their current business structure. Richmond says "The trick for the enterprise is going to be figuring out when to make the leap, and when things are mature enough to move from it being a curiosity, and a set of experiments, to being a core part of their business" 

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HTC Vive Hand and Finger Tracking

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November 19, 2019

While we wait for Oculus to release the Finger Tracking SDK for the Quest, I’m playing around with HTC Vive’s implementation of hand and finger tracking to get a feel for the new input method and what advantages it unlocks!

Watch this space, more videos coming.





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Improve Mine Productivity with Augmented and Virtual Reality Technologies

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November 12, 2019

Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies have been around for a while. The potential for these technologies are endless. Mining companies have embraced VR/AR for some time and are always looking to do more. Currently these technologies are, for example, reducing equipment maintenance costs and offering their personnel a safe way to train.

AR and VR technologies are being used widely at both the consumer and commercial levels. Companies like Microsoft and Google are developing their own VR/AR technologies and are competing for their market share. The VR/AR industry is predicted to be worth more than $150 billion worldwide by 2020.

Mining industries utilized VR/AR quite early, as the potential for training is ground breaking. Using these technologies for training not only saves companies money but has been proven that it can be a better way to train employees.

Mining operators have realised the potential to address many issues with VR/AR technology, with improvements in productivity, safety and machinery uptime to name just a few. For mining companies, AR offers training in the real world with helpful overlays. VR replaces the real world with a simulated training environment.

EMIMSAR, an EU funded project, is a system that allows miners to be able to view AR versions of complex equipment on helmet mounted displays. Using sensors to record and analyse temperatures, rates of acceleration and sample noise from sprockets. This allows staff to assess heavy duty components like gears and chains. This data is then given to a knowledge based maintenance system. When combined with background data on components, it creates real time virtual visualisations on the machinery which can be viewed by other miners while working on the same machine.

The EMIMSAR AR system has been developed and used to great success by Germany’s largest coal mining firm RAG, which used it for maintenance planning, loaders and belt conveyors.

Kumba Virtual Reality Centre, which opened in August 2015 has incorporated a 3D stereoscopic theatre and a 3D, 360° cylinder theatre. The 3D simulation creates true to detail mining conditions and creates scenarios such as underground rock falls, that is truly immersive experience for the user.

Rio Tinto has now partnered with New York based Bravo Media to custom design the Oculus Rift experience. It features a computer generated environment that allows the user to fly above the coast of Canada, before taking you for a tour down the Diavik diamond mine.

Grey Properjohn from Australian company Vix Technology wrote in a newsletter "The ability to mix virtual content with reality will provide countless opportunities to improve operational safety and efficiency, as well as bringing the corporate offices even closer to the operations on the ground by connecting people in ways never imagined before,"

He goes on to write "Imagine standing in an underground development heading and becoming visually aware of all the adjacent headings, slopes and declines in the immediate vicinity, or being able to virtualise the trends in ground features like fault-zones or stress-zones… Extend this to drilling from underground and you can virtually eliminate the potential to inadvertently intersect other existing openings.”

"The assessment of mining an open pit through underground workings takes on new meaning if you could actually 'see' the workings. Even from an office environment, users can be immersed in the underground operation tracking the locations of all people and assets within the mine in real-time."

These are just a few examples of how mining companies are using the VR/AR technology. Many more projects are in development that are sure to excite.

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Oculus Horizon

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October 22, 2019

At the last OC6 meeting, it was revealed that a new social VR world, named Facebook Horizon is to make its debut on the Oculus Quest and Rift platforms sometime in 2020. Horizon is a product of everything learnt about virtual spaces and communities over the past few years. This is the first step into a fast growing world of communications in the VR field, where connecting with peers becomes more fulfilling than ever before.

It’s already a fun experience hanging out with friends and watching the latest movies on your VR headset. It’s also a great way to learn new skills and explore the world virtually. Human curiosity is fueling the VR revolution and this is at the heart of the Horizon project. Participants start in a busy town square where they can find people to meet and talk to. The experience then broadens into a world where everyone can explore new virtual places to go, games to play and communities created by other people, where you’re free to create your own unique experiences with friends.

Horizon lets you design and create your own avatar from many different styles and body options. The possibilities are endless in creating your avatar and it’s a great way to express yourself. From there you will find magic portals called telepods that will transport people from public spaces to unique worlds with plenty of places to explore.

This is just the start of your experience. It’s possible to move between various Horizon worlds, created using the ‘World Builder’ which consists of a collection of easy to use creator tools. Everyone has the ability to create new worlds and activities completely from scratch. The world builder tool does not require the user to have any previous coding experience. It’s up to the user whether they choose to play, build or just simply watch what others are up to. Horizon has a welcoming environment with guides called Horizon Locals, who provide assistance and answer a range of questions.

It’s possible to imagine how companies could use this to train their workers on mass. Not only could they create virtual training areas to be used in their workplace, but the trainee’s can also use that created workplace in their own time, at home or wherever the trainee has an internet connection and a place to charge their headsets.

Not only can Horizon help with training, but it could be feasible to create a space where people can come and accept online work for your company. Companies could choose to watch their workers or take a back seat and let the workers manipulate their own working environment to suit them.

Take your workplace with you!

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Oculus Quest, Powered by a PC?

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October 17, 2019

The Oculus Quest was released in May last year with a VR experience surpassing its rivals, all contained within a wireless portable headset. Since its release we have seen numerous improvements, including new features and monthly software updates. Oculus has been progressively improving their Quest headset to give their customers the best VR experience possible. Recently at OC6, it was announced that a lineup of new features for the Quest will be coming. It’s expected that this will unlock the full potential of the Quest and will further expand how the user interacts with their content.

Controlling a VR world has never been so simple, with hand tracking set to raise the bar, no longer do you need to use controllers. The need for use of external sensors, gloves or PC’s are no longer required. What does this all mean? It means its enabling the user to have a much more natural interaction with their VR environment, being a far more immersive experience.

A new feature that is creating excitement for anyone who uses this technology is the Oculus Link. This is a new way to access Rift content on Quest headsets. Beginning in November, those who own a Quest and a PC will be able to access any Rift library with the Oculus Link software. You will be able to do this with any USB 3 cable but soon Oculus will be releasing a high performance optical fiber cable to give its customers the best experience possible.

With Oculus Link it is now much easier to train workers on a large scale, and the interacting between trainees and teachers can be more valuable and much more fulfilling. With everything Oculus have updated and the effort they have put into their headsets, creating a much more immersive experience than VR technology has previously provided.

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Throw Away Your Controllers, Oculus Quest is Getting Hand and Finger Tracking!

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October 3, 2019

The Oculus Quest has something new in store, its hand tracking and its set to change how we use VR. Many users of VR in the past have had difficulties with control and natural feeling of movements. This is about to change with the Oculus Quest. Coming in November is their new hand tracking technology. This is going to allow the user to be more immersed in VR and connect on a much deeper level, which no doubt will improve the VR experience.

All users of VR, new and old, will benefit greatly from this leap forward, as the experience is going to feel more natural. Hand tracking on the Quest will also reduce the difficulty in learning for people new to VR, and those who are not familiar or comfortable with gaming controllers. Probably the greatest benefit is that you no longer have to feel around for that controller you dropped while being completely immersed in the VR experience. 

The Quest’s hand tracking technology was showcased at OC6. It is expected to be launched in early 2020 as an experimental feature for consumers. Developers of VR apps will be able to create products using hand gestures to control their experiences. The Quest community will be able to trial this new technology early next year to get a feel of what's coming and how this will improve the experience.

This project started out at Facebook Reality Labs and has eventually turned into a great product to allow new VR input. Oculus’s computer vision team developed a new way of using machine learning to work out, in real time, where the users hands are and the position of the fingers. This is accomplished using the original monochrome cameras found on every Oculus Quest headset. Oculus didn’t need to use depth-sensing cameras, additional sensors or more processing power. 

This technology is an important milestone for VR training. The trainee can have their hands free from controllers which can aid in the learning process, as the experience will feel more realistic. In the future, it is expected that this technology will allow the user to pick up objects and use them as they would in the real world.

Bringing your hands into the VR world without the need for controllers is ground breaking. It will allow the user to feel much more comfortable in using VR. In training it is extremely important that the trainee feels comfortable in the way they are learning, as the trainee is much more likely to retain what they have learnt. VR is becoming the go to for all sorts of different training scenarios.

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Extended Reality – An Industry Perspective

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September 19, 2019

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
- Bill Gates

We were delighted to present the “Industry Perspective” at the inaugural XR.Edu Summit held at Hale School this week.  iTRA’s Director, Mark Broome,showcased our experience and innovations to the room of educators giving them a perspective on the business cases for Extended Reality in the real world.  We spoke with a number of people afterwards who recognised the value of giving students exposure to #VR #AR #XR and giving them projects with tangible applications. 

Mark predicted in the next few years, as the hardware cost reduces and business cases become clearer, we will see an exponential rise in the use of XR applications across all industries.  He rammed home his point with the example of mobile phones to highlight the adoption rate of technology when the elements align:

As early developers iTRA is fortunate to have long term clients that recognise the benefits of including VR training in their suite of tools to improve the skills of their workforce. We have been developing XR applications since 2017 and continue to identify areas within our clients’ businesses where tangible improvements can be made with VR or AR applications.

Our experience shows that VR is without doubt an ideal training tool for immersion in high risk work environments and a cost-effective alternative for all kinds of training for physical activity, such as use of fire extinguishers, driving, identification of objects, etc.

AR has enormous potential for improving efficiencies in operations and this has been proven by major companies who have adopted the technology, such as DHL, Toll, and Boeing. Our AR Tagging App is just one application, but AR in Inspection & Maintenance, Operations Training, Remote Collaboration and Working Guides are all areas where AR will save both time and money.

The XR.Edu Summit presentation was well received by the audience who were looking for inspiration to produce graduates who are ready for the real world – in an extended reality space.

Please contact us for more information on the use of XR applications within your organisation.

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Walmart is Embracing Virtual Reality Technology

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Walmart is joining forces with STRIVR to create a state of the art training platform using the best of Virtual Reality technology. The announcement was made during Walmart’s annual shareholder meeting. STRIVR is a VR based startup company based in Menlo Park. They have worked with companies such as PepsiCo as well as professional sports leagues such as the NFL.

During the meeting Walmart stated that it has been employing STRIVR’s technology in 31 of its training academies recently. This has proved very successful and Walmart hopes to roll out the program to all 200 of its academies.

A few years ago Walmart opened its very first training academy. Each is connected to a Walmart Supercenter and provides all employees in the general area with a classroom setting to learn for two weeks before starting an entry-level job or new role.

Using the latest Oculus headset, STRIVR’s technology lets the employees experience real-world scenarios. This means employees can prepare virtually for any situation they might deal with in the workplace, such as a highly crowded situations like Boxing day sales, or just cleaning up a spilt drink that a clumsy customer dropped on the floor.

Another advantage of using this type of training is that the instructor can see exactly what the student can see, which means if there is something the student missed, the instructor can quickly pick up on the issue and let the student know in real time what they have missed and how to address the issue. Other students can also see and weigh in/take tips from the overall performance of their peers. This can be a great learning tool as one can learn from others' mistakes.

STRIVR was co founded by assistant football coach Derek Belch alongside professor Jeremy Bailenson back in 2015. Bailenson concluded that VR training was the future as it was proven to be a much more dynamic and in depth way of learning, the trainee is more likely to retain knowledge gained from simulations rather than from a training video. VR training is a more tactile way of learning.

Virtual Reality technology has improved significantly over the last decade. This has lead to more widespread use in many sectors, especially in job training situations. Major oil companies have embarrassed this technology the most. We are also seeing major leaps in the health sector, helping train physicians in complex operation procedures, which has been seen over the last few years especially.

Mary Meeker, who is partnered with Kleiner Perkins said in a small article that she expects VR job training to be very important and will be gaining momentum in the coming years. She also spoke of STRIVR’s great success with Stanford football.

Walmart is expecting more than 100,000 of its new employees will go through its Academy training in due course. They have said this will be “an integral part of that experience.”

With major players like Walmart joining the VR training revolution, its certain that other major retailers will adopt this style of training, as the benefits from VR training have been proven time and time again.

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Virtual Reality and e-Learning

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July 9, 2019

More and more we are seeing new uses for virtual and augmented reality, but this technology has been around for quite a few years in some form. Virtual reality is the term used to describe an immersive experience through a computer generated environment which doesn’t actually exist. Our senses give us the perception of how we view the world around us. Everything we know about reality comes from what we have learnt through our senses. 

Virtual reality uses various technologies to create an all encompassing simulation of an environment, which can yield great results for learning and development. VR has been used with great results in the healthcare, science, research and training areas.

The use of virtual reality can be traced back to the mid 1800s. Charles Wheatstone researched the idea that the brain is processing two, two dimensional images to create depth of view, so we can perceive the world in three dimensions. The research concluded that viewing two images through a stereoscope provided a sense of immersion and depth.

Augmented reality on the other hand does not create a virtual world, but rather imposes holograms on the users environment. The term augmented reality came about in the 1990’s, with Thomas Caudel using the term to describe the head mounted displays that electricians wore whilst undertaking complex assembly work. Many new AR apps are being released, which are mixing computer generated images with the real life environment. AR Google Maps is a good example of what can be achieved for apps of this kind.

For Learning purposes, VR can be used to mimic the environment the student will be working in. This means the student can interact, manipulate objects or carry out a series of tasks, for the purpose of training and gaining experience. For example a mockup of a workplace.

Education is an area that has great applications and opportunities for virtual and augmented reality. Learning is conducted much more efficiently, is more engaging for the user and can be a fun experience too. Primarily these technologies have been seen in the gaming industry, but studies have shown using VR/AR in the training realm has significant benefits.

Virtual reality enables the student to enter a 360 degree video shot or immerse themselves in a 3D environment. A great example of this technology is the VR training for marine biologists. They can enter into the natural environment of the ocean all without stepping foot near a boat or the coast. The lecturer will activate a series of scenarios and wearing virtual reality glasses, the students can experience the actual environment. Virtual learning environments are also created in online education where students can send, create and manage coursework, as well as study digital material.

The benefits and drawbacks of using VR and AR in eLearning

Over the last few years, VR has really taken center stage as a great innovation in the world of learning and eLearning. The delivery of this sort of training will have an upfront cost (from purchasing VR headsets and Smartphones for example). 

The Benefits of Virtual Reality

Realistic Scenarios 

The nature of virtual reality means that trainers can enhance learning content and create a remarkably interactive learning experience.

Mistakes 

With virtual reality technology it does not matter if the student were to make a mistake, it’s just a part of the learning process. In certain training situations such as nursing for example, it would be impractical not to mention dangerous, for a student nurse or doctor to train on a real patient. With VR, trainers can replicate a real life scenario, but the trainee is safe knowing that they cannot harm a ‘virtual’ patient.

Suitable for different learning styles 

This type of learning can really help people who benefit from a more tactile style of learning and who struggle with the theory side.

Resource Saving 

Setting up training in a traditional training environment can be costly and take up a lot of room. VR offers trainees a safer environment, which can also use less floor space than a full sized mocked up environment. This space can also be converted to be utilized in another way while training is not in progress.

Innovative and Enjoyable 

Elearning specialists are always looking for cutting edge ways to deliver their training and using virtual and augmented reality is making the whole learning experience more enjoyable and immersive. It can be used in many different scenarios, from customer service to teaching, healthcare and even engineering.

Drawbacks of Virtual Reality

Integration

For the moment, it is quite difficult to convert all learning types to virtual and augmented reality, as it requires a lot of resources to convert and test VR/AR products. For this reason, careful consideration is required when choosing which courses to convert and where this technology will have the most benefit.

Costly 

Even though there are virtual reality devices to suit all budgets, investing in VR for large scale training is a real wallet drain, particularly when the training needs to be delivered to many students or employees.

Training Locations 

With traditional eLearning, a student can learn quite effectively and quietly sitting at a desk. With VR the trainee will need more room to function, so there is no risk of falling over desks or bumping into chairs. Due to this an employer or training provider will need to provide suitable space for the trainee and the VR equipment.

eLearning into the future

The future of eLearning is evolving and set to advance further, with VR and AR applications bringing two technologies that will enable this to happen. These technologies can facilitate the learning process in various ways, particularly in industries which involve more complex and/or high risk practices.

Connect with iTRA to discuss your next project.

How VR Is Revolutionizing The Material Handling Industry

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July 3, 2019

Operating a forklift with efficiency takes a lot of skill and can take a long time to master. Driving a forklift requires good spatial awareness, especially in a busy commercial/industrial environment. Think about training new drivers in such an environment, filled with risks and fraught with danger, it is not something that can be conducted willy nilly. Someone could get hurt, seriously injured or even killed if the trainee were to make a mistake. Forklifts are heavy equipment and care is needed while under operation. It can take a lot of practice for a trainee to become confident in his/her abilities. Raymond Corporation, who is a subsidiary of Toyota and is a large supplier of forklifts are looking for a better alternative.  

Stacey Patch is Raymond’s Virtual Reality Simulator Business Manager. Her team have the task of designing a VR simulator. They have looked at various different VR project from around the world, across different industries from flight simulators to medical training simulations. It’s clear to see the potential advantages of this technology for forklift training. Patch goes on to say, “Looking at the way this technology has been used to enhance training in many industries, we realized the same benefits could seamlessly be carried over into the material handling industry”. The team settled on an exclusive partner FreeRangeXR located in Sausalito, California. Also discussed was using the HTC Vive as it ticks all the boxes the simulator needs. The main reason the Vive was chosen was because it offers good enterprise solutions and has extended support.

Studies have shown that using simulators to train workforce offers better learning retention and greater confidence going into the job. It is also proven that this is a cheaper alternative to standard training. Researchers at Iowa State University have studied VR training in welding simulations with the results showing a massive 41.6% increase in certifications and a 23% decrease in training time overall.

The Raymond simulator was showed off at SXSW last march. The physics were true and you could feel the interaction. When you turn you can almost feel the momentum of the heavy machine. It gets your heart pumping when the fork virtually ascends into the air to grab a heavy pallet. Virtual Reality Apps of this kind are really turning heads and the market space is ever growing. VR is a powerful tool when it comes to realistic, intensive training. One of the best things about this simulator is that it’s actually quite fun to use, which of course aids in the training process. VR training is becoming more and more commonplace.

The CEO of Raymond, Micheal Field said “In developing the Raymond Virtual Reality Simulator, we saw an opportunity to help avoid potential product and warehouse damage while increasing overall productivity and efficiency,” he also states “At the same time, we wanted to advance best practices in next-generation manufacturing as well as use technology to pique the interest of younger talent and use the simulator as a key tool for recruitment.”

The greatest thing about Raymonds simulator, is that similar to a flight simulator using real plane cockpit, it utilizes the actual forklift they will be using. Because of this, every gauge is in its place and controls are in the correct position. Raymonds VR simulator can be added to any of Raymond forklifts, either brand new or existing forklift models. This is the first simulation of its kind as it interfaces with the actual forklift and is using “sPort (simulation Port)” technology. 

This innovation has earned the Raymond company its place on Fast Company’s 2019 Most Innovative Companies list in the categories of virtual and augmented reality. Raymond also picked up the International Intralogist and Forklift Truck of the Year award and also won an Edison Award, quite a haul and a great result. There is now no question we will be seeing more and more VR products of this kind being used in a variety of training applications.

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