eXtended Reality: Three Pandemic Use Cases
Aug 12, 2020
The realm of eXtended Reality – an umbrella term encompassing Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) applications – offers organizations dramatically new and innovative ways to teach, train and engage with customers, students and peers. By creating realistic virtual environments, XR can deliver compelling experiences independent of geographic location and with minimal investment in goods and materials.
With XR, in other words, a tourist can take a virtual trip to a vacation destination without leaving their couch, a shopper can see how a piece of furniture will look in their living room and a med student can study how to perform heart surgery. While interest and adoption have been growing for some time, many businesses have taken a wait-and-see, “this is something really cool that we should explore” attitude towards XR. By severely constraining travel, social gatherings and traditional business operations, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the potential of XR more attractive and urgent than ever.
Here are three examples of how XR can have a transformational impact on industries struggling to adapt to the current environment.
While retailers have resumed operations, shoppers remain reluctant to visit stores or spend extended periods of time in enclosed spaces. An Augmented Reality (AR) application allows shoppers to visualize specific fixtures or pieces of furniture through their tablet and smartphone devices – without leaving their homes. Before the pandemic, many consumers who were intrigued by the potential of AR still preferred to visit the store to touch and feel the actual item. Today, of course, what had been a pleasant and leisurely in-store experience now poses an unacceptable risk for many.
XR can have a similar impact on business-to-business sales. Consider the traditional model of medical equipment sales: Reps traveled to hospitals and medical centers to demonstrate radiology or imaging equipment. In a virtual environment, medical equipment manufacturers can showcase their products at a high level of realistic detail. The capability to bring multiple users into the same virtual space and re-create a hospital setting can bring sales executives and hospital buyers together in real-time, and allow the sales team to demo the company’s products in a realistic and engaging manner.
For schools and universities, a best-case scenario for the foreseeable future is a hybrid model of in-person and online learning. As administrators define new approaches to instruction, XR can be a valuable part of the mix. Virtual classes offer K-12 students immersive and engaging experiences at a distance; for example, STEM classes can use virtual settings to save money on equipment and remove the risk of dangerous chemistry lab experiments.
Universities are showing increased interest in using XR for specialized skills. Even before the pandemic, for example, aviation technician programs relied primarily on small Cessna planes for instruction. VR offers the capability to simulate a full hangar and the components of aircraft such as a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320, as well as provide all the tools necessary to enable students to better prepare themselves for the actual jobs they will perform in the workforce.
Nursing schools are looking to VR and AR to train students to use emergency equipment such as respiration devices and ventilators, which are currently in high demand as a result of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. VR/AR prepares nurses to work with the devices prior to entering an emergency room, thereby avoiding the need to train on a potentially high-risk activity before they are ready.
With many industrial plants shut down or operating at minimal capacity, manufacturers are struggling to keep training programs up to date. In settings such as cement plants, VR can train engineers on safety management procedures without setting foot in the plant. One benefit is cost savings, since remote training doesn’t require plants to be shut down. More importantly, VR allows engineers to train, make mistakes and remediate knowledge gaps in a totally safe environment, without undertaking high-risk training procedures that in the past have resulted in injuries and fatalities.