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What The Reemergence Of AR And VR Technologies Means For Businesses

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For a while, it seemed like the hype around augmented and virtual reality in the business world was fading. Then, COVID-19 shut down workplaces around the globe. This forced leaders to evaluate what technologies could improve old processes and keep people connected in the next normal.

By utilizing tools that imitate real experiences, such as AR and VR, organizations discovered how to overcome obstacles in the changing landscape. It’s unlikely that things will return to the way they were before the pandemic, so leaders need to take note of what the future of work entails. Only by adopting new technologies and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible will businesses be able to secure competitive advantages.

With this in mind, here are three use cases that demonstrate the potential of AR and VR technology:

• Transportation

The American Society of Civil Engineers, which grades the nation’s infrastructure every four years, handed out a C-minus in its 2021 report. Though this is the highest grade it has ever given the U.S., there’s still a dire need for substantial progress, evidenced by the $1 trillion infrastructure bill that passed through the U.S. House in early November.

Fortunately, there are countless ways AR can help. One promising use case is in the control rooms of train dispatchers where workers typically rely on bulky 2D displays and other restrictive equipment. To eliminate these constraints, Ross & Baruzzini, a premier international technology advisory and engineering firm, developed HoloRail, a user interface that leverages AR to recreate displays in 3D.

Though the initial iteration was built as a proof of concept, Megan Huff, vice president and managing principal of the mobility division of Ross & Baruzzini, believes that the widespread adoption of AR technology in the sector is imminent. “About 90% of the dispatchers who used our pilot could complete the test procedures without assistance only after a 10-minute training tutorial on using the equipment and software, and 80% said they felt they could use the platform to complete their job duties,” she says. “The gesture interface was easier for dispatchers to learn and use than anticipated. AR will change how the control room functions and the everyday work experience for all aspects of the transportation industry.”

• Retail and shopping

The COVID-19 pandemic forced consumers to do most of their shopping from the comfort of their homes (a shift that many have embraced), but it didn’t take away their desire for a “connected shopping experience.” To meet this desire, retailers searched for ways to recreate the in-store shopping experience across digital channels. Many turned to AR and VR solutions, and the feedback from consumers has been largely positive. In fact, the majority of Gen Xers say they’ll use AR while shopping in the coming years.

One brand eager to take advantage of this technology trend is BMW. The automaker recently launched the BMW Virtual Viewer to let car buyers in Europe learn about and interact with its vehicles using a web-based AR technology platform. Customers can view select models inside and out and see what cars would look like in real size around their homes.

Sophie Chiappe, brand communications manager at BMW U.K., believes the experience offers immersive potential that in-person experiences can’t replicate. “This AR work has been designed to be engaging to use, from the navigation through to the built-in quizzes, and we’re excited to launch it showcasing three of our plug-in hybrid cars and the technology they offer,” she says.

• Remote work

For decades, science fiction authors have explored what a shared, 3D digital space might look like. This concept, called the metaverse, is finally becoming reality. A multitude of companies—including Roblox, Epic, and Facebook—are eager to create the virtual world that will replace the internet. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has even declared that Facebook should be thought of as a metaverse company rather than a social media platform, and the company announced in late October that it was even rebranding its name to Meta.

Even before that, Facebook last year released Horizon, a VR video game that lets users create and share online worlds. More recently, it launched Horizon Workrooms, a virtual meeting space designed to support remote teams with features that minimize the obstacles posed by physical distance.

“When you use Workrooms, it feels like you’re really there with people,” Zuckerberg says. “You’ll notice conversations flow more naturally, and you’ll pick up social cues that are missing on video—people turning to listen to each other, hand gestures, and spatial audio to give everyone a sense of place in the room. There’s also a whiteboard for brainstorming together, a screen for people to video conference in, and [a] virtual desktop so you can use your computer in VR for presentations or multitasking. In the future, working together will be one of the main ways people use the metaverse.”

Though many of the emerging business applications for VR and AR are still in experimental phases, the potential of these technologies seems to grow every day. Given the positive returns from the above use cases, this potential will translate to real-world value sooner rather than later.