In a previous blog, we demonstrated why the timing is right for the metaverse. Now, let’s explore three real-life use cases where virtual reality (VR) training is already happening today. There are some common threads across these educational use cases, but there’s also a great deal of the “art of the possible” happening here that can only be defined by the users who decide to participate in the metaverse itself.
What is AR/VR?
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are often mentioned in the same breath. While they are similar technologies, they have different use cases and require a different style of input from a user.
AR is when a 3D object (minimum 1 object) is affixed into a physical space that the user is in. An example of this would be receiving directional arrows on the windshield of your car from the GPS that has directions programmed into it. Another popular example is the mobile game Pokémon GO, which places Pokémon creatures in designated or randomly generated places where the user points their external camera on a smart device to see and battle them.
VR takes place within a fully immersive 3D environment and requires the user to have a headset on to view the environment, typically alongside a controller that allows the user to manipulate the environment. An example of this would be the popular VR game Beat Saber. But what are some more practical use cases for VR in a professional setting?
Use Case #1: Safety-driven Results
A common example where VR training is being used today is where scenario-based hands-on training results in an unsafe environment. Think of a firefighter: In order to train a firefighter, you have to expose them to fire or smoke. You also have to have a building you can simulate this in that is semi-controlled. This also means that you can only train for firefighting that takes place in a building when many fires occur out in other spaces and environments.
I took a VR firefighter training that simulated an overturned hazardous chemical truck on the highway. I had to evaluate the truck to determine what chemicals were inside of it, then run back to the firetruck and decide which type of solvent I would use to put out the fire – water doesn’t put out an oil fire, for instance. After selecting the proper solvent, I ran back to the vehicle on fire, opened my hose, and felt the force feedback on my controller as I doused the flames.
I’ve seen iterations of this training that add a mask to the headset to simulate low oxygen intake which forces the trainee to respond in more lifelike conditions. These exercises are also typically conducted in a simulation room with full firefighter gear on to create accurate physical response. But that doesn’t prevent the firefighter from taking this training over and over and over again because they are not actually exposing themselves to any real hazards. This creates better outcomes at lower costs.
Police departments are doing the same, using VR to educate their officer corps on how to properly handle active shooter scenarios. EMTs use VR to educate themselves on simple emergency care, like inserting IVs, suturing wounds and dealing with unruly and violent patients in need of triage.
The medical field has made significant investments in VR training with entire VR simulation rooms in some modern hospital systems. Most surgical errors take place within 90 days of the surgeon first performing a procedure, so the need for practice, repetition and refinement is critical. Practicing on cadavers is expensive and only limited to the four walls of the facility itself. Surgeons can now take headsets home and continue their practice with haptic gloves and 3D printed precision instruments. This leads to better health outcomes and a reduction in expensive litigation.
Use Case #2: Augmented Reality to See a Hidden World
Some of the most discussed applications for AR are heads-up-display (HUD) related. Think seeing Google Maps-type information on your eyeglasses as you walk down a street, someone’s LinkedIn profile popping up when you meet them at a conference or a tutorial as you assemble an engine block, an IKEA couch, or an incoherently designed children’s toy.
I’ve taken interesting AR trainings for utility companies that show where lines are buried underground and teach technicians how to do their jobs safely and troubleshoot problems in the field effectively. I’ve seen AR trainings for pilots showing flight paths around metro areas as they descend and go into holding patterns while awaiting ground clearance.
This technology already exists in some luxury cars as they feed you information on the windshield HUD related to speed limits and navigational directions.
Once the hardware itself catches up to the myriad of applications being designed today, you’ll see a massive amount of opt in for augmented reality. It’s important to understand that this will never quite be perfect enough for some users though, so there’s no real reason to wait until it is. In other words, for every user that wants a sleek pair of stylish glasses, there’s another who wants a contact lens and another who wants a skin patch underneath their eye that projects the information upwards in eyeline. There’s no doubt in my mind that people will opt into cybernetic optics as well as this technology demonstrates a greater application over time.
Use Case #3: Virtual Soft Skills
The use cases around VR for safety and AR for information recall are so logical that they have the feeling of being nascently inevitable. Outside of these defined use cases there is a growing interest in using mixed reality or extended reality (XR) as a communication environment.
XR can be defined as an umbrella term that encapsulates VR/AR, including the capability to dive in and out of both with ease (mixed reality). This means you can be sitting in your office with a headset looking at 3D data visualizations on your monitor and with the push of an input you will enter a 3D environment where you can review that data with your peers who are also equipped with the right hardware and software.
To many users who spent the pandemic on back-to-back video conferences, there was a strong feeling that the tiled windows were not immersing us and teaching us the same way as a live environment would have. If you couple that yearning with the future demographics of the workforce who spend hours after school on Discord video chatting and gaming with friends, then you will see that organizations that invest in XR communication and collaboration initiatives will have a competitive edge in their speed of communication, not to mention their recruiting advantage in the open market.
Large firms like Accenture are already onboarding their new hires in their proprietary XR environment called "Nth Floor." Some of these collaboration spaces are digital twins of physical offices, while some of them are more designed for user interactivity and digital events. As workforces continue to be distributed across larger geographies, organizations that fit this profile will look to create greater collaboration and a replacement for time and resource intensive travel commitments with XR solutions.
Next Stop: The Metaverse
While AR/VR/XR and the metaverse have left their port and are well on their journey, there is still much discovery to be made. Organizations may forget the business challenges of the pandemic too quickly and go back to business as usual, or an economic downturn could force IT solutions and IT spend to take an iterative rather than innovative approach. Artificial Intelligence will also play a large part in XR as AI tools will help render environments, objects and scripts in ways that are hard to predict market impact. AI will shape education before many other industries, and this will undoubtedly influence the shape of the metaverse to come. The metaverse is not a new idea, but the people engaging with it are bringing new ideas and use cases every day.
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David Landsberger is the Director of Training and Events at TBI, delivering dynamic training across the country.