Virtual reality and augmented reality are not just for games. At the offices of Epsilon Systems Solutions Inc., in an ordinary office park in Norfolk, Va., a human being can put on virtual reality goggles with a microphone and talk to a trainer in a different time zone and be trained on maintenance procedures inside the torpedo room of a U.S. attack submarine.
To the user at Epsilon Systems in Virginia, the look, feel and experience is identical to being on the actual submarine, with identical configuration, setting and experience. The user could be specifically guided on the process of electrical tagout for disabling equipment before performing maintenance on it.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are changing how people can gain knowledge and businesses train their workforces, without physical presence or the need to relocate. Employees may be trained by an instructor or guide in a remote location and see and activate things in a virtual reality.
Virtual, augmented reality trend upward
Analysts predict that demand for virtual and augmented reality is robust and clearly trending upward. According to predictions by Goldman Sachs, AR and VR will grow into a $95 billion market by 2025.
“We predict by 2019, AR, VR, and mixed-reality solutions will be evaluated and adopted in 20% of large enterprise businesses,” stated Brian Blau, a vice president of research at Gartner Inc. Martin Resnick, another Gartner analyst, noted that augmented reality and virtual reality are particularly interesting for training purposes.
Similarly, International Data Corp. forecasts a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 71.6% from 2017 to 2022, with spending on AR and VR reaching $27 billion this year.
According to ABI Research, there will be 32.7 million total smart-glasses shipments in 2022, growing from 225,000 in 2017. During this timeframe, binocular devices will overtake monocular devices in market share.
While monocular, or single-display devices are predominant today thanks to their availability, cost, and acceptable performance, binocular devices will eventually win out as ASPs decline and device capability is fully realized, said the research firm. The consumer market will play a significant role in this shift as well.
“The past few years have allowed augmented reality to take root in the enterprise with compelling and unique use cases, including remote expertise and hands-free instruction,” said Eric Abbruzzese, a principal analyst at ABI Research. “As the market matures, there will be a need for greater capability in these AR devices, with displays powering much of the change.”
“Given the growing consumer market interest, the similarities and differences between display types in AR will be increasingly important,” he said.
Reduced design and collaboration costs
Virtual and augmented reality are helping companies improve their training processes, moving from paper-based documents and manuals to augmented and virtual environments, said Vinay Narayan, vice president of product and operations at HTC Vive in Seattle. What’s next?
“Training is just the beginning,” said Narayan. “We see huge potential for VR in training and simulation across all industries, including manufacturing, medical, automotive, and first responders, among others. In many cases, VR can lower training costs, reduce potential risks, and reduce design and collaboration costs. This also allows workforce to expand into new categories while leveraging their current workforce.”
Naryan cites many use cases for virtual and augmented reality. For instance, UPS trains drivers in VR to simulate the road and potential hazards.
Volkswagen recently announced that it plans to train 10,000 employees using VR. Raymond Forklift is using VR for operators to become familiar with a forklift and its controls prior to operating within the physical warehousing environment.
\In addition, medical surgical teams are using both technologies to help students and doctors prepare for real-world situations.
Military applications for VR, AR
VR and AR can help personnel learn how to operate complex systems and processes. Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BISim) collaborated with other companies to develop a mission-qualification trainer for crew of the AC-130U gunship using VR. The AC-130U is known as a “spooky” gunship of the U.S. Air Force, providing close air support, air interdiction, and armed reconnaissance.
The U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) sought a training solution to employ checklists used by its full-mission simulators. The Air Force has developed with Vertex Solutions VR hardware and virtual environments based on video game technology.
Airmen and airwomen train in “a high-fidelity, cost-efficient solution for cockpit familiarization and checklist training.” The system includes an intelligent tutor, automated instruction and real-time assessment.
BISim also supplies simulation technology to the U.S. Navy for similar training. The company’s augmented reality system enables trainees to interact with a physical T-45 simulator cockpit while immersed in a high-fidelity virtual environment displayed in a head mounted display (HMD).
In addition, two T-45 virtual reality part-task trainers (VR-PTTs) are being developed with a goal of supplementing existing virtual and live training.
“Virtual and augmented reality technology have the potential to fundamentally change how aircrew training is delivered,” stated John Burwell, vice president of business development at BISim. “These solutions offer tremendous benefits to the U.S. Navy, from cost avoidance to offering training at the point of need and ultimately increasing readiness for pilots.”
As VR and AR are adopted and used, the demand for it will grow; so will the demand for technology within devices that VR and AR is used to train for. “Across the board, as knowledge and comfort with the potential of AR grow, so does the expectation for the devices,” said Abbruzzese.