Most companies have now embraced the “consumerization of IT” trend to improve employee productivity. As part of this consumerization, BYOD encourages employees to bring personally owned mobile devices to their workplace, and to use those devices to access privileged company information and applications. This year, consumers can get their hands on a number of virtual and augmented reality headsets for the first time. Surely, those devices will not show up in the workplace…or will they?
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Virtual and augmented reality are often mentioned in the same sentence, but there is a big difference between the two. Virtual reality (VR) basically replaces the real world with a virtual one. The user is isolated from the real world while immersed in a world that is completely fabricated. The Oculus Rift, for example, is a VR headset that will be available in March this year.
Augmented reality (AR) is a live view of the real-world environment (see-through) overlaid with contextual information. Some devices, like Microsoft’s HoloLens, can add virtual, interactive objects to the overlay that can be manipulated by the wearer of the device.
I think AR devices, because of their see-through capability, are likely to get a higher adoption rate on the work floor than VR devices–I would not like to bump into a wall or another colleague while wearing the device :). It depends on the kind of work, but these devices do have potential to increase productivity; imagine visualization of (and interaction with) big data using an AR headset to get new insights for example.
So, are these devices mature enough to bring value to the workplace? Initially, game content will be a major driving force so the market is largely going to be driven by gamers and technology enthusiasts. Companies looking into developing VR/AR applications to make their employees more productive will find that the biggest challenge here is user interaction. Just like the touch screen revolution did for mobile devices, so are AR/VR devices revolutionizing the way users interact with the system of engagement.
Keyboard, mouse and touch screen are no longer applicable as input sources for these devices. Instead, manipulation operations like translation, rotation, and resizing that can be executed collaboratively (such that two or more users can manipulate the same object) are the new way to interact while wearing these devices. Some companies are developing special controllers for that purpose (like the Oculus Touch) while others use eye tracking instead.
Standards Are Great. Everyone Should Have One!
With that in mind, I would have to agree with Gartner’s 2015 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies where Virtual Reality is sliding up the “Slope of Enlightenment.” Gartner predicts Virtual Reality is 5 to 10 years away from mainstream adoption. However, with Oculus VR, Facebook, Google, Sony, and others in various stages of virtual reality development and Apple’s recent hire of a top virtual and augmented reality expert I have a feeling it might be a lot sooner than that.
What do you think? When will VR/AR be mainstream on the workfloor? Let me know in the comments section below.