Why Augmented Reality Is Essential to COVID-19 Recovery and Future Productivity

Three Hows to Maximizing AR

Apr 27, 2020 12:22:28 PM


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Once the pandemic is done, the road to recovery from COVID-19 may be challenging for certain companies due to a variety of factors. These include retraining whatever workforce was lost, working to get productivity back up to normal levels, and communicating challenges across an array of different teams and environments.


Keypoint Intelligence believes that the companies that will recover more quickly from COVID-19, as well as potentially better mitigate the pandemic, may very well be the ones that began to incorporate augmented reality (AR) software and hardware into their standard work procedures.


Before we dive in, here is a brief video rundown of exactly what AR is and how it differs from virtual reality (VR). To summarize, VR takes the user into a fully digital 3D space. AR (by contrast) overlays the real, physical world with digital information.


How Augmented Reality Democratizes Knowledge

In traditional teaching methods, knowledge must be passed on from one person to another. This is done in a variety of ways: Professors and teachers can give lectures, experts write down information in books and online, and some create videos. Regardless, the process of learning is very often separate from the process of doing.


Even in simulation, the doing is artificial. No one learns to operate a nuclear reactor by directly working on said reactor. Assembling a makeshift rig, by contrast, sounds like a safer (albeit expensive) alternative.

Of course, all of this just mentions what the experts write down. Many jobs are specialized, and employees adapt over time to workflows that are slightly different than what they were trained on. With AR, all of this specialized work experience can be (for the first time) directly captured and transferred.


A skilled technician wearing an AR headset can document their typical day in real time—leaving notes, citations, and even step-by-step instructions for other workers to follow. In the future, any employee hoping to learn the task can simply use their smartphone, tablet, or AR hardware to access what is growing into the greatest treasure trove of specialized knowledge that has ever been available. Programs like Vuforia Chalk (click here for a video introduction) and Microsoft Dynamics are specially designed for this challenge.


How Augmented Reality Can Be Used to Replace an Aging Workforce

AR’s role in preserving information is welcome news to many companies currently faced with aging workforces. These aging staffs are a real problem in the United States, where many industries (including healthcare and teaching) are facing harsh shortages as more employees retire than are replaced. For specialized positions such as these, not any replacement will do.


While AR cannot (and isn’t) trying to replace the traditional education system, having the ability to train existing staff on specialized machines can help mitigate the financial hardships of losing these employees.

In addition, many organizations are also suffering layoffs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is still unknown to what extent the coronavirus will damage the economy, but it is already safe to say that an incredible amount of human experience and knowledge will be lost. Recovering it will not be easy, nor will it be cheap. By using AR-enriched training solutions, companies have a stronger chance of preserving said intelligence and transferring it to employees faster once the economy begins its long road to recovery.


How Augmented Reality Can Strengthen Remote Collaboration Efforts

While all of this is important, it is not the only way that AR can help companies improve themselves during COVID-19 and for the workflow of the future. These same programs that train employees, many of them also feature remote collaboration features. AR is part of the digital workflow of the future, connected to and communicating with a vast Internet of Things (IoT) landscape.


In a recent podcast between PTC and Keypoint Intelligence, General Manager of Augmented Reality Products Michael Campbell used a phone call as an example: Everyone has tried explaining how to do something to someone on the phone, whether its setting up a TV or trouble-shooting a computer. Many would not describe it as a seamless process. There is no video support, each person must rely solely on audio to learn and process information. But many people are visual learners, and AR is a visual platform. Wearing a headset (or even using a smartphone), a user can contact a remote expert for assistance in AR. That expert will see, in real-time, exactly what the employee is looking at and be able to offer input accordingly. All the while, the communication can be recorded and used to help improve future training programs on the software.


Think about today: Many manufacturers are running reduced shifts at their plants to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Remote experts are even less likely than usual to respond to such requests to come into such areas, knowing the danger of contamination. Being able to perform that task effectively and remotely will reduce the health and safety risks while preserving productivity.



An example of AR-enhanced remote collaboration in action. (Source: Next Reality)


Why Businesses Should Start Implementing Augmented Reality Strategy Now

Obviously, it is difficult to fathom significant investment at this time. Many businesses are rightfully focused on preservation and surviving the year. That said, the potential of AR may be less costly than originally thought. For example, PTC has made Vuforia Chalk free during the COVID-19 pandemic, letting companies start adapting without a down payment.


For other solutions, companies can at least start laying the groundwork for what AR adoption could look like. Sure, it is an impressive technology—but it only works as well as the problem it is trying to solve. Just throwing AR on top of existing workflows without clear direction will not produce positive results. Organizations should start thinking now if and how AR can improve operations (internally or externally), and then start to narrow down exactly which solutions are right for them. COVID-19 has put a pause on many plans and initiatives. Now is the time for thoughtful re-evaluation. Companies should be looking at the solutions they want, prioritizing the ones they need, and understand what hardware will be needed to properly utilize the new potential being unlocked by AR technology.


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