There’s a lot we still don’t know about virtual and augmented reality, but one thing seems certain: it’s on the up-and-up. Sales and usage are projected to soar in coming years, which means more people will be comfortable handling VR devices. Just as smartphones and tablets have become major assets to corporate training, VR/AR are also poised to become far more common in the workplace. In a way, it’s hard to imagine an industry that doesn’t have a good application for VR/AR. But for several industries in particular, virtual training represents a definitive leap.
Here are just a few such industries and the specific advances in VR/AR they’re putting to use.
Education has always been one of the main fronts for virtual reality. However, since schools have limited resources and a high number of users, they’ve had to wait for cheaper, more accessible technology to become available. Enter Google cardboard. More than almost anything else, this device indicates the democratization of virtual reality. Literally made of cardboard, the headset is compatible with a smartphone and costs as little as $15. Some schools have already begun incorporating them into their classrooms, generating virtual models and immersive experiences. For example, San Francisco Unified School District and Polk County Public Schools have partnered with Nearpod, an education company, to create virtual field trips to Egypt, Mars, and the Great Barrier Reef.
Applications for VR in the automotive industry run the gamut, from front-end sales to back-end mechanics. Since car-building involves a great deal of modeling, VR is especially useful for designers and mechanics learning about the inner-workings of vehicles. The engineering company Bosch, for instance, has used Oculus Rift to provide technicians with training on direct-injection and braking technology. Virtual modeling also demonstrates the way in which training and work increasingly overlap. Faced with the task of developing smarter, more autonomous and communicative vehicles, engineers have to learn as they go, studying their own models in order to develop them further. VR/AR is a tremendous asset to that end. The ESI Group notes, for example, how engineers are using VR to model safety features and car performance under certain road conditions.
Skilled Trades and Construction
If modeling is central to automotive VR training, gamification is key in construction and skilled trades. Training experiences that would have once been high-risk are now accessible in a virtual, game-like environment that allows workers to practice and become comfortable with their tools before touching any actual hardware. Take, for example, the program that Campfire Union created for tower crane operators. The program uses cloud-based, multiplayer technology to allow two operating engineers in separate locations to coordinate activities within the same virtual space—not just operating machinery, but exchanging verbal and hand signals. Similar programs exist for forklift operation and other high-risk activities. Even for lower-risk practices like welding and painting, VR/AR allows workers to hone their skills before diving into the work.
Some of the best possibilities for VR/AR training are in healthcare, particularly in surgery. Practitioners in this area require both a strong knowledge of models and practice manipulating them. VR offers a unique chance for medical students and others to fully inhabit the sensory field of an operating surgeon. In April 2016, the BBC reported on the first ever surgery—a colon cancer operation at the Royal London Hospital—to be streamed live via 360-degree virtual reality, a move doctors say could “revolutionise medical training around the world.” Companies such as Medical Realities are working to make such experiences widely available through consumer VR products like Oculus Rift. Meanwhile, Microsoft has developed an app for its HoloLens AR device which allows students to manipulate a detailed model of human anatomy.
Like other new technologies of the past decade, VR and AR devices are becoming more useful as they become more ubiquitous. There is now a huge range of VR/AR companies and apps with different purposes and features. As the more affordable and flexible technologies begin to permeate public education, high-skill industries like medicine will be at the vanguard for technical VR/AR. Immersive scenarios, modeling, gamification, and vicarious experience all promise to improve and reinforce existing training techniques, but the full scale of VR/AR’s impact on learning remains to be seen.