VR Tests the Realities of the Workplace

Are remote learning and remote working preparing us for a virtual reality future? As work environments adjust to new demands, VR is honing workforce skillsets and taking on multiple roles in construction, healthcare, retail, and manufacturing.

 

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As the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to adapt in innumerable ways, perhaps no facet of daily life has required greater adaptation than that of schooling. In an ironic twist, parents now find themselves pushing their homebound children to take full advantage of digital technologies. But the benefits of immersing children in remote learning tools are likely to extend well beyond the schooling years, as companies in multiple industries adopt virtual reality (VR) for myriad usages.

What might be surprising is the extent to which VR is becoming mainstream, with fully half of surveyed IT decision makers exploring or implementing the technology. This heightened interest is reflected in sales of commercial VR headsets, which are expected to jump 70 percent this year. Not only that, but the companies that have deployed VR are seeing real business benefits from the technology.

Employee Training and Quality Control Get the VR Treatment

One of the most promising areas for corporate use of VR is employee training, where studies have shown demonstrable benefits, including reduced training time and improved employee performance. The potential savings can be substantial, with typical training costs such as travel, materials, and equipment being practically eliminated. In addition, VR enables training in scenarios that can be challenging to replicate in a real-world environment.

In another manufacturing application, Renault Trucks is using HoloLens, a state-of-the-art VR technology, to improve quality control in its engine assembly facilities. Employees wearing the HoloLens can view a digitalized version of a completed engine, enabling them to anticipate the results of even the most complex decisions. This is a radical improvement from the prior system, in which operators relied on paper instructions.

VR technology is also making inroads in industries such as retail, where industry giant Walmart is using Oculus Go technology to help train store managers in soft skills such as empathy and customer service. Previously, the company made significant investments in bringing managers to one of their “Walmart Academy” sites for in-person training. Now, many trainees can receive comparable training with the help of VR. As one of the training program leaders explained, “when you watch a module through the headset, your brain feels like you actually experienced a situation.”

VR Enters Construction Sites and Surgery Theaters

In industries where on-site management is crucial, such as construction, VR can enable a level of remote collaboration that was previously impossible. Imagine a virtual construction site where project teams working remotely can anticipate and collectively solve issues revealed by 3D modeling. Digital twins, another component of VR, can add efficiencies and reduce costs on large and small projects. Further, project managers can essentially jump from job site to job site without the expense and risk that actual travel would entail.

Surgical Theater, an Intel® IoT Solutions Alliance Affiliate partner, has one of the more compelling usages of VR. Surgical Theater integrates VR with tests like CT scans and MRIs to enable patients, alongside their surgeons to tour a virtual view of their own anatomy. With this highly detailed view, a patient can make more informed and sophisticated decisions about treatment alongside the treating physician. The results of this innovation are impressive: increased patient satisfaction, higher patient engagement and, for the hospital using the technology, improved financial performance.

Physician wearing VR glasses

Image credit: Surgical Theater

Surgical Theater has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with free remote 360° VR services. The company makes its fully immersive VR technology available for free to any hospital seeking to navigate inside a COVID-19 patient's lungs. 

Based on these myriad usages, it’s not surprising that the VR industry is expected to top $150 billion by 2022. Of course, that number will only increase as the number of industries and job roles incorporating VR continues to grow. As for the students who are getting their first exposure to technologies such as VR, they will be well positioned to excel in the marketplace of the future.

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