In recent years, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies have operated with a bit of hype—and C-suite skepticism—about their potential business use in practical applications. Of course, most will concede VR’s use in gaming. And, to “see” state-of-the-art military use of AR, they need look no further than the $400,000 F-35 pilot’s helmet. But, fact is, both are ready to transform the workplace by unleashing new waves of productivity in workers and professionals alike, thanks to powerful underlying technologies.
AR and VR: What’s the difference?
For people not staying up to date with AR and VR news, the two technologies might seem to mix their capabilities and applications. But to be clear, AR overlays data onto users’ views of their environments, and VR provides a totally immersive, simulated experience.
An example of the former would be an AR industrial hard hat with a visor worn by workers on the floor of a petrochemical refinery. The visor’s margins would provide the interface for overlaying visualization of real-time, plant operational data, while the worker’s visual field out into the plant would remain unimpeded.
An example of the latter is the VR headset that’s reportedly aboard the International Space Station. It surrounds astronaut users’ visual fields with a totally simulated environment to help train them in new critical procedures. In turn, it uses eye-tracking technology to provide a feedback loop to the software driving the training simulation — and to ground controllers, who can collaborate in the training.
Powerful enabling technologies are key
The secret to liberating AR and VR from the realm of science fiction is a combination of increasingly powerful hardware and software technologies. Developers now have massive processing power for desktop use as well as in portable form factors for field use.
Take the new Dell Precision 7720 mobile workstation, for example. As Dell’s first VR-ready mobile model, it features the fastest Intel® Xeon™ processors available. These are supported with up to 64GB of compute RAM and 16GB of graphics RAM, plus fast SSD or HDD storage of up to 4TB.
Hardware that’s so powerful yet portable unhitches AR and VR developers from fixed laboratories, so they can create enterprise solutions in the field, where users are. This can accelerate solutions development tremendously by helping to enable rapid prototyping around user activities, while effectively eliminating cycles of field testing.
Then there are software advancements. At SXSW 2017 in March, Dell hosted the #Dell Experience VR Panel. One of the panelists was Michael Gold, co-founder and CEO of Holojam. His company provides a drag-and-drop platform for creators of AR and VR content and applications. There’s no need for custom code or expensive motion-capture stages, as was the case until recently.
In effect, Holojam’s platform provides tools to expand the potential of AR and VR for use in business. And we can expect that many more companies will lower the entry barriers for AR and VR, just as video editing software on smartphones has enabled feature-length films to be shot without multimillion-dollar budgets.
Examples of practical applications are growing
One of the most promising fields for practical applications of AR and VR is training. Most everyone has heard of flight simulators, the multimillion-dollar airline cockpits moved around by robotic arms in response to actions by the pilot trainees inside. AR and VR promise to condense all that into a headset.
In addition to VR’s use in the space station, NASA is also using VR on the ground to train astronauts in spacewalking. AR and VR technologies are helping to train technicians in repairing complex infrastructure, too. Likewise, they can help surgeons acquire new techniques without putting patients at risk during the learning process.
Speaking of healthcare, one of the panelists on the Dell SXSW 2017 VR panel was Dr. Skip Rizzo. As a psychologist at the University of Southern California, he uses VR to treat people with anxiety, PTSD and other neuropsychiatric disorders. His approach is now employed at Veterans Affairs hospitals, military bases and universities across the U.S.
Architecture, construction and product development — or just about any discipline using computer-aided design and computer-aided engineering — can also benefit from AR and VR applications. These applications can immerse project stakeholders inside life-sized 3D simulations of their creations so they can work out design issues and limitations before sinking large amounts of capital into building or manufacturer.
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Many more examples exist of how AR and VR technologies are finding their way into practical applications for business, industry, healthcare, education and other fields. We can expect gains in computing power and density to continue, while independent software developers, such as Holojam, accelerate their drive to bring new tools and applications to market. It finally appears that the hype around AR and VR is over and that both are here—for real.
Find out more about how Dell EMC customer Solidray, a VR pioneer, uses Dell Precision Tower 5000 Series and Alienware Gaming Desktops to develop low-cost, head-mounted displays.