Home on the VRange: Immersive Tech in Residential Real Estate

Today, the U.S. housing market is nearing all-time highs following a long recovery from the 2007-08 global financial crash, which was fueled (in part) by the collapse of the housing market itself. Despite this, the traditional Real Estate market is challenged by a number of contemporary trends. Already enduring digital disruption via websites like Zillow and StreetEasy, the residential real estate sector must adapt, adopting emerging technologies to disrupt itself from within.

CURRENT TRENDS & PAIN POINTS IN RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE

Urbanization

In addition to limited space and gentrification – major trends jacking up costs in urban neighborhoods – there is an unprecedented demand for ‘single-dweller’ housing in cities due to more and more young professionals choosing to postpone family life for professional and social pursuits. Startups like WeLive (WeWork) and Dwell offer innovative real estate models that address the anxieties of urban living and new socioeconomic realities. A young professional who would have scrambled to find a roommate on Craigslist (an early real estate disruptor) now seeks affordable, flexible co-living solutions like Ollie’s co-living microsuites and micro-living building in NYC that have a built-in social network and great amenities. The future of cities will be small, smart living spaces.

New Consumer

Whereas baby boomers and Gen Xers desired to settle down, millennials – impacted by high student debt and the high cost of urban living – are largely single dwellers, less inclined to marry and start families. And while older generations saw homeownership as a source of wealth, their younger counterparts are less likely or able to buy housing. Meanwhile in the suburbs outside major cities, there is a glut of McMansions built in the lead up to the 2007 housing bust but a shortage of modest ‘starter homes’ for young families. Millennials currently represent the largest market to buy and rent homes, with Gen Z soon to follow. As real estate customers, these younger generations expect on-demand information, flexibility, market and price transparency, and ease of transactions. They also value green living and perceive properties with high quality visual presentation as higher value. These digital natives are also increasingly willing to make significant purchasing and renting decisions online.

Informational Parity

In the past, high fees for traditional agent/broker services could be justified because consumers depended upon qualified real estate professionals for access to residential listings. Now, the digitally engaged consumer has a wide range of resources for market information, including websites like Zillow, Realtor.com and Trulia and other platforms that have made market analysis available to the public. The average buyer or renter today can perform sophisticated searches and compare listings – a service that was once the exclusive domain of realtors – all for free on his or her own time. Though agents no longer have an informational advantage, their role is not obsolete–their specialized assistance is desirable for negotiating and dealing with inspections, escrow, insurance, co-op boards, etc. With digital competitors firmly entrenched, traditional realtors need to focus on differentiating their services, capitalizing on the fact that although people are digital-first real estate transactions will always be emotionally-driven, human decisions.

CURRENT STATE OF TECHNOLOGY IN REAL ESTATE

Residential real estate has gone through several waves of digital disruption, including the rise of online portals that have come to dominate the real estate search. Online platforms have also helped streamline many purchasing, rental and leasing processes, with some companies now offering fully integrated, end-to-end solutions for buying and selling homes and even generating mortgages. Evidence of the rise of ‘Proptech’ or ‘REtech’ can be seen in newly created CIO positions at real estate firms, while the technological readiness of homes is becoming a key selling point for consumers desiring smart and connected, energy-saving home solutions.

Despite the rise of the Internet and the importance of a home’s digital listing, staging a property – making it attractive to visiting buyers to boost its perceived valuation – remains key to a listing agent’s success in marketing and selling a home. This may include purchasing furniture for an empty space, repainting and refinishing, and/or rearranging items in an existing space, which takes time and money. Though good, old-fashioned yard signs remain a hallmark marketing tool for listing agents, emerging technologies are steadily creeping into residential realty. Common real estate marketing practices like distributing expensive paper brochures, staging properties, and even the construction of model homes will have to be reconsidered as new technologies emerge, offering potentially cheaper and more effective alternatives.

POTENTIAL FOR AR/VR IN RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE

Real estate professionals are finding creative ways to incorporate advancing technologies. The ability to remotely interact with clients, for example, is reducing the need for physical office space and travel, which in turn reduces overhead while permitting wider outreach. Over the last decade, ExP Real Estate has grown into a billion dollar real estate brokerage in North America, all without housing their agents in offices. Instead, they’ve built a sprawling organization that meets for training and strategic planning only in the virtual world. ExP may be an outlier in using tech to eliminate the costs of office space, but it points to the powerful potential for emerging technologies to disrupt the real estate sector.

Robust digital strategies, including the effective application of augmented and virtual reality, will be key to realtors’ success in reaching clients with independent access to market intelligence. A real estate transaction is still a high-stress event; the financial stakes are high for both buyer and seller, but immersive technologies can help facilitate efficient communication among all parties and alleviate what is typically an emotionally-charged process. For smaller real estate organizations and independent brokers, understanding the potential of AR/VR will be just as critical as for larger firms if they are to keep pace with technology and compete.

APPLICATIONS FOR AR/VR IN REAL ESTATE

VR Tours

Today, the Internet is a person’s first stop in the search for housing, but it’s hard to make a listing stand out among hundreds or thousands of similar listings online. Listings with VR tours, however, can effectively showcase a property and help hasten a sale or rental without the need to go to dozens of open houses in the company of a realtor. The immersiveness of VR means users can freely explore a realistic rendering of a property from the comfort of home and make an informed offer. Homeowners anxious to close quickly and fetch the best price can have greater confidence in a listing agent who uses high-quality, interactive VR models to market their property.

Camera companies like Matterport and GeoCV make high-quality virtual mapping fast and accessible, producing virtual scale models of properties that can be toured wearing a VR headset or examined from an overhead ‘dollhouse’ view. Lower-quality VR models you can walk through can even be created from photos taken on a smartphone. Of course, for consumers who don’t own a VR headset, VR tours can be enabled for mobile or desktop and real estate agents are also equipping their offices with VR devices. For out-of-state or just very busy homebuyers unable to visit a property due to time or distance, VR allows them to visit and revisit a home from wherever, providing answers to the questions normally fielded by an agent on site. In this way, VR can accelerate real estate transactions.

Augmented Agent

An agent’s commission is a predetermined percentage that doesn’t account for the time it takes to close a scale, which means technological solutions that reduce routine informational queries and travel are worth exploring. In some cases, the agent hosting a property is there only to unlock the door and entertain browsing visitors who may not be serious buyers. Augmented and virtual reality are excellent technological stand-ins for a human agent seeking to maximize productivity.

Innovative rental companies like Tour24 take advantage of facial recognition technology to grant – via mobile app – prospective renters access to apartments without an agent or tenant present. A beacon-activated informational tour unfolds via smartphone as the potential renter moves through the property. Taken a step further, open houses might come with AR smart glasses used to scan QR codes and view heads-up commentary at various points of interest. In this way, an agent could accommodate a prospective client’s schedule, giving them secure access to the home, and customize the tour without having to personally attend. Even classic marketing practices like planting a realtor’s sign can be taken to the next level with AR: Compass Real Estate, for example, has rolled out beacon-enabled signs that flash at passersby.  Similar AR-enabled signs scanned via smartphone could provide property information and statistics accompanied by a prompt to contact the agent.

Virtual Model Homes and Virtual Staging

It’s challenging to describe and sell a property that hasn’t yet been built. In most cases, a homebuyer or renter is in the market to purchase a vision for a property, so how that vision is presented is key. AR/VR technologies are powerful tools for bringing a future property to life, enabling tours of properties still under construction and making it possible for potential buyers to visualize spaces that do not yet exist. When marketing a home in progress, the immersiveness and detailed accuracy of a virtual reality model can supplement or entirely replace the usual promotional pamphlets and 2D or physical scale models. Brochures might be AR-enabled, while mixed reality could enable effective on-site tours, helping visitors see the potential of an unfinished, undecorated property and come to a decision before seeing the finished product.

When looking for a home, you have to imagine what it would be like to live in an unfamiliar space. While a good agent is able to anticipate what the client is looking for in a property, much of the decision making process comes down to the initial impression of an open house. Realtors often hire staging companies to bring in furniture and decorate homes before going to market. These companies generally stick to neutral decor, aiming to appeal to the greatest number of interested buyers. A couple with four children, however, seeks very different features in a home than a young bachelor or older couple with grown children. But what if you could provide a personally compelling visual narrative of the same space to individuals with varying tastes and requirements? Of course, you cannot physically rearrange a staged home for every potential buyer but with AR/VR you can help onlookers transcend a property’s current physical state, which might push them to make an offer. Staging can become a personal experience offering an array of design configurations depending on the client.

Imaging solutions from virtual staging startups like RoOomy, which counts Sotheby’s among its clients, overlay furnishings and interior designs into virtual models of empty properties captured via Matterport’s technology. An imaginative agent could put in a virtual jungle-gym or swimming pool, a pool table, built-in bar, home office, etc., customizing the virtual presentation down to the most minute details to be most effective. There are multiple benefits to virtual staging, including money, time and resources saved on temporary furnishings and meetings at the property itself, the ability to stage multiple interior design schemes and the opportunity to cross-market the services of partner businesses like interior designers and furniture manufacturers who might share the development costs of the virtual staging.

Conclusion

Digital platforms have produced an expectation of ease and access that has disrupted most corners of the real estate industry. A trend towards vertical integration of these platforms threatens to further encroach on the markets of traditional realtors. Real estate professionals must evaluate how emerging technologies like AR/VR can help them compete and create an irreplaceable role for themselves.

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and early confirmed speakers, to come on the conference website.

AR/VR Innovation at Nissan, Adidas, ADT and More

Emerging technologies are taking root across industries. Learn how a wide variety of enterprises are applying new technologies in this summary of the most recent use cases of AR/VR and wearables:

Fast and Secure Customer Service via AR

Customer support is a key consideration for companies purchasing expensive, mission-critical equipment. When an urgent repair is needed, inefficient customer support practices can unnecessarily prolong costly disruptions to operations. Swiss machinery manufacturer Bobst understands that continuous improvement of their customer service practices is important to guarantee the integrity of their products and earn customers’ loyalty; which is why the company recently deployed the Helpline Plus AR system. This was intended to boost Bobst’s capacity to respond to customer requests quickly and efficiently, and indeed the solution did improve the performance of Bobst’s help desk technicians.

Augmented reality (AR) gives Bobst’s technical experts the ability to remotely diagnose and remedy a customer’s problem from anywhere in the world. Heads-up AR headsets deliver a two-way video and audio connection over a secure WiFi connection for real-time, visual remote guidance. With the customer wearing an AR headset, a support center-based technician can inspect the machine in question and give easy-to-follow troubleshooting and repair advice and instructions. The ability to observe remotely and instantly prevents mistakes and confusion in issue resolution and limits the amount of downtime for the customer, generating savings for both vendor and customer and multiplying the value of Bobst’s well-trained techs. Already boasting a strong customer support system, Bobst now sees AR-enabled, see-what-I-see communication as a powerful tool for service support that merits a worldwide rollout.


Continual Innovation on the Assembly Line at Boeing

Building a plane is a massive project. Production efficiency is a top priority, and the scale and complexity of the plane manufacturing process amplifies the consequences of a tiny mistake. Boeing has teams that evaluate every minutiae of the production process for possible optimization. For example, the company is set for a company-wide deployment of a Bluetooth-enabled smart wrench that measures the torque applied to a nut. The introduction of self-driving work platforms on the assembly line will be a significant innovation to cut time lost on the assembly line, promising to improve monthly production of 787 Dreamliners from 12 to 14. That one piece of technology could produce such a boost in output is remarkable, but the impact it achieves is only possible in combination with other innovations that have been regularly introduced by Boeing. Workers on platforms can now work seamlessly without the interruption of using a forklift to move the scaffolding of a workstation, which saves time and reduces the risk of accidents. Many of Boeing assembly line workers wear industrial exoskeletons to greatly reduce the strain of repetitive movements, in addition to using connected tools like the ‘smart’ wrench and AR glasses for workflow support.

Boeing’s innovative solutions are created by multidisciplinary teams of Boeing engineers who operate in small ‘innovation cells’ within factories where they use virtual reality to test their ideas. A recent breakthrough in one cell led to the implementation of a 3D-printed, curved ruler that reduced the time needed to execute specialized inspection tasks within a plane’s cabin by over five hours. The greater precision achieved by leveraging emerging technologies to transform existing processes can also reduce the need for some inspections overall. Industry leaders like Boeing continue to astound with their almost continuous development of innovative and effective applications for emerging technologies on some of the most sophisticated production lines in the world.

Hear more about Boeing’s use of emerging tech from Christopher Reid, Brian Laughlin, and Connie Miller at EWTS 2019 this September in Dallas.


VR Helps Adidas Corporate Teams Find Their Stride

In today’s corporate world, departmental silos create gaps in communications, leaving key decision makers to operate with limited information. Visibility and accessibility across departments and disciplines is critical to effective communication and collaboration in an organization, a problem Adidas identified in its own process for bringing new shoes to market.

Adidas’ answer for getting teams on the same page to deliver a shoe from design stage to a retail environment? Virtual reality. The retailer uses software supplied by The Wild to model products, build virtual marketing campaigns, and showcase new shoe designs. Holding meetings wearing HTC VIVE VR headsets allows cross-departmental decision makers to better communicate ideas and demonstrate designs. VR makes inherently spatial design concepts clearer and provides greater transparency into a project overall, putting stakeholders with varying expertise coming from offices that usually have little contact with one another on the same page and reducing the back and forth that can stifle global collaboration efforts. Having VR models of new designs readily available for scrutiny means that flaws can be identified and remediated before a product enters the costly production phase, ultimately speeding up the delivery of the product to market. In addition, other areas of Adidas’ business can use the shared 3D library to visualize and iterate products and marketing strategies in virtual retail spaces based upon the company’s real stores.

Hear more about Adidas’ use of emerging tech from Brooks Clemens at EWTS 2019.


VR Marketing: ADT’s Alarming Simulation Gets in Customers’ Heads

Safe at home on your own? ADT’s latest marketing campaign, developed in collaboration with Harte Hanks, brings the danger right into your bedroom. For the campaign, ADT shipped makeshift VR headsets to select households. With these, consumers were able to view an immersive YouTube video simulation of a house fire and ADT’s coordinated response with the local fire department. The virtual experience drops you in the middle of a crisis in motion, simulating the disorientation of waking up in a dark smoky room as a fire rages within the home. ADT’s campaign proved accessible, educational and engaging, a powerful emotional trigger to build brand awareness.

Marketing is an excellent space for experimentation and innovation with AR/VR, and campaigns similar to ADT’s can be conducted on a wider scale and at a lower cost in the future once VR headsets become a common household item. Enterprise applications make practicality a priority, but in marketing the incentive is to creatively connect with consumers and make a strong impression by whatever means is most effective. Innovative marketing teams will continue to toy with VR to produce novel, visceral experiences that enable brands to connect with customers.


Haptics for Better Handling

New car designs usually begin with 2D paper models and when a design is selected to advance to production, a 3D clay model is created to get a sense of the design at scale and refine the model. Expensive, inflexible and labor-intensive, clay modeling has been a standard auto industry practice for more than half a century. Now, VR is becoming widely adopted in car design, enabling designers to review interior and exterior details of a 3D vehicle model and identify any necessary changes to be made to the CAD model before a physical prototype is created.

VR, however, can fall short compared to the interactivity of sculpting a clay model; which is why Nissan recently deployed HaptX’s VR gloves. Merging the experience of the virtual world with sensory reality, the gloves deliver haptic feedback to the wearer, creating the sensation of physically shaping a car model with one’s hands. Designers wearing the gloves can feel the contours of the vehicle surface, manipulate console buttons and dials, and even grip the virtual steering wheel and drive the car. Though HaptX’s tech is currently limited (ex. you cannot distinguish textures or feel the subtle actions of gears and switches), Nissan’s use of it marks an important step towards more practical applications of VR.


Compressing the Sales Process

Swedish machinery manufacturer Atlas Copco’s AIRNET line is a range of high-quality piping and compressor equipment sold to provide complete integrated solutions for compressed air infrastructure. Atlas’ global distribution sales team markets the company’s integrated compressed air systems using components from the range of AIRNET products; but selling such a complex system can be slow and ineffective if the client cannot clearly visualize the functional layout of the system or its easy installment, operation and maintenance.

In order to improve the overall sales process and experience, Atlas Copco adopted Eon Reality’s 3D modeling and VR technology solutions. Atlas’ salespeople have been given access to a full virtual range of AIRNET SKUs to present clients with tailored compressed air infrastructure solutions. Using Eon’s tools, salespeople can create and adjust plans according to a client’s wishes without any particular technical expertise. The ability to demonstrate and swap AIRNET components in a virtual model eliminates the need to carry samples (there are over 1,000 AIRNET SKUs!); and complete quotes can be quickly calculated accompanied by a functional simulation of a system and the bill of materials adjusted with each design iteration. Installers and technicians also get access to cloud-based VR installation guidance. Using VR, Atlas Copco’s sales team is able to shorten the sales cycle and better engage clients while assuring superior VR-enhanced follow-up support.


VR for Public Outreach: Clearing the Air About Petrochemical Operations

The towering smokestacks of a chemical plant or refinery can be an ominous sight. Public misconceptions and mistrust pose a serious challenge to companies whose operations often only reach the public consciousness via news of industrial accidents and disasters. This has resulted in an unsympathetic industry image – one of pollution as opposed to cutting-edge tech and critical production – which, in turn, affects recruitment of new generations of talent.

Industry association American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) has pushed companies like Marathon Petroleum and Ineos to improve public relations and boost recruiting efforts by using VR to ‘open’ their plant operations to the general public. A VR tour experience of Marathon’s Galvestone Bay refinery and one of Ineos’ La Porte chemical plant, made for Oculus as well as the more accessible (and cheaper) smartphone-enabled Google Cardboard, aim at demystifying the industry for consumers. Viewers virtually meet Marathan and Ineos employees, the idea being to dispel doubts about oil and gas operations and inspire students to pursue careers in the field. VR permits a higher level of engagement with and outreach to the public than previously possible for the likes of Marathon and Ineos.

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and confirmed speakers, available on the conference website.

 

Digging for Digital Transformation Using AR/VR & Wearables: The Sustainable Future of Mining

Despite advances in technology, mining operations today are fundamentally the same as they were half a century ago. Faced with increasing demand, diminished ore grades, less accessible deposits, and public pressure to be more environmentally and socially responsible, mining companies must develop new techniques by adopting emerging technologies to evolve their industry.


Trends and Pain Points in Mining

Bad Reputation

Mining has a less than stellar reputation when it comes to social and environmental impact. Despite technical advances and modern equipment, the mining industry as a whole has increased water consumption and is trailed by a legacy of poorly rehabilitated mines that have left behind chronic environmental problems like acid drainage. Mining companies can improve their image and build trust if they increase supply chain transparency and implement environmentally-sound practices that can stand up to regulatory pressure and the scrutiny of an increasingly aware consumer market. Firms must push innovation and R&D to find solutions (advancing techniques like biomining) to reduce their environmental footprint and mitigate the risk of large-scale incidents.

Material Resources

As the global population rises, so too does demand for minerals and metals. The depletion of near surface resources has pushed mining companies to look for lower-grade ores at much greater depths and to consider mine development in less politically stable areas. Extensive investment is required prior to mineral extraction from difficult-to-access deposits, and though there are innovative mining methods like block caving, high profitability must be assured before capital-intensive projects can proceed for the industry is highly risk-averse. Facing tight profit margins and buffeted by social and regulatory pressure, mining companies that streamline operations and develop new methods of mineral and metal extraction and processing will be able to meet demand and control costs.

Siloed Operations

The operations of a typical mining company are geographically dispersed. Valuable information is lost due to these operational silos, obstructing a company’s ability to coordinate and collaborate. Individual mines often operate with a high degree of independence and varied corporate structures limit centralized management, making it difficult to introduce disruptive technologies across an organization.

Safety & Labor Scarcity

Mines are busy, noisy and dangerous working environments. Workplace injuries are underreported globally and deaths not uncommon. Entering a mine can expose a miner to dust, gases, explosions, high heat, flooding, falling rocks, and cave-ins. Mines with the highest safety standards are not immune to these risks, but with proper precautions and investment in safety solutions and training, safety can be significantly improved. Compounding issues, the mining industry is suffering from a labor shortage. A culture of innovation, a renewed focus on safety, and the implementation of new technologies is key to recruitment and training of new workers.


Current State of Mining Technology

The mining industry is one of the least digitized in the world, with leadership that up until recent years hesitated to invest in any tech if a quantifiable, short-term return could not be guaranteed. Today, proven technologies that have been successfully implemented in other industries do not present the same level of risk. Drones and robots are being successfully introduced to mining operations to eliminate dangerous and monotonous jobs, and companies are investing in mine connectivity like leaky feeders or LoRA technologies to extend a signal deep underground. Some forward-thinking companies like Rio Tinto have begun to pursue digital transformation on a grand scale. Part of Rio Tinto’s ‘Mine of the Future’ program, for example, involves a massive investment to automate a mine’s supply chain from pit to port including an extensive rail network.


Potential for AR/VR and Wearables

In addition to drones and robots, technologies like augmented and virtual reality and wearable devices will optimize the productivity and safety of the mining workforce. Immersive and wearable technologies, whether worn within the mine or in a control center a continent away, can help users interact with remote colleagues and visualize and analyze data generated from sensors deep below the surface of the earth. Wearables can enhance real-time visibility into a mine’s operations, allowing for more effective and informed decision making; while simulating mine environments and interacting with asset data in AR/VR have a wide range of training and other applications.

Applications of Immersive and Wearable Tech in Mining

Exploration of New Mine Sites

Today, drones and UAVs are routinely used to study an area’s geology, producing 3D maps for general inspection. Drones themselves can even be operated via smart glasses (ex. Epson). The data gathered above and below ground forms the basis for digital models in virtual or mixed reality that can be used to perform safety inspections and maintenance assessments, for planning construction and environmental mitigation efforts, and to monitor inventory.

Before drones, workers typically performed surveying tasks by mounting high scaffolds, exposing themselves to great risk. Moreover, the information wasn’t always accurate. Drone mapping is cheaper, faster and more precise; and the information gathered – when put into AR/VR – allows for intuitive visualization and comprehension of the results of exploration, development drilling, geological models, and topography studies at scale. AR/VR also make for better remote collaboration and understanding among stakeholders such as surveyors, mining engineers and equipment operators, which speeds up decision making.

Few discoveries make it beyond feasibility studies to become an actual mining site, so it’s important to keep costs down and build an accurate model in a short period of time to get a comprehensive picture of the potential mine. A lot of time and money can be saved by not having to visit a mine site on foot, which eliminates risks associated with traversing difficult terrain in addition to travel expenses.

Development and Planning

AR/VR is a powerful visualization tool, making data easily accessible, engaging and meaningful to potential investors and other stakeholders. High-fidelity imaging of geological information, mine plans, geolocated borehole data, etc. can be modeled in AR/VR for easy, interactive analysis. Immersive simulations can also be used to show local community members the footprint of a planned mine throughout its development and operation, and how mine closure and post-mine closure activities will affect the area.

AR/VR, increasingly used by construction contractors to plan mines and discover design flaws before production begins, produces interactive 3D models that can be used throughout the life of a mine and integrated with an operation’s other digital assets for maintenance, training, etc. A full digital twin of a mine – uniting all mine assets via spatial data and other real-time information – allows for live monitoring and management of its vehicles, ore deposits, human workers, and machines; however, the use of digital twin technology requires a high level of digitization of the entire mining operation.

Safety

Future advances in automation may largely remove humans from the dangers of the most hazardous mines, but today’s miners are still at risk and require the most effective tools available for communication, health, and safety. Workers entering a mine today can be equipped with a range of wearable sensors and sensor-embedded protective equipment (PPE) that track their health and environment. Any device brought into a mine must be highly durable and able to perform in hazardous, wet environments as per industry regulations. Wearables might alert workers via sound, light or vibration to issues such as exposure to dangerous gases, seismic anomalies, and proximity to moving or malfunctioning equipment or vehicles. Currently in use are sensor-enabled safety helmets (ex. Jannetec), vests (Lightflex), shirts (Mitsufuji) and wristbands (Fatigue Science). These keep workers connected and alert to danger within and without their bodies, and in most cases can communicate with equipment and vehicles on site.

Wearable devices that track biometric information embedded with RFID technology can track a worker’s location, even detect falls and physical distress, which is key for lone workers. Sensors can track assets and people in real time, generating data that can be later analyzed to improve operations and the mine site itself. AR smart glasses (with appropriate safety ratings, of course) present another means of notifying workers about safety threats and even providing heads-up, hands-free safety protocols and directions.

There are now early-warning drowsiness detection systems like Optalert and other wearables designed to monitor a mining vehicle operator’s alertness in order to reduce fatigue-related incidents. AR glasses can eliminate an operator’s blind spots and minimize peripheral distractions like the complicated control panels inside the vehicle. Should an accident occur, someone wearing AR glasses could livestream the situation to an expert or supervisor, helping to treat the fallen worker before first responders arrive. AR/VR can also be used to train workers for hazardous environments, allowing them to gain experience without assuming the risk of practicing in a live environment.

Operations

Proper servicing and maintenance of mining equipment and vehicles can help avoid potentially catastrophic mechanical breakdowns in a mine. Of course, this is difficult with a shortage of highly-trained workers, but new fleets of connected mining machinery provide real-time diagnostic data allowing for predictive maintenance. A worker wearing AR glasses, even without a clear understanding of standard operating procedures or familiarity with the piece of equipment in question, can perform maintenance and repair with the assistance of a remote expert or vendor, remaining heads-up and hands-free the whole time. This reduces reliance on key personnel without impairing equipment output.

Mine suppliers like Caterpillar and Atlas Copco now market their machines and vehicles with VR training simulations and use the same tech to provide AR assistance for maintenance and repair. Miners can practice tasks in VR, tasks like performing an inspection on a Haulpak vehicle in a Mobile Maintenance Repair Workshop or performing a 3D scan of a physical pump for visualization; and then perform the same tasks in real life with prompts in a pair of smart glasses. Better maintenance, repair and overhaul practices with the aid of AR/VR will result in less equipment downtime, higher productivity, lower maintenance costs and, most importantly, improved safety for human operators.

Training

Virtual reality is an incredibly effective and efficient training tool especially for industrial workers because it allows trainees to gain experience without visiting a mine in person. Restrictive permit policies at some mines mean that employees can’t enter the mine without training. VR is the closest thing to doing the job in real life, and research from Stanford University and other institutions has found that learners recall more when using virtual teaching methods than with traditional methods. When it comes to high-risk tasks and hazard awareness, there’s no way to simulate a realistic mine rescue situation other than in VR. In VR, the user can be burned, fall from a height or even be electrocuted without real consequences. The medium also offers measurable data to assess a user’s performance. For instance, in a virtual inspection of a mine, the trainer can observe not only the user’s movements but also her gaze to see what draws her attention first.


Conclusion

The ability to walk, climb and interact in an environment using AR/VR will make for easier discovery and better planning of mines, faster innovation and greater productivity, increased safety and higher quality, all of which can improve industry recruitment. The changing nature of mining, including increasing digitization and automation, should draw a new generation of workers—tech-savvy individuals traditionally attracted to more high-profile industries as well as talent that hadn’t considered mining because they didn’t want to work underground or in remote areas. Pushing into frontier mining areas and planning new mines with new extraction and processing techniques (with a lighter human touch) will further the incorporation of new technologies; allowing miners to face less challenging working conditions and making mining as a whole a more sophisticated sector. Who knows? Tech companies that rely on mined materials to build their products might even begin their own mining operations in the future.

 

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and confirmed speakers, available on the conference website.

 

 

 

9 to 5G: Prime Time for Next Gen Connectivity in Enterprise

Enterprises are looking to 5G in order to adopt more sophisticated AR/VR and wearable technology solutions for a greater variety of use cases. What is 5G? A network revolution that’s currently in its early stages, 5G (the new mobile standard that will succeed 4G) is an evolving constellation of technologies expected to unlock the ability to use wearable technologies (and other emerging tech) for a much wider range of applications in the workplace. Providers are beginning to deploy 5G around the world to support the expanded mobile connectivity and capacity requirements of the Internet of Things, including immersive experiences, machine learning, Big Data, etc. Enterprise decision makers tasked with identifying, testing and implementing wearable solutions can now begin to consider the capabilities that will be at their disposal once the speed, flexibility, and reliability of 5G becomes available. The speed of deployment of 5G-based mobile networks depends on the timing of the massive investments needed to build out the infrastructure. Nevertheless, now is the time to consider the future applications of immersive and wearable technologies and how 5G will enable the transformation of your enterprise.  

5G promises a solution to the many network and performance challenges holding back Industry 4.0 (current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies). Using a range of new technologies, 5G permits the exploitation of a wider band of spectrum, including the high frequency millimeter wave spectrum in between microwave and infrared waves that has never before been used for mobile communications. A 5G network is equipped to provide greater bandwidth capacity, increased throughput (high data rate), improved reliability, while greatly reducing latency. At full deployment, 5G is touted to provide peak speeds 600 times faster than average 4G speeds and 10 times faster than standard fiber broadband, with the capacity to service 1,000 times the number of devices per square meter than 4G and a potential latency of just one millisecond.

The mass deployment of connected devices in the enterprise, including smart machines, robots, sensors, AR glasses, etc. is well underway. The reliable and seamless communication between machines/sensors and humans that the use cases of Industry 4.0 require, however, is currently impossible or attainable only via inefficient, inconsistent and very costly means. Intelligently-managed 5G networks will sustain the proliferation of devices with higher network demand that are putting 4G under great strain, meeting the growing complexities of enterprise IoT environments and facilitating the rising interconnectivity of public and private infrastructure assets. Faster than 4G LTE, more flexible than fiber, more secure than WiFi, and more dynamic than lower power wide area (LPWAN) tech like Sigfox and LoRa, 5G networks will be able to integrate those technologies and in some cases replace them completely.

An important feature of 5G is the ability to design customizable network connectivity solutions through a feature called network slicing. Network slicing is a layered network virtualization that creates independent silos or slices of connectivity optimized for a particular use case. Multiple networks are created on the same physical infrastructure and optimized for efficiency, delivering distinct bandwidth, capacity, availability and security characteristics according to how the particular virtual network will be used. If an enterprise builds out its own private network, it can configure the requirements and parameters of each network slice to support particular services or business segments for greater efficiency and security. For mobile network operators and telecom vendors, 5G connectivity could be packaged and marketed using a network as a service (NaaS) model.

With network slicing, you can partition a secure “slice” that would reserve independent network capacity for the connectivity needs of a particular function. For example, sensors in a factory relaying small packets of data at relatively long intervals require minimal bandwidth but do require a network with the capacity to accommodate a large volume of sensors. An enterprise network may host relatively few mobile devices but if there are data-heavy applications, then greater bandwidth and different security capabilities are required. Take robots performing high-priority, critical tasks; today, there is no alternative to achieve the reliable bandwidth they need to process information at high speeds save for expensive fiber connections. A mobile industrial robot tethered to a cable connection on the factory floor cannot reach its full potential. 5G network customization will allow enterprises to quickly adapt to changing needs (e.g. rapid and cost-efficient reconfigurations of the factory floor); it will also encourage enterprises to take a more active role in managing their networks, with many assuming greater control over enterprise network infrastructure that was previously externally or passively managed.

5G is a cloud-native technology that will unlock the transformative potential of AR/VR and wearables via edge or fog computing and exponentially multiply the potency of wearables in enterprise. With edge computing, data generation takes place at the source of the data, which in the case of IoT could be a connected machine, sensor or embedded device, and then instead of relaying the data to a distant cloud computing facility where there would be a delay in analyzing and processing the data, the data is processed and analyzed instantaneously in a smaller facility closer to the network edge. 5G enables this accelerated capacity for (less) remote computing to occur in real time.

From a hardware perspective, low latency edge computing reduces the need to install high performance processors into the device, which frees up hardware design and battery options. Bulky, energy-hungry headsets may become a thing of the past, as 5G and edge computing ease the ergonomic and performance challenges of today’s devices, including form factor, comfort, processing power, and battery life. This hardware transformation will be accompanied by a revolution in user experience. 5G should also bring down the cost of high quality AR/VR devices, enabling wider adoption and the practical consideration of more ambitious technological integrations.  

5G’s low latency is the key feature that will drive the transformation of AR/VR and wearables. Latency above a certain threshold disrupts fluid virtual reality experiences and any lag in overlaying information in augmented reality is intolerable for collaborating with others or performing precision or time-sensitive tasks. Ideally, virtual reality should be so vivid, responsive and interactive that the user cannot distinguish the virtual from the real world. High latency destroys the illusion of VR and can cause VR sickness (dizziness and nausea), and is evident when motion in the virtual environment doesn’t sync up with the user’s movements.

Today, high quality, high resolution VR experiences must be physically tethered to high-performance computers due to insufficient battery and local processing capacity. Only with the rollout of 5G will immersive technologies reach their potential: Practical, fully mobile, truly wearable headsets that immerse users in vivid, interactive scenarios that would otherwise be impossible or prohibitively expensive to recreate in real life (e.g. simulating a utility repair in inclement weather). 5G will unleash more ambitious and ubiquitous enterprise applications like remote collaboration in the same virtual space that feels as natural as an in-person meeting and applications making use of real-time haptic feedback and unrestricted mobility.

5G is well-positioned to support the rising demands of the connected workplace over the next decade, even if full-capacity deployment is likely to be inconsistent due to uncertain use cases and costs. In the 5G world, the connected worker will collaborate and operate wherever she’s needed, leveraging seamless communication with robots and machines, vehicles, sensors and other humans to get the job done. It will be exciting to see what new use cases enterprises come up with as 5G is rolled out. 

 

Image source: MWRF

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and early confirmed speakers, to come on the conference website.

Avoid the Headache: IT Security in the Age of Wearables and AR/VR

As the modern industrial workplace becomes increasingly connected by IoT-enabled devices, including AR/VR glasses and headsets, wearables, robotics and smart machinery, the enterprise grows more vulnerable to potentially devastating cyberattacks, privacy intrusions and IP theft. Enterprise wearables promise to advance workplace safety, efficiency and profitability, but they also present novel dangers that can have disturbing consequences. A network breach can have devastating financial, legal and reputational consequences for not just the enterprise and its clients but also the general public in sectors like power generation and oil and gas. A changing threat landscape makes it difficult to evaluate risk, nonetheless the decision facing enterprise leaders is when, not if, they should adopt IoT technologies into their operations. Enterprises that are too cautious and hesitant in pursuing digital transformation will fall behind their competitors. Now and in the future, the success of integration and responsible management of connected technologies will depend on enterprise IT leadership to implement and govern appropriate security measures.

At EWTS 2018 this past October in Austin, a common thread among the speakers was the importance of involving internal enterprise stakeholders responsible for safety and security as early in the pilot process as possible. It’s challenging enough for innovation teams to communicate the value of investing in AR, VR and wearables to corporate leadership; it’s next to impossible if the proof of concept exposes the company to unnecessary and unmitigated risks.

The strategy recommended by current end users is to have agility and imagination when developing a PoC or pilot project while taking a more conservative and measured approach to mitigating security and safety risks. Safety, security and device management experts are needed to judge the viability of any wearable solution under consideration. In general, established corporate cultures are not very receptive to new, relatively untested technology and expanded cybersecurity risks. Corporate financial leadership may see the deployment of wearables as a drain on company resources, while the IT team regards it as a threat to network security and workers see it as a threat to their own privacy and job security. In order to successfully deploy a wearable solution all parties must be convinced that the benefits outweigh their concerns.

On the EWTS 2018 stage, Steve Labudzinski, an R&D specialist from Con Edison, described the difficulty of equipping his field workers with the proper tools while also satisfying security measures, lamenting that it is not practical for workers to carry four different mission-critical wearable devices and also have to carry four corresponding mobile phones. He appealed to the audience for advice on getting all devices to communicate securely on one common platform, a software solution to solve a hardware problem. If the value of an application is to give instant feedback and present relevant, real-time information to workers, an integrated platform for all network devices greatly transforms the utility and potency of the wearable technology.

Introducing wearables into the workplace and achieving interoperability across platforms is like a double-edged sword. Companies that would generate value from the visualization of data and models have to bridge formerly separate silos of information, integrating wearable-incompatible formats like PDFs and paper into a digitally-integrated platform. The unification of previously disconnected and inaccessible information sources for use across the enterprise can create a wealth of value for collaborative and analytical purposes; however, enterprise-wide integration of digital resources also represents a larger target for cyber-attackers. The proliferation of IoT devices like wearable technologies multiplies the nodes of entry that bad actors might attempt to exploit. End users, corporate leadership, and partners must be accountable for upholding security standards.

From the EWTS 2018 stage, Jeff Lind of Caterpillar talked about the importance of evaluating potential partners and the development and management of long-term relations with them, noting “all partners must be trusted to protect client data. Trust, but verify.” Diligence in mitigating security risks and guarding against potential breaches includes auditing the practices of partners and vendors. A wearable deployment is only as secure as the integrity of the chain of custody. Absent government regulation and cybersecurity standardization (steps have been taken in Europe with GDPR), it is the enterprise and solution providers that need to work out standards for implementing security and privacy safeguards.

In some cases, security policy is governed by industry regulations that require strict compliance. At EWTS 2018, Chris Comfort, the Innovation Technology Manager of the Nuclear Division of Southern Corporation, shared his eight-month-long journey to get the greenlight for company-wide deployment of AR wearables. The restrictions were particularly inflexible because the devices would be deployed near the company’s nuclear power assets. Image- and data-collecting AR smart glasses attracted extraordinary scrutiny and the pilot had to be conducted offline and offsite. Comfort had to solidify support for “two-way video communication on a business network with confidential information within a highly regulated industry,” seeking access to a highly privileged network.

A pattern of stakeholder engagement and solution iteration was key to Comfort’s success. The constraints of elevated security concerns in a highly competitive corporate environment are not easily overcome. To get approval to introduce the RealWear HMT-1 smart glasses, Comfort had to convince influential members of the organization of the devices’ value and utility so they could in turn communicate the value to others and advocate on behalf of his project.

Comfort observed that the eight months he spent seeking approval can be considered a fast track, with much of that time spent working with vendors to align software designs and IT with Southern’s security protocols. This would not have been possible without ongoing consultation with internal allies, engagement with internal critics, and support from software vendors. Collaboration with the company’s IT department converted some IT leaders into enthusiastic advocates who helped shape adequate security protocols and the software features that Comfort would implement in collaboration with his vendors.

Innovation leaders should seek feedback from all interested parties and their varying expertise and concerns in order to better collaborate on producing a viable and effective solution. The push and pull to satisfy enterprise security standards can frustrate the advancement of even the most promising projects. “If you want to talk barriers, you can just talk about security all day. It’s a thing of nightmares,” remarked Walmart’s Steven Lewis in October. Steven was describing the difficulty of advancing an efficient technology solution not functionally hamstrung by the protocols of internal security groups. In anticipation of this hand-wringing, security considerations should be intrinsic to the design of a solution from the earliest stages of a project because a wearable pilot will not go forward without buy-in from internal security groups.  

IT’s traditional role in maintaining the digital infrastructure of a business has changed as IT has become a key profit driver and the operational backbone of many companies. The long-term success of businesses today hinges on a proactive approach to security with the adoption of any new technology. Cyber criminals will meet innovation with innovation as IT infrastructures grow more robust. To protect truly connected workplaces, IT priorities must receive the same timely attention and budget flexibility as the most critical business decision. The ongoing advancement of Industry 4.0 technologies and the rollout of 5G present immediate opportunities that any organization must be ready to approach with enthusiasm and caution.

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and early confirmed speakers, to come on the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE), the world’s #1 AR+VR conference and expo, returns to Santa Clara, CA May 29-31, 2019. Join us for the biggest AWE yet and help celebrate the show’s 10th Anniversary! Apply to speak and/or exhibit at AWE 2019on the event website.