2019: The Year of the Big Pivot Towards Enterprise AR/VR

It’s a shame that AR/VR was overhyped in 2018 because in 2019 the technology is a fixture in enterprise.
I’ll be blunt: Augmented, mixed and virtual reality were overhyped in 2018. While 2018 turned out not to be the year of AR/VR; please don’t roll your eyes when I tell you that 2019 is the year at least for enterprise, and of that I have no doubt.
Here are a few of the signs:

  • More than half of the announcements made at AWE USA 2019 (a staple on the AR/VR calendar) were enterprise-related
  • Some of the world’s biggest consumer tech companies are now entering the immersive tech space, primarily eyeing enterprise
  • The top names in consumer VR are also heavily courting the enterprise

Why? Why are AR/VR hardware and software companies pivoting to enterprise? The answer is obvious: Because enterprise is where the money is. Both AR/VR technology providers and the world’s best-known companies (end users) are making/saving big.

If you follow enterprise AR/VR, you’re no doubt familiar with Google (Glass), Microsoft, and PTC (Vuforia). Other longtime players include Atheer, Epson, HPE, LogistiVIEW, ScopeAR, RealWear, ThirdEye, Ubimax, Upskill and Vuzix. Qualcomm, Honeywell, and Toshiba (dynabook) have become fixtures on the scene, as well, and by that I mean regular exhibitors at EWTS, the only event dedicated to enterprise use of immersive and wearable technologies. Newer sponsors include Jujotech, Pico and RE’FLEKT, along with Bose, HTC and Lenovo, joining top enterprise wearable device and industrial exoskeleton makers on the EWTS roster.

Doesn’t Bose make headphones?
Yes, they do. Bose is known as a consumer audio vender, but it also makes Bose Frames, which provided exclusive audio content and set-time notifications to desert-goers at this year’s Coachella music festival. Founded in 1964, Bose is taking an audio-first approach to augmented reality today with Bose AR, not only at concerts or in automobiles but in meeting rooms, too. Audio AR is a natural fit in the Industrial Internet of Things.

The pivot
In April 2019, Oculus introduced the expanded Oculus for Business, an enterprise solution designed to streamline and grow VR in the workplace. The expanded solution adds Oculus Quest to the hardware lineup and provides a suite of tools to help companies reshape the way they do business with VR.
The following month, Lenovo launched an enterprise AR/VR headset, the ThinkReality A6, immediately positioned as a rival to Microsoft’s HoloLens. Articles spoke of Lenovo as “just the latest manufacturer to develop an AR device aimed at enterprise.” On the heels of Lenovo’s first foray into enterprise XR, HTC announced the HTC Vive Focus Plus, a new version of its Vive Pro that will only be made available to enterprise customers. Furthermore, HTC’s Vive X accelerator has been “pouring money” into enterprise VR startups.

The proof is in the toolbox
The digital transformation isn’t here; it’s underway at hundreds of companies, including household names like Ford, UPS, and Walmart.
Every year, enterprises take the stage at EWTS to share how they’re using wearable and immersive technologies. They share their experiences and best practices, their successes and failures, and then they return the following year. These “veteran speakers” are another sign of AR/VR’s secure position in the present and future of work: AGCO, Boeing, DHL, Lockheed Martin, and Porsche come back year after year to update peers from Bayer, BP, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, and other Fortune 500 companies on the latest applications for the technology in their operations. EWTS speakers span industries and sectors: Airbus, BMW, Chevron, Colgate-Palmolive, Con Edison, Duke Energy, General Electric, Gensler, jetBlue, John Deere, Lowe’s, Molson Coors, Southwest Airlines, Thyssenkrupp, Toyota, United Technologies, etc. And new faces join every year—This year’s event will welcome AIG, Amazon, American Airlines, Bridgestone, Exelon, Holiday Inn, Philip Morris, Sanofi, Six Flags, and more to the stage. It’s a cycle: Attendees become users who become speakers, and the technology continues to advance.

Beyond pilots
Lockheed Martin has been a longtime advocate of AR/VR, benefitting so much from mixed reality that it’s now teaming up with Microsoft to sell mixed reality apps to other businesses in the airline and aviation industry. Rollout is growing at BMW, too: The luxury auto manufacturer is providing all its U.S. dealerships (347 BMW centers and select MINI dealers) with Ubimax Frontline running on RealWear HMT-1 head-mounted devices. Shell is also deploying RealWear’s HMT-1Z1 through Honeywell in 12 countries and 24 operational sites. And last year, Walmart announced it was putting 17,000 VR headsets in its U.S. stores for employee training. These aren’t mere pilots. At AGCO, Boeing, and other large manufacturers augmented reality is a standard workforce tool for a variety of tasks in multiple areas of operation. In the last three months alone, Fortune 500 companies in the news for using AR/VR included Audi (Volkswagen), ExxonMobil, Nissan, and even Farmer’s Insurance. Deloitte estimates that over 150 companies in multiple industries, including 52 of the Fortune 500, are testing or have deployed AR/VR solutions. The 6th annual EWTS is the proof.

Reality check
It helps that the tech is steadily improving, of course. This was the first year that I walked around AWE and was truly amazed by the quality of immersive experiences I tried. So, here’s a reality check: AR/VR is having an impact across business and industry and it’s not going away. It’s not future tech; it’s now. And it’s not just AR/VR glasses and headsets but body-worn wearables, as well, sometimes in conjunction with VR as well as in applications warranting an entire day – the third day of EWTS 2019 – devoted to below-the-neck and safety wearables. We’re talking biometric, environment and location tracking, employee ergonomics, partial and full-body exoskeletons—it’s all here today in the enterprise.

 

Image source: The Verge

Is Digital Transformation for Men? Female Factors in Wearable Tech Design

In 2015, NASA celebrated over 50 years of spacewalking. Three years later, in March 2018, the agency called off the first all-female spacewalk due to a shortage of smaller-sized spacesuits. The walk-back led to a Twitter storm, with women sharing hundreds of stories of their own ill-fitting work uniforms and oversized ‘standard’ gear; but “It’s not just spacesuits,” one woman tweeted: “It’s public spaces like bathrooms, cars, cockpits, office air conditioning, microwave installation heights, Oculus, military fatigues…an endless list.”

In December, I wrote about the phenomenon of patriarchal coding. A feeling that today’s VR headsets were not designed with women in mind set me on a trail of research that revealed I’m not alone in feeling this way and that the majority of the products and systems we use every day are designed by and for men. This phenomenon affects every aspect of women’s lives – it even endangers our lives – and it’s unintentional for the most part, which makes it all the more frustrating. Sexism is so ingrained in our society that women’s unique needs and biology (like the fact that we have breasts) are excluded from reality, even of the virtual kind.

My main point then was that wearable technologies – the body-worn sensors being integrated into organizations’ EHS efforts, exoskeletons taking a load off workers’ backs, and VR headsets being hailed as the future of job training – exhibit coded patriarchy and risk further alienating the female workforce. Wearables that are replacing or supplementing traditional PPE (personal protective equipment) cannot succumb to the same biased or negligent design as have automobiles, office buildings, etc., for the future economy and growth of the workforce depend upon improving job prospects and working environments for women.


The history of man

Women and the female perspective are largely missing from human and world history (as is often the non-western point of view) and entirely absent in the fundamental research underlying the foundations of modern life, including economics and urban planning. The star of the show is “Reference Man,” a 154-pound Caucasian male aged 25 to 30, who has been taken to represent humanity as a whole when it comes to the design of everything from power tools to the height of a standard shelf. Take medicine: Though women process drugs differently, medications are tested only on men. Cars: For decades, car safety testing has focused on the 50th percentile male. The most common crash-test dummy is taller and heavier than the average woman, with male muscle-mass proportions and a male spinal column. This is how “standard seating position” was determined. Women, however, sit further forward in the driver’s seat and thus are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash. In 2011, the US began using a female crash-test dummy, though not an anthropometrically correct one. Testing with a pregnant dummy? Forget it.


Beyond product ergonomics

It’s annoying that so many gadgets we use are one-size-fits-men, and it’s dangerous. The world is less safe for women because we haven’t been factored into the design of not only physical products but also the software behind everything. Consider navigation apps, which provide the quickest and shortest routes to a destination, but not the safest; or voice recognition and other AI tech, which is male-biased and also becoming indispensable to how we interact with our devices and how systems make major decisions affecting humanity. Google’s voice recognition software? 70% more likely to accurately recognize male speech. Apple’s Siri? When she launched, she could help a user having a heart attack but didn’t know what “I was raped” means. (Side note: the heart attack symptoms healthcare professionals are taught to identify are actually male symptoms.)

Last year, Amazon had to scrap an experimental recruiting tool that taught itself to prefer male candidates for software development and other technical jobs. How did this happen? Because the computer model was trained to observe patterns in resumes from the previous ten years, most of which were submitted by men since the tech world is notoriously, overwhelmingly male. What’s frightening is that in a 2017 survey by CareerBuilder, over half of U.S. HR managers said they would make artificial intelligence a regular part of HR operations within five years. That means women will have to combat unfair algorithms in addition to unconscious bias in order to advance in the workforce. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty says it’s up to businesses to prepare a new generation of workers for AI-driven changes to the workforce. In a world in which AI will impact – and perhaps determine hiring – for every existing job, the fact that women and minorities are disproportionally left out of the teams behind the AI revolution is tragic.


The data gap at the heart of the workplace 

Occupational research has traditionally focused on male workers in male-dominated industries. Few studies have been done on women’s bodies and job environments, so there is little occupational health and safety data for women. The uniforms in most professions are therefore designed for the average man’s body and the why behind trends like the increasing rate of breast cancer in industry remains unknown. Relying on data from studies done on men may explain why serious injuries in the workplace have gone down for men but are increasing among women workers. This despite that, for the last three years, women have been entering the workforce at more than twice the rate of men. (You do the workers’ comp math, employers.)

When we talk about using wearables for EHS applications, oftentimes we’re speaking about body-worn sensors that can detect biometric and environmental data affecting a worker’s health and safety. The software behind these applications might send an alert to the worker or wearer when a reading reaches a certain threshold, but how is that threshold – the danger zone – determined? Say we’re tracking a worker’s exposure to a particular chemical. Women and men have different immune systems and hormones; women also tend to be smaller, have thinner skin, and have a higher percentage of body fat than men—differences that can influence how chemicals are absorbed in the body. Without female-specific data, the threshold at which a wearable device is set to alert the wearer would likely be higher than the toxin level to which a female worker can be safely exposed, putting women at greater risk of harmful exposure. The problem is two-fold: We don’t have data about exposure in “women’s work” and we’re clueless when it comes to women (increasingly) working in male-dominated industries. At this point, it would take a working generation of women to get any usable data on long-latency work-related diseases like cancer.


No PPE for you

Construction is one of those male-dominated industries in which standard equipment and PPE has been designed around the male body. Though there is little data on injuries to women in construction, a study of union carpenters did find that women have higher rates of wrist and forearm sprains, strains and nerve conditions than their male counterparts. To comply with legal requirements, many employers just buy smaller sizes for their female employees but scaled-down PPE doesn’t account for the characteristics (chests, hips and thighs) of a woman’s body. Moreover, it doesn’t seem cost-effective for employers to meet the order minimum for those sizes when women make up less than 10% of the construction workforce. Giant overalls are one thing, but the straps on a safety harness not fitting around your body? How is a woman supposed to perform at the same level as a man if her clothing and equipment are a hindrance? If oversized gloves reduce her dexterity, a standard wrench is too large for her to grip tightly, or her overly long safety vest snags on a piece of equipment? Already a minority in the sector, women don’t usually complain about ill-fitting PPE. Instead, they make their own modifications (with duct tape, staples, etc.). And it’s not just women; dust and hazard eye masks designed for the Reference Man also put many men of color at a disadvantage.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. A standard-sized bag of cement could be made smaller and lighter so that a woman could easily lift it. Exoskeletons might be a solution, but so is going back to the drawing board: Jane Henry’s SeeHerWork, for example, is an inclusive clothing line for women in fields like construction and engineering, fields with lucrative, equal-pay careers and massive labor shortages—fields that need women.


Designing the workplace

Guess what? Men are the default for office infrastructure, too, from the A/C (women tend to freeze in the workplace, which hurts productivity) to the number of bathrooms and stalls (a single restroom with urinals serves more individuals). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women represent nearly two-thirds of all reported cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, which indicates that workstations are less ergonomic for women. Open office plans are conducive to socializing and breaking down hierarchies, right? No, they actually encourage sexist behavior. A 2018 study documenting the experiences of women in an open office designed by men – lots of glass, identical desks, group spaces – found that the lack of privacy created an environment in which female workers were always watched and judged on their appearance. Designers today are beginning to use virtual reality to design factory layouts and workstations, even assembly processes, but that doesn’t mean they’re factoring in female anatomy or putting headsets on women workers to get their input.

I spoke with Janelle Haines, Human Factors Engineer at John Deere, who uses virtual reality to evaluate the ergonomics of assembly, about her experiences performing evaluations on women workers. Most of the people she gets to put in a VR headset are male; however, there are a few female employees available at times for evaluations. “Fitting the job to the worker hasn’t [always] been a focus. Even in the last fifteen years that I’ve been studying ergonomics, there has been a huge shift in learning to focus on ergonomics. It has become a kind of buzz word…There are some jobs that have been at John Deere for years and years, since we started building combines, that aren’t a great fit for women, but going forward with new designs we’re using VR to make sure the workstations and what we design do work for women.” Ergonomics aren’t a new area of study, but Janelle points out a promising shift in thinking and a deliberateness that’s necessary “going forward.”


The future of work: Uncomfortable = unproductive

Smartphones have become standard work tools in many jobs. Men can use the average smartphone one-handed; women cannot (smaller hands). This kind of oversight cannot be carried into the next wave of mobile: Wearable technology. That women have different muscle mass distribution and vertebrae spacing, lower bone density, shorter legs, smaller wrists, lower centers of mass, etc. matters when it comes to the design and application of wearable devices like partial and full exoskeletons, connected clothing and gear, augmented reality smart glasses, and virtual reality headsets. Early decisions in developing transformative technologies can create a weak foundation for the future of that tech.

Already women are at a disadvantage in VR. As far back as 2012, researchers found that men and women experience virtual reality differently and a growing body of research indicates why. Motion parallax (preferred by men) and shape-from-shading (preferred by women) are two kinds of depth perception. What creates a sense of immersion for men is motion parallax or how objects move relative to you, and this is easier to render or program in VR. For women, it’s shape-from-shading, meaning if a shadow is ‘off’ it will ruin the immersive experience for a woman. As shape-from-shading is more difficult to emulate, most VR tech uses motion parallax. Then there are the poor ergonomics of most VR headsets for women (too heavy, too loose, etc.). Why does this matter? Because VR is being hailed as the future of learning and job training; VR is going to be crucial for filling millions of vacant positions and for upskilling the workforce as automation advances. When one half of the population experiences the technology differently than the other half, that’s an unequalizer, especially when all indications point to people spending more time in VR in coming years.


Stop defaulting to men 

The long legacy of researchers overlooking women – not wanting to pay for double the testing – has looming implications at a time when we’re collecting data from more and more ‘things’ and powerful computers are making important decisions for us. It’s bigger than a spacesuit; we’re making decisions based upon biased, incomplete data, feeding that data into algorithms that can exacerbate gender and other inequalities, create risks among certain populations, and encode prejudices into the future. The answer? First, inject more diversity into the labs and back rooms where the future is being designed and engineered. Second, hire female designers and stop using men as a default for everything!

 

 

In writing this article, I drew heavily on the efforts and writings of a number of inspiring women; including Caroline Criado-Perez, author of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men,” Abby Ferri of the American Society of Safety Professionals, and Rachel Tatman, research fellow in linguistics at the University of Washington.

 

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 speaker lineup, available on the conference website.

XR in HR: AR/VR for a Different Kind of Training in the Workplace

A report released last year by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) contained some shocking findings:

  • 45% of harassment claims made to the EEOC are sex-based.
  • At least one in four women experience sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • Around 90% of employees who experience harassment – whether sexual or on the basis of age, disability, nationality, race or religion – do not file a formal complaint.
  • 75% of victims who do report harassment experience retaliation.

The bottom line

Every year, sexual and other types of harassment cost companies dearly in time and money. According to the Center for American Progress, workplace discrimination costs businesses approximately $64 billion annually. Hostile work environments also negatively impact productivity, contribute to high turnover, and harm a company’s reputation. And it’s not just harassment. According to McKinsey, unconscious bias is a 12 trillion-dollar issue, which means we could add $12 trillion to the global GDP by 2025 by ‘simply’ advancing gender parity and diversity in the workplace. Gartner finds that inclusivity is profitable, especially at the executive level—inclusive companies outperform industry standards by 35%, generate 2.3 times more cash flow per employee, and produce 1.4 times more revenue. Evidently, diversity pays in money, innovation, decision making, and recruitment.

In compliance with federal and state laws, Fortune 500 companies and startups alike spend more than $8 billion on anti-harassment and diversity training each year. Nevertheless, the above stats are not improving; in fact, at current rates, it will take over a century to achieve gender equality in the workplace. Lab studies show that today’s methods for diversity training can change a person’s attitude for only about 30 minutes and can actually activate a person’s bias. Harvard studies of decades’ worth of data back this up, showing that diversity training is largely ineffective and even counterproductive.

Corporate diversity programs are failing. Harassment training at work is not making an impact. Only 3% of Fortune 500 companies today disclose full diversity data, while 24% of employees say their superiors fail to challenge sexist language and behavior in the office. What to do?

Current methods

Most onsite sexual harassment training consists of a speaker, video and/or awkward roleplaying. There are also classroom-style slide presentations, seminars, written content, and online courses. In other words, traditional corporate harassment prevention training is pretty lackluster and unlikely to end a culture of enabling harassers and dismissing victims’ claims. It’s now standard for employers to offer anti-harassment and discrimination training, but bias training for hiring and performance reviews is less common. This is a serious weakness, for employees who don’t understand their bias don’t know when that bias influences critical business decisions.

A better way

Virtual reality is gaining traction in enterprise for job training, especially for industrial environments. Studies show that people are quicker to understand abstract concepts and retain information longer in immersive environments compared to traditional training methods. Used by professional sports players and manufacturing workers alike, VR can create muscle memory (ex. operating heavy machinery) and simulate an infinite number of real-world customer service scenarios (soft skills training), but can the technology change attitudes?

Stanford researchers have been studying the impact of VR on human behavior and the medium’s ability to inspire empathy. In a recent study, they found that VR is more effective than our imagination for combating inter-generational bias. Because VR requires less cognitive load yet feels real, it encouraged subjects of the study with negative group attitudes to adopt the point of view of the “other.” If VR can affect cognitive behavior at the heart of real social issues, it suggests a profound tool for changing workplace culture.

The first time you can actually walk in someone else’s shoes – real uses cases of VR for anti-harassment and unconscious bias training

NFL

In 2016, the NFL turned to Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab in an effort to confront racism and sexism in the league, which struggles to retain women and minorities in leadership positions. The Lab had been developing scenarios designed to unsettle the user and engender empathy. The NFL wanted to use these scenarios with league staffers and players, to put them in the role of the victim. In one scenario or virtual simulation tested by the NFL, the user’s avatar was that of an African American woman being angrily harassed by a white avatar. When the user would reflexively lift his arms in self-defense, what he saw was his “own” black skin.

Equal Reality

In 2017, Equal Reality gained attention for its VR unconscious bias training. Unconscious bias is the most universal and stifling barrier to women’s progress in the workplace. Examples of unconscious bias towards women are reflected in findings such as:

  • Female employees negotiate as often as men but face pushback when they do
  • Female employees get less access to senior leaders and mentors
  • Female employees ask for feedback as often as men but are less likely to receive it than their male counterparts

Equal Reality develops virtual simulations, in this case workplace scenarios in which users interact, taking on multiple perspectives in order to learn to identify examples of pervasive bias as well as more subtle discriminatory behaviors. In 2018, realizing that paid actors and ordering a bunch of sailors to sit in a classroom and talk about behavior were doing nothing, the Royal Australian Navy adopted Equal Reality’s solution. Wearing a headset and holding two controllers, sailors are able to experience what it’s like to be in a wheelchair, treated differently and excluded from workplace conversation because of one’s disability.

Through My Eyes

In April of this year, BCT Partners and Red Fern Consulting announced a VR program called Through My Eyes, which trains employees to recognize unconscious bias through virtual scenarios. In one simulation, the user is a bystander, observing how bias plays out in different situations. In another, the user is one of the characters in the scene. Users’ choices and reactions in the virtual environment generate data, which is fed back to them and used to customize the training to each individual.

Vantage Point

Two-time survivor Morgan Mercer started the VR corporate training platform Vantage Point, which takes VR beyond simple roleplaying to illustrate the subtleties of sexual misconduct in the workplace. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, the user’s response to each situation in Vantage Point changes how the scenario plays out. The scenes involve a lot of grey area and are designed to teach both men and women communal accountability. In one simulation, the user’s talking with four coworkers, one female and three male, about an upcoming conference in Las Vegas. Trying to discuss her presentation and noticeably uncomfortable as the men begin to engage in locker room banter, the woman is suddenly grabbed by her boss who tells her to “pack something fitting.” Depending on how you, a witness, respond, the narrative either escalates or deescalates.

In another simulation of a colleague’s going-away party, a male coworker approaches the new female manager taking over the position. The user must grapple with what’s acceptable and what’s not, what’s a joke and what crosses the line, and when charisma becomes chauvinism. In the end, he or she must make a choice between speaking up or calling HR.

Vantage Point has three training modules: Bystander intervention, identification of sexual harassment, and responding to harassment when it happens to you. Last year, Tala (a fintech startup) and Justworks (the payroll platform) piloted the technology. In addition, Mercer draws on scientific research to develop best practice guidelines for the solution, which she hopes will become the standard for sexual harassment training. Though it’s too soon for any hard statistics, Vantage Point is receiving a lot of interest from investors and Fortune 500 companies alike.

Protecting workers

VR doesn’t tell you how to behave; it places you in the proverbial shoes of another, compelling you to empathize with that person because it feels like whatever is happening is happening to you. Doctors today are using VR to better understand the patient experience and improve their bedside manner. Further proof of the technology’s power is its use in PTSD treatment programs and transition programs for soon-to-be-released prisoners. In enterprise, anti-discrimination and harassment training doesn’t have to be a box checked off by HR; with VR, this training might actually end real-world harassment and boost company performance.

 

Image source: Equal Reality

 

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.

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.

In-flight VR, Smart Bands at the Resort, and AR Glasses for Tourists

Today, “every business is a tech business” and in every industry consumers’ digital customer service expectations are growing. A decade after the U.S. travel and hospitality industry emerged from the 2008 recession; industry players, including airlines, airports, cruises, hotels, and other travel brands, are feeling the heat to compete and earn the loyalty of a new customer base via emerging technologies.

Trends and Pain Points in Travel and Hospitality   

Shift in Target Demographics

Though Gen Y overtook Baby Boomers as America’s largest living generation in 2016, the demographic with the most purchasing power around the world today is millennials, and they don’t vacation like their parents. Travel brands need to both court and cater to millennials, who prefer to spend their money on experiences (like immersing themselves in another culture) over material objects and are more spontaneous and comfortable with tech than previous generations.

Competition

First it was online travel agents like Expedia and Priceline; then came Airbnb and VRBO—OTAs and the sharing economy have rocked the travel industry, altering distribution channels, taking business away from traditional industry players, and forcing airlines and hoteliers to compete online to win back customers. According to ADI, approximately 60% of all travel reservations are now made online despite Loyalty Rewards Programs for travelers who book directly through the airline or hotel. Another consequence of OTAs and millennials’ spontaneity is that the window between booking a ticket and boarding a flight is getting smaller, putting strain on travel and hospitality operations.

Heightened Consumer Expectations

We live in an experience economy, where it’s becoming critical for businesses to have customized offerings and personalized services. Millennials want to do something new and memorable on each trip but they also want personalized experiences and don’t mind sharing their data to receive customized travel recommendations. In a time when a single data breach can destroy a brand, travel companies must walk a fine line between capturing enough data to personalize services and respecting guests’ privacy and security. In addition to personalization, today’s consumers consider sustainability and wellness in their travel choices, expecting hotels to “go green” and have state-of-the-art fitness centers, healthy food and beverage options, even yoga classes.

Labor Gap

Within the leisure and hospitality sector, there are an estimated one million job openings in the U.S. alone. As companies struggle to attract and retain the right talent to fill the experience void, reduced immigration is impacting the supply of transient and hourly workers that have come to make up a large portion of the hospitality workforce. Moreover, recruitment for new job roles needed to incorporate the latest tech into the travel experience is proving difficult and high turnover is discouraging investment in skills development for new and existing employees.

A Testing Ground for New Tech

Historically, the travel industry has been quick to adopt new tech: In the late 1940s, before most consumers had a television set at home, hotels began to install TVs in the guest rooms. Travel companies were also among the first to leverage the World Wide Web to increase sales, with the first hotel websites launching in 1994; and one of the very first use cases for Google Glass came from Virgin Airlines in 2014. But the challenges above call for real implementations and dramatic digital transformation.

Applications for Immersive and Wearable Tech in Hospitality

Virtual booking

“Try-before-you-buy” shopping apps have become an early hit for augmented and virtual reality, especially for big-ticket items like furniture and real estate. Travel, too, is expensive and consumers need a lot of information before deciding to book. Virtual reality presents the ideal medium for selling an experience, giving travelers insight that no amount of text on a website or any number of customer reviews can match by allowing them to essentially preview their trip – from their seat on the plane to the view from their hotel and local attractions – before committing.

In 2017, Amadeus unveiled the first VR booking experience in which users shop for travel in a virtual world. Users can search for flights, review cabins, compare hotel prices, and book rooms all through a VR headset. And while you might think that as VR gets more and more immersive it will replace travel altogether, current research has found that visiting a destination in VR actually makes one more inclined to visit the real place. If VR hits critical mass at $199 per headset over the next few years, VR travel planning and booking may very well be one of the killer apps for the technology.

Marketing

Hospitality brands spend a lot on marketing. AR/VR is becoming a major differentiator in this area, as hotels themselves adopt the technology as a selling tool. Hundreds of hotels now offer virtual tours. For instance, Atlantis Dubai offers a virtual tour on its website so guests can explore the hotel’s luxury rooms and on-site experiences like swimming with dolphins from the comfort of home. Once on the website, consumers are more likely to book directly through the hotel, as well. In 2017, Marriot launched a VR tour of its meeting rooms, allowing corporate clients and event planners to virtually walk through its function areas from anywhere. During an on-site tour, one might even digitally augment the space to get a more realistic feel for a venue’s suitability. Palladium also uses VR, not to inform prospective guests but instead to educate travel agents about its properties. Palladium salespeople go around giving agents VR headset-enabled virtual tours so they can better sell the chain’s hotels to customers. Some hotels even offer on-site AR/VR experiences, usually smartphone-enabled, that both entertain guests and enlist them in the brand’s marketing efforts via social media sharing.   

Operations

There are a lot of moving parts in the travel and hospitality industry, requiring staff to be in constant communication in order to provide seamless customer service around the clock. Management and staff have traditionally kept in contact via two-way radios, a method prone to lost connections and poor audio quality. Looking for a better way to communicate, Viceroy Hotels turned to wearables: At the Viceroy L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills, hotel staff piloted Samsung Gear S3 smartwatches to manage guest requests and resolve incidents more efficiently than they could with a walkie-talkie or phone. The pilot showed response times going down from 3-4 minutes to just 60 seconds; the solution was also less intrusive, sending silent vibration alerts to the staff members best placed to serve a guest’s need. Houston’s Hotel Alessandra also uses Samsung smartwatches for fast and discrete communication among employees, improving the experience for both guests and staff.

Entertainment & Tour Guide

VR headsets are popping up in airport lounges, on flights, and in hotel rooms alongside other amenities. Qantas, for one, has experimented with providing virtual experiences and games on high-quality VR headsets to first-class passengers; and in 2015, Marriott launched its “VRoom Service,” whereby guests can order a Samsung Gear VR headset delivered to their room—a step up from streaming services and on-demand movies. The headsets come preloaded with “virtual postcards” that not only entertain but also sell users on new destinations (where they can stay in a Marriott hotel, of course).

Others are using mobile AR apps and VR headsets for guest engagement. For example, Holiday Inn created an AR app allowing guests to view virtual celebrities in the hotel through their smartphones; while at London hotel One Aldwych, a whiskey cocktail called The Origin comes with a VR headset showing how and where the whiskey was made—a truly unique cultural experience made possible by VR. Hotels and travel brands are also developing custom AR tour guide apps, like a mobile concierge that provides real-time, heads-up navigation and personalized recommendations for loyalty program members, and enhances sightseeing with digital information overlaid on the landmark itself. The Hub Hotel from Premier Inn in the UK does this with special maps on the walls of every room, which, when viewed through a smartphone, display information about local places of interest—an unexpected, value-added feature for the hotels’ guests.

Airlines and hotels can also adopt augmented reality smart glasses to enable flight attendants and hotel staff to personalize customer service, using facial recognition to greet guests by name and tapping into a customer resource management system, social media and other data sources to bring up information relevant to individual passengers.

Convenience

AR certainly provides convenience by supporting guests and passengers in their native language, showing them directions, etc. Below the neck, IoT (Internet of Things) wearables provide convenience, as well. Case in point: Disney’s MagicBand, one of the earliest and most successful (bespoke) wearable devices in the travel sector, widely used today in Disney theme parks as an all-purpose means of payment, admission and keyless entry for resort guests. In 2017, Carnival announced its Ocean Medallion, a small, waterproof device that can be worn or carried, enabling cruisegoers to embark the ship, enter their staterooms, shop, and make reservations. The Medallion works with Carnival’s Ocean Compass app, which displays personalized recommendations for every passenger with the help of 7,000 sensors installed throughout the ship. Likewise, Meliá Hotels has begun offering waterproof, Bluetooth-enabled smart wristbands by Oracle, which, in addition to serving as a payment method on the Spanish resort of Megaluf, also work at nearby participating merchants like Starbucks.

Training 

Compared to traditional teaching methods, immersive simulations have proven more effective for quick learning and retention of knowledge, which is why major corporations around the world are using AR/VR to train new employees and retrain core staff for new roles. In travel and hospitality, immersive tech can help prepare employees for exceptional scenarios that are hard (or undesirable) to train for in real life like diffusing an angry guest. Need to walk a team through new green housekeeping measures or alterations to the menu? Use VR.

In 2016, Best Western partnered with Mursion to develop a series of VR simulations for front-desk staff to practice interpersonal skills. According to the hotelier, the 60-minute virtual guest interaction training sessions contributed to a noticeable boost in guest satisfaction. Recently, luxury cruise line Seabourn worked with Pixvana to create a VR training solution to help wait staff quickly memorize the dining room’s 105 tables and 12 serving stations. Hilton has used VR with its corporate staff to build appreciation and empathy for the chain’s employees, having higher-ups virtually take part in routine operational tasks like cleaning a guest room and arranging a room service tray.

Conclusion

The convenience of wearables is appealing not just to millennials but to most modern consumers, as are enhanced experiences of physical spaces enabled by augmented and virtual reality. VR will surely become a popular way of shopping for hotels and AR a natural addition to sightseeing and other aspects of the travel experience (on-demand, in-context information). Early adopters in the travel industry are poised to define the competition, providing experiences to guests they cannot get at home, attracting new workers with brand new tech for training and carrying out daily tasks, empowering staff to provide superior, personalized customer service, and easily preparing employees for the roll out of new sustainability and wellness features.

*Learn more about emerging tech in the Travel & Hospitality industry at EWTS 2019: Hear from Blaire Bhojwani of Hilton Hotels, Andy Kozak of JetBlue, Jayson Maxwell of Six Flags, and more.

 

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.

VR: Getting People to Take Safety Training Seriously, Retail Merchandising, and More

Virtual reality is making inroads in the retail industry, at the same time as more and more companies are realizing the powerful potential of VR for training. Here are some of the most recent use cases of VR in enterprise, all of which, when it comes down to it, are customer-facing applications of the technology. The following is evidence of digital disruption ramping up beyond work instructions and collaborative design, to directly impact the products and services that consumers experience everyday:


ADT

In a recent mailer campaign to convey the importance of professional alarm monitoring services, ADT sent out Google Cardboard-like VR headsets that put recipients into a simulated life-threatening situation. Noting a lack of awareness among homeowners around what actually happens during a fire, ADT worked with Harte Hanks to create a VR experience accessible on YouTube that would drive home the potential side effects of carbon monoxide, the physical obstacles that can prevent you from escaping, and other elements of a house fire.

Placing a phone in the viewer sent by ADT, you find yourself in a bedroom filled with smoke. You’re immersed in a mother’s fear and disorientation as she’s awoken by a call from ADT and goes to find her daughter, who refuses to leave without her dog. When the two go downstairs, you see an inferno coming from the kitchen, and then the house loses power. The experience is raw and definitely more powerful than a pamphlet, but at the end of the day it is a marketing campaign to not only change the batteries in your smoke detector every year but also buy ADT’s services. 


Walmart

The retailer is expanding its use of VR beyond employee training to the customer experience, making novel use of its 4,000+ physical stores. Walmart subsidiary Spatial& and DreamWorks created a VR experience based on the new “How to Train Your Dragon” movie that is now touring 40 Walmart store parking lots via 50-foot tractor trailers. In this way, Walmart is able to play host to exclusive VR experiences (featuring VR-powered chairs) and give the masses access to VR overnight—a technology that’s still too expensive for most and that Spatial& views as the future of retail marketing.

By working VR into stores, Walmart and other retailers can cut back on large displays and market products in interactive ways. For instance, shoppers might use a VR headset to put a tent together to test out camping gear or try stowing a stroller in an overhead airplane bin before buying. This is essentially “try before you buy” but inside the store itself. VR can even bring products to life, for example by enabling shoppers to virtually visit the vineyard that produces Walmart wine.


Royal Mail

Mailman vs. dog: It’s a classic TV trope that Royal Mail says prevents postal workers from taking anti-dog attack training seriously. In addition to the cartoon vision of the dog chasing the mailman, the group environment in which this training is traditionally held hurts its effectiveness, as trainees don’t want to be seen taking it seriously. Over the years, Royal Mail has tried videos, brochures, slogans and posters to reduce the number of dog attacks on its employees; now it’s turning to VR.

With around 150,000 postal workers delivering to some 30 million addresses, Royal Mail sees around 2,275 dog attacks per year. Injured employees are unable to finish their routes, which severely impacts customer experience. Looking for a way to isolate the training and eliminate the “banter culture” around dog attacks, Royal Mail began using VR: Now, trainees use smartphones inserted into headsets to experience potential dog attack scenarios, select different actions and receive feedback on their choices. The result: Many units haven’t reported a single dog attack since adopting the VR training system in November 2018. The training was also inexpensive for Royal Mail to pilot nationally.


Kellogg

Accenture Extended Reality, Qualcomm and Kellogg recently teamed up to pilot an eye-tracking VR headset for retail merchandising. The idea is to enable companies to do market research faster, cheaper and on a larger scale. Accenture developed the solution based on a Qualcomm VR reference design headset powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, using eye-tracking tech from Tobii, eye-tracking data analytics from Cognitive3D, and mixed reality software from InContext Solutions. By tracking where a user looks while moving through a full-scale virtual store, walking down virtual aisles, picking up products and placing items into his cart, retailers can determine the best way to stock shelves.

Brands spend a lot of time, money and effort figuring out optimal product placement but are usually limited in the data they’re able to collect (online surveys and in-home user tests can only go so far). Eye-tracking in VR provides richer and more accurate behavioral data than traditional testing. You can observe what users are looking at, for how long, in a realistic shopping scenario; and expand testing to more geographically dispersed participants (mobile VR). In fact, the VR eye-tracking solution has led to insights that directly contradicted some of Kellogg’s prior assumptions, resulting in an 18% increase in the brand’s sales during testing.

 

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.

Excited about HoloLens 2? Looking back at groundbreaking use cases of HoloLens

The big news this week has been the unveiling of the much-anticipated, $3,500 HoloLens 2. The new HoloLens boasts a larger field of view (twice that of the original), higher resolution, faster and more natural interaction, and is reportedly more comfortable to wear than its predecessor. HoloLens 2 has eye-tracking and retina-scanning features, doesn’t require any fitting (making for a more streamlined experience) and even takes hygiene into account in its design. Thus far, reviewers have largely praised the device, with most writers deeming it a great leap forward for Mixed Reality.

Behind the scenes at Microsoft is a team of designers and engineers who clearly listened to feedback from early enterprise users, including major companies like Boeing and Ford that have been using HoloLens for a few years now. Other big names like Chevron, Kiewit, Bridgestone, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Merck, and BT have likewise been testing and using HoloLens. Besides the use of HoloLens, what do all of these companies have in common? They speak at EWTS every year. Indeed, over the last five Enterprise Wearable Technology Summits, we’ve followed Boeing’s and the rest’s stories from proof of concept through rollout. Read on for three use cases of HoloLens that undoubtedly helped Microsoft to improve its Mixed Reality headset.


Assembly at Boeing

Boeing is the first company that comes to mind when I hear HoloLens for business. The company has been exploring AR for years – well before Google Glass – for improving training, reducing design errors, and speeding up maintenance in multiple business units (commercial, space, defense, etc.) In assembly, Boeing workers wear HoloLens to perform the complex task of wiring an airplane, one of the most difficult jobs in airplane production. The wiring of an airplane is several miles long and there is absolutely no room for error. One mistake can lead to a testing failure, costly delay, or worse. In the past, technicians referred to 2D drawings that were multiple feet long and difficult to interpret and apply in the 3D world. Any modifications to the base model would make the job even more difficult.

HoloLens reduces workers’ cognitive load by putting an interactive, 3D digital wiring diagram right in front of the user’s eyes, overlaid on the interior of the plane wherever an electrician is installing wiring. With both hands free to do the actual wiring, Boeing’s technicians complete the task faster. In those areas of the business where Boeing has adopted HoloLens, the company has seen overall process improvements of around 40%. In another division, HoloLens is used to evaluate spacecraft designs, helping to catch issues early on in the design phase as opposed to after production has begun.

(Watch Brian Laughlin and Paul Davies of Boeing go through the multiple ways in which Boeing is applying AR in this joint presentation from EWTS 2017. 

And hear Brian Laughlin, Technical Fellow, IT Architect, Mobile Solution, and Connie Miller, Web Application and HoloLens Developer, from Boeing speak at EWTS 2019 this September in Dallas.)


Remote Support at Chevron

The oil giant has been using and testing HoloLens in various areas of its business around the world. The technology is perhaps most appealing to Chevron for enabling “teleportation,” whereby subject matter experts can be virtually anywhere field personnel need them. HoloLens allows Chevron to address issues quickly on the front lines without paying for travel and makes for safer operations at potentially hazardous sites. A worker in the field wearing HoloLens attached to a hardhat and connected to the Chevron network can share her view through the headset with a remote expert. The expert sees exactly what she is seeing in real time on a computer screen and can augment her field of view with relevant data and media (ex. piping diagrams) while talking her through the troubleshooting process step-by-step. In this way, Chevron inspectors are also able to conduct remote inspections, identifying problems and approving changes through a first-line worker’s HoloLens.

Elsewhere at Chevron, HoloLens is the star of a proof of concept in which HoloLens-wearing design engineers project 3D models or holograms at full scale in order to see exactly what a design would look like in real life. In this case, HoloLens is a verification tool, helping engineers test models for clearance, safety and other issues before fabricating a single part, during construction, and in brownfield environments. Will a piece of equipment be operable and maintainable offshore on a floating production unit? This is the kind of question HoloLens can answer at significantly less cost, risk and effort than previously possible.

(Hear about the latest efforts at Chevron from Ed Moore, Senior Technology Strategist – IIoT Technology Area Manager, this September at EWTS 2019.) 


Design at Ford

Ford has completely overhauled its design process with Microsoft’s HoloLens headset, and the auto giant isn’t done innovating with the technology. In September 2017, following an initial pilot phase, Ford expanded use and testing of HoloLens globally, allowing Ford designers around the world to collaborate more effectively on new vehicles. Rather than completely do away with the expensive and time-consuming 3D clay model approach to refining designs, Ford has added mixed reality to enhance the design process, unleash more creativity on behalf of designers, and dramatically reduce time to market. So, instead of creating a new clay model every time a change is made to a design, Ford’s designers are able to project progressive digital designs onto a base (physical) clay model, viewing these through a HoloLens headset in order to iterate more quickly.

Thousands of decisions go into designing a vehicle. In the past, evaluating a single design change (building a new clay model) could take weeks; HoloLens cuts this down to hours or even minutes. HoloLens also makes it easier for Ford’s designers to collaborate with colleagues on the engineering and management side of the business. In addition, Ford believes HoloLens has the potential to improve other areas of vehicle development, including early product conception and engineering studies, as well as training, sales and work on the factory floor.

(Learn more about how HoloLens and other wearables are employed at Ford when Randy Nunez and Marty Smets take the EWTS 2019 stage.)

Be the first to hear about Boeing’s, ExxonMobil’s, and others’ experiences with the new HoloLens at EWTS 2019 this September in Dallas.

Read about other companies using HoloLens for Design and Asset Visualization here. Also read: 3 Cool Use Cases of HoloLens in Enterprise

Ready for some nostalgia? Remember HoloLens “Share Your Idea” campaign? Read our Top 5 Submissions

 

Image source: techradar

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.

Using AR/VR for Assurance in Insurance

I recently watched a Netflix documentary about the Fyre Festival. Two things from the story really stuck with me: 1) Festival owner Billy McFarland failed to get festival insurance; and 2) He couldn’t (or wouldn’t) listen to reason, as multiple people told him it would be impossible to pull off such an ambitious festival in under six months. At one point, someone tried to show Billy – using a map spread out on a table – that the island venue could not accommodate the number of festivalgoers and luxury villas that had already sold. While watching, I thought about Virtual Reality, not because it’s my job but because immersive technologies might have prevented the disaster that Fyre Festival turned out to be. What if those around Billy had used VR to snap him out of his delusions? Or what if Billy had tried to get festival insurance? Might an insurance agent have used VR to “preview” the festival and ultimately denied coverage? Perhaps that would have convinced Billy to cancel the event.

The insurance industry is, in fact, exploring virtual as well as augmented reality for a number of applications, including risk assessment, accident recreation, remote claims handling, and customer education. AR/VR may also be a solution to the insurance sector’s labor concerns and the answer to rising customer experience expectations.

State of the Insurance Industry

Insurance companies are not exempt from digital disruption or the need to create a more flexible and even virtual workforce for the digital age. As some manual and traditional industry tasks become automated, insurers will need to both recruit and upgrade their talent at a time when the labor market is incredibly tight. This is especially true for the tech, data science and actuarial labor pool (Deloitte). Furthermore, employees impacted by automation as well as Baby Boomers with irreplaceable institutional knowledge will need to be repurposed, which means retraining and leveraging cutting-edge technology to facilitate remote expert mentoring of new workers.

The traditional insurer-insured relationship can be boiled down to a monthly bill or claims submission when something goes wrong; but today’s insurance customers – many of whom are millennials – want more: More convenience and more personalization in the insurance buying and claims processes. Consumers want more control over their coverage through digital channels; they want insurers to leverage advanced sensors and analytics for tracking trends and results that will lower their payments (as in auto and homeowner’s insurance), and they want more innovative and hybrid types of coverage. These and other new expectations are clashing with the long-established culture of the insurance industry, pressuring companies to look for technology that appeals to a new generation of adults seeking insurance.

Applications for AR/VR in Insurance with Real-life Use Cases

Though the insurance sector is usually slow to adopt new technology, augmented and virtual reality are beginning to show up in the ways insurers market and provide their services. Insurance companies are exploring AR/VR as part of marketing strategies, for educating clients, to estimate damage, for employee training, and more:


Customer-facing Applications:

Insurance is a large and valuable market; and with new players offering fast, efficient, digital services, it’s also a fiercely competitive one. Traditional insurers are turning to technology – both the enabler and accelerator of digital transformation – to stay relevant to a changing customer base:

Explaining Insurance Plans

AR/VR can make the complex process of buying insurance easier by simulating real-life situations to showcase the value of various life, health and other coverage plans. Far more powerful than a brochure, website or salesperson, immersive simulations can drive home the need to save for retirement, simplify pension planning, etc.

Consumer Education / Risk Mitigation

In a similar vein, AR/VR can be used to warn clients about dangers and help them prevent the need to file a claim. By allowing insurers to demonstrate both common and exceptional risks in a virtual, risk-free environment, immersive simulations can improve the safety practices of different types of policyholders. For instance, doctors could use VR to practice on a new machine before using it with real patients, employees could learn to identify workplace risks, and homeowners could learn to prevent floods and fires.

Insurers are also toying with VR incident management and training programs that would give customers a fairer rate (ex. virtual driving tests for auto insurance). After successfully completing such a program, the customer would send her results to her insurance agent, verifying her enrollment and qualifying her for discounts (reduced premiums).

Marketing and Customer Engagement

With the ubiquity of AR-capable smartphones, companies today are increasingly incorporating AR into their brand apps and other marketing strategies. Insurers are no exception: AR experiences and VR simulations that create awareness about the importance of buying different types of insurance are part of new marketing and customer engagement plans. In general, insurers are looking to attract and retain new and existing customers by providing informational and entertaining content. This represents a significant move away from the usually distant or aloof position of an insurance company vis-à-vis its clients.

Customer Service

One way to improve the customer experience is to increase an organization’s operational efficiency; for instance, faster order picking in a warehouse leads to faster delivery and higher customer satisfaction. Another way is to focus on those times the customer directly interacts with the business. In insurance, these times are when a customer purchases a coverage plan, files a claim, or contacts support.

In addition to helping consumers understand insurance plans, AR/VR can provide real-time guidance to policyholders on how to fill out claim forms, resolve billing issues, and more. Some insurers are experimenting with virtual customer service (like a virtual support center) and enabling policyholders to interact with adjusters and begin documenting damage in real time through AR. Whether it’s through an individual’s mobile camera or, one day, smart glasses, adjusters can be “on the scene” with the policyholder, reviewing the damages, even taking exact measurements; allowing for faster and more accurate documentation of loss and faster case resolution.


Employee-facing or Operational Applications:

The game of insurance is about risk avoidance, the goal being to convert consumers and businesses into policyholders while driving down claims. AR/VR can be an effective tool for reaching these goals, not just through customer education but also by improving employee performance, making insurance workers shrewder and more efficient:

(Ongoing) Risk Assessment

AR/VR open a number of new capabilities for risk assessors to reduce cost and loss ratios. As mentioned above, auto insurers are considering administering virtual driving tests to determine whether someone is a safe driver before insuring them. VR is also being used to model risk: Assessors can navigate a building before it’s built, thereby improving insurance estimates, and better judge the safety of, say, a warehouse by simulating potential accidents within and evaluating the locations of exit doors and stairs. During risk inspections, assessors could use smart glasses to instantly document and record notes hands-free, and to connect with remote experts who might point out weak spots by augmenting the user’s field of view.

The Internet of Things (ex. smart automobiles, smart homes, etc.) is huge for insurance, enabling predictive analysis and preemptive actions that should reduce the number of high-frequency, low-impact claims. This paves the way for innovative insurance models, like plans that trigger based upon forecasts of loss as opposed to an actual event. Insurers might also use the wealth of data from IoT technologies along with statisticians to visualize and analyze complex data sets in a virtual setting.

Damage Estimation

Most early use cases of immersive tech in insurance come from the property and casualty side of the industry. This is because AR/VR present the ideal tool for safely recreating real-life disasters and estimating repair costs. Through the use of digital building plans and real-time sensor information overlaid on top of a damaged building, AR glasses-wearing agents can carefully review the damage on-site, doing things like seeing behind walls to determine the location of gas lines and other critical or hazardous objects.

Claims adjusters can overlay images of a building’s pre-loss condition for comparison, document damaged areas hands-free (useful for later VR accident simulations) and confer with remote experts. This makes it possible to more precisely estimate damage and process claims quicker, which, of course, pleases customers. AR glasses also allow for remote damage assessments, where an adjuster shares the view of a colleague at the incident site (wearing smart glasses) or looks through the customer’s mobile device to assess the damage without physically being there.

Remote Guidance and Employee Training

Accenture has found that 85% of insurance executives are interested in leveraging AR/VR solutions to bridge the physical and informational distance between newer and experienced employees and between agents and customers. This is especially key in the training of claims processors, who have one of the most important jobs in the industry (investigating claims). As studies show that people learn and retain information better when it’s presented in context over their real-world view, insurance employees should be able to train faster and more effectively “by doing” whether in a virtual environment or via AR-powered remote guidance on the job.

Indeed, leading insurers are finding AR/VR great for training agents at a lower cost, giving them virtual experience that raises their confidence and the accuracy of their work. Immersive training programs can also help insurance agencies prepare employees to work in specific sectors (ex. auto insurance reps learning about engine repair; home insurance reps learning about maintenance lifecycles), so they can make more informed decisions and offer policy-specific recommendations to clients. Remote technical experts might also provide a second pair of eyes, training agents in real time using AR.

Visual Claims and the Claims Process

Alluded to above is the potential for AR/VR to enhance and speed up claims processing by unlocking new methods for evaluating claims and detecting fraud in the field. With AR, multiple agents are no longer required to visit the claim site; just one employee equipped with smart glasses can go, while experts look on, inspecting damages and calculating losses remotely from the office. The time and money saved leads to greater employee efficiency and higher customer satisfaction. Customers themselves can serve in this role using an AR-enabled mobile device or perhaps smart glasses received upon purchasing a policy.

Policyholders are becoming fans of visual insurance claims, which promise more efficient claims processing and quicker payment. AR-powered video solutions can expedite claim settlements by enabling remote inspections at the First Notice of Loss and reducing adjustors’ time in the field (thereby lowering overhead). Customers can show a contact center agent the cause and extent of, say, a car crash, through a live video connection; giving the agent immediate, real-time access to information, including valuable pieces of temporary information like road conditions, vehicle position, skid marks, etc. This significantly shortens the claims process, eliminating not only the usual site visit but also any lengthy back-and-forth communication between agent and customer. The result: More accurate appraisals and faster resolution time.


Conclusion:

The transition from old industry methods to new ways of working with augmented reality will produce a more efficient and cost-effective insurance marketplace, transforming the ways agents interact with customers, enforce policies, and assess claims. Moreover, business and personal use of AR/VR technologies will open new categories of risk exposure leading to entirely new types of insurance.

 

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.

Insider Secrets to Adopting Wearables

Watch this throwback 2016 expert panel led by Upskill’s Brian Ballard, in which enterprise end users from Jacobs Engineering, Powerstream Inc., the AES Corporation, and Intel share their secrets to adopting wearables. Some key insights include referring to the people closest to the problem (i.e. the workers), getting them involved early in the process and allowing them to opt in; creating a partnership between the business and IT sides of your organization; and talking to the standards bodies for your industry from the get-go. In addition, don’t underestimate the impact on your company’s infrastructure, as content and information management are key challenges in this space, especially when it comes to AR.

When is the time to talk about consumer-facing AR apps in enterprise?

The release of Magic Leap One was supposed to be the “magic moment” for consumer AR, the development that finally got consumers excited about augmented reality glasses. Needless to say, it wasn’t. Despite the billions in funding, awesome concept videos and mainstream media attention, Magic Leap did not suddenly big-bang the consumer AR market into existence with the launch of its much-hyped headset.  

Though Magic Leap the product may be “just another HoloLens” aimed at consumers; Magic Leap the company did a lot in 2018 – through strategic partnerships with AT&T, Sennheiser, and Wayfair – to impress upon consumers the potential for augmented reality beyond Google Glass and Snap filters. In addition, 2018 saw a number of relatively normal-looking smart glasses hit the market, including Focals by North and Vuzix Blade, which make a far stronger case than Google Glass did in 2013 for putting our smartphones (and AI assistants) on our faces. And just this week at CES 2019, nreal debuted colorful, 3-ounce AR glasses that look like everyday sunglasses and ThirdEye unveiled its X2 Smart Glasses, “the smallest standalone 6oz mixed reality smart glasses with built-in SLAM.”

Why should any of this matter to enterprises? Is it still too early to talk about consumer-facing AR applications in enterprise that aren’t branded mobile apps? I don’t think so. It’s possible to serve the existing enterprise market and simultaneously prepare for one that doesn’t yet exist. Today’s companies know they must prepare for a future in which augmented reality glasses are a standard tool in the workplace, even if they’re not yet deploying AR solutions; why should companies not prepare for a future in which consumers own smart glasses (or, if not own, are at least accustomed to AR in a heads-up form factor)?

Though AR Insider estimates there are only around 129 million active mobile AR users; there are nearly one billion AR-enabled smartphones around the world capable of exposing their owners to the benefits of AR. This represents a huge potential market with opportunities for new revenue streams and services in retail, travel, hospitality, airports, even field services. There are untapped applications for AR glasses in the consumer-facing aspects of business in industrial sectors, as well: Manufacturer AGCO, for instance, uses smart glasses on the plant floor and for public tours of its factories. With the number of consumer-friendly devices now (or soon-to-be) available, the time is now for organizations to begin innovating around these products in order to engage with customers in new ways, including providing pairs of smart glasses for temporary use by customers during interactions with the business.


Current Consumer AR Market:

Furniture retailers like Ikea and beauty brands like MAC are already capitalizing on AR via new try-before-you-buy features in their mobile apps. Although companies aren’t sharing the data, AR shopping experiences built with ARKit and ARCore presumably help to increase conversion rates and average order values while reducing returns. But are consumers aware that this is augmented reality? Are Snapchat users aware that AR tech powers the app’s face and world lenses? In a recent study by GlobalWebIndex, 70-75% of respondents aged 16-44 said they were aware of AR. Awareness, however, is not the same as experience: In the same survey, only 35% of 16-34s said they had experienced AR in the past month. The best way to sell immersive technology is through experience, the level of which is currently low among consumers. There have been no killer AR apps and I suspect that many smartphone users do not register that they are experiencing AR when they do. I expect this to change as AR is integrated with other everyday form factors, including car windshields and kitchen ovens.

One day, according to analysts and futurists, smart glasses are going to replace smartphones altogether, but the transition to head-worn mobile computing is proving less predictable and slower than imagined. The reality is there are a number of significant barriers to consumer smart glasses adoption as well as a number of positive signs for the future of the consumer AR market. What’s throwing us off, as Charlie Fink points out, is the comparison to smartphones, which took only two years to reach mass adoption. Charlie argues that while the iPhone was innovative it was still a mobile phone, whereas smart glasses are an entirely new product, a new purchase much like the personal computer was in its day and the Apple Watch was in 2015. The adoption factors are similar, too: Design (form), user interface (function), utility (content), enjoyment, cost, and social acceptance.

Both personal computers and smart glasses require(d) big changes in consumer behavior. Mass adoption of PCs took 15 years. I was one of the first kids in my class to have a computer at home. My father, a lawyer, had his own computer at work, so he purchased a laptop for his home office. My brothers and I played games on it (floppy disks!), leading to the purchase of a second “family” computer. Might the new wave of consumer-friendly smart glasses follow this pattern, with businesspeople, designers and technologists first to adopt and convert the rest of us?


Positive signs for consumer smart glasses in 2019

Apple is very serious about augmented reality; Tim Cook calls it a “profound platform” and market researchers are predicting a release date for the company’s rumored AR glasses as early as 2020 (2022 or 2023 is more likely). Given Apple’s design cred and clout with consumers, it’s not hard to imagine Apple being the first to come out with sleek smart glasses that look no different from regular glasses and offer enough style and functionality to make hands-free AR apps a part of everyday life. After all, the Apple Watch has made watch-wearers out of people who never used to wear a watch.

In addition to Apple’s belief in AR and the latest iPhones, which seem to be built for running AR apps, there are other positive signs for consumer augmented reality: Magic Leap is offering $500,000 grants and support to developers who build design, engineering, architecture and other creative software for its headset; and it was just announced that the company’s partnership with AT&T is expanding to include enterprise AR. AT&T has also promised nationwide 5G by 2020, which is necessary for higher quality AR experiences. I can see Magic Leap finding a niche in B2C use cases, which would increase consumer exposure to wearable AR beyond in-store retail apps and social media.

Source: Vuzix

Vuzix Blade and Focals by North are promising, as well, not only because they’re more stylish and lightweight than anything that came before but also because of popular apps like Alexa integrated with the technology. Vuzix and North have taken bold steps into the consumer market: Vuzix, for instance, was marketing Blade on Instagram and at New York Fashion Week. While the company hasn’t even cracked 1,000 followers on Instagram, it is smart to experiment on the social platform that gave rise to influencer culture and has become mandatory for brands today. Vuzix also recently partnered with AccuWeather to provide local weather information to Blade users, who can tap on the glasses or ask Alexa to bring up forecasts right in their field of view. Blade went on sale to the public earlier this month for $999, a price point that’s still too high for consumers but just right for what Vuzix calls “light enterprise” use cases.

I have to say that Focals are better looking than Blade. The cost is the same but the mainstream appeal of North’s branding, social presence, and Warby Parker-esque sales model make Focals (in my opinion) the best effort yet in consumer AR. Focals can replace one’s prescription glasses, sync with Android and iOS devices, and offer a degree of customization: Shoppers can choose between classic and round frames in black, tortoise or gray, and you have to get fitted at either North’s Brooklyn or Toronto showrooms. The integration of Uber and exclusive in-store availability are genius, yet even Focals won’t make smart glasses mainstream.


Investing in consumer-oriented devices outside the workforce

In 2017, DigitalBridge found that 56% of 18-24-year-olds would be more likely to use AR if it were offered to them via a wearable device, and 69% would be more loyal to the brand that offered this. Retailers are arguably having the most success getting smartphone owners to use AR by solving a real consumer pain point. (IKEA Place was actually the second-most downloaded ARKit app in a 2018 survey.) It seems inevitable that AR will reinvent the shopping experience, but why not also the personal banking experience or the dentist’s office, hotel, post office, etc.?

I don’t know which device will win over consumers or what the breakthrough app will be, though it will definitely be practical as opposed to a game. Nevertheless, with AR invading our cars and homes and startups introducing new consumer-friendly smart glasses, consumers should have more opportunities to experience the technology in 2019. Businesses that regularly interact with consumers don’t have to wait for smart glasses to completely usurp smartphones to begin benefiting from consumer-facing applications of devices like Blade. My prediction is that 2019 will be the year of light enterprise use cases, with companies purchasing early consumer smart glasses for employees to interact face-to-face with end customers and for consumers to use in places of business.

It’s telling that one of the very first use cases of Google Glass involved Virgin Airlines staff processing first-class passengers for their flights and that every automotive manufacturer seems to be experimenting with “loaning” AR headsets to shoppers in dealerships. There is ROI in businesses investing in consumer smart glasses if it solves a customer problem or improves customers’ interactions with the business. The other side to this is that consumers do want to try immersive technologies but they don’t want to pay for the devices right now. Here are three applications I imagine business-wide:

  • Product testing: Enabling consumers to clearly envision a product or service. Right now, mobile AR apps offer this but there hasn’t been much innovation around incorporating smart glasses into the in-person shopping experience, improving the in-store experience, and drawing customers back into stores. (Imagine entering a grocery store and grabbing both a cart and a pair of smart glasses to help you make informed decisions or being able to preview how to use a KitchenAid blender while at Bed, Bath & Beyond.)
  • Guidance and context: Showing directional information via a digital overlay in airports, malls, banks, and other large places of business. No physical signs, reduced frustration, and less pressure on employees to direct customers. Additionally, providing contextual information via digital overlay to help customers make decisions (nutrition information, product reviews, etc.) and get more out of their experience of the business.
  • Engagement: Beyond marketing gimmicks, engaging consumers to interact in new ways with products, buy more and stay longer at the business, increase brand loyalty, etc. (Imagine wearing smart glasses around a wine store to learn about where each bottle came from, hear stories about famous wine-producing regions, read reviews, etc.)

Conclusion

Personally, I’m excited about all the new consumer-friendly AR products, and not because I think they will be a hit or want to buy one myself. The arrival of products like Blade and nreal light marks an intermediate stage in consumer smart glasses adoption in which businesses provide consumers with the opportunity to use these devices risk-free in the (non-industrial) office, at stores, in office reception areas, etc. 2019 should see an expansion in enterprise use cases beyond industry into more mundane areas of business and commerce, in turn providing a much-needed push to consumer AR.

 

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.

 

Image source: nreal