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.

All the Enterprise News Out of AWE USA 2019

One of the major takeaways from the 10th annual AWE last week was that enterprise is where the AR/VR market is growing. It was clear that there are serious – and real – enterprise applications providing ROI today to both large and small companies. AWE USA 2019 also saw a number of launches and updates from enterprise AR/VR solution providers. Catch up on all the enterprise news below:

Atheer

Atheer announced expanded support for devices that can control and provide input to smart glasses via gestures. The enhanced support for gestures – achieved with advanced machine learning tech – makes it easier to control more types of smart glasses outside of the limited group of smart glasses with dedicated depth sensors and enhances other modes of interaction. Learn more


Bose

In addition to being on track to have over one million BoseAR-enabled devices in consumer hands by the end of the year, Bose – an unlikely enterprise player – is building an industrial BoseAR wearable for loud, noisy and distracting work environments. Learn more at EWTS 2019 Sept. 17-19 in Dallas, Texas, where Bose’s Ilissa Bruser is speaking. Bose will exhibit at EWTS.


Jujotech

Jujotech’s latest solution Fusion AR with WorkLogic  provides connected workers on the job with quick access to IoT-enabled machine information and remote expert guidance. WorkLogic, an open API, works within Fusion AR to send digital work instructions and checklists to AR glasses/headsets, tablets and smartphones. Learn more


Lance-AR

Lance-AR launched at AWE! The consulting and integration company specializes in AR enablement for the enterprise market. Its Enterprise AR Deployment Services are focused on enabling scaled enterprise deployments that deliver real, near-term value with the AR hardware and software available on the market today. Learn more


LogistiVIEW

LogistiVIEW announced its partnership with Fetch Robotics, which combines the AR company’s Connected Worker Platform with Fetch Robotics’ autonomous robotics solutions. The combo enables robot-assisted processes to achieve a “complexity and scale rivaling traditional fixed automation.” It also costs less and is more flexible than traditional automation. Learn more


Logitech

Logitech’s VR Ink Pilot Edition – still a 3D-printed prototype – is like an oversized stylus that lets you draw and design in virtual reality. You can trace designs in 3D space or sit at a table and draw on its surface. The harder you press on the button or tip of the stylus, the thicker the line. The tech offers more precision than a game controller and is more natural to use for creators and designers. Logitech says it’s close to a final design. Learn more


Qualcomm

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Smart Viewer reference design debuted last week. Built on the Snapdragon XR1 Platform, Smart Viewer is designed to help speed up product development for AR/VR headsets. It takes advantage of the XR1’s processing power to enhance the content AR/VR headsets can offer to consumers and enterprise, distributing the workload and tapping into the compute power of host devices. Additional features like eye tracking and six degrees of freedom (6DoF) controllers unlock even more immersion. Learn more


RE’FLEKT

The Munich-based company announced that the REFLEKT ONE ecosystem now includes Siemens Teamcenter. Siemens customers and business units can easily source live data from the Siemens PLM system for content creation on the REFLEKT ONE platform. The connection should dramatically increase the speed and accuracy of AR/MR content creation. Learn more


Rokid

Rokid provided a sneak peek at its next-generation mixed reality glasses called Rokid Vision, which are distinguishable from the Rokid Glass (now ready for mass production) thanks to a dual-screen display and 6DoF technology. The sleek design includes an RGB camera, two depth cameras, and a simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) module that offloads complex 6DoF calculations from the mobile CPU. Rokid is tethered, requiring you to connect it to a USB-C device with DisplayPort support. Expect the Rokid Vision SDK to be released in the third quarter of 2019. Learn more


Scope AR

Scope AR made a few announcements at AWE, including a new customer (medical device company Becton Dickinson) and an expansion of its integrated AR platform at Lockheed Martin. The company also launched an upgraded version of its WorkLink platform, including session recording. This addition means users can capture and save live sessions between themselves and an expert (the live remote video support calls and AR annotations) for later reference—a great way to retain and pass on tribal knowledge. Learn more


ThirdEye Gen

The creator of the world’s smallest MR glasses (X2) announced a new Software Partner Generate Program intended to expand its developer community and provide exclusive partnership opportunities to individual developers as well as large AR/MR software companies. Learn more


Ubimax

Ubimax expanded its industry-proven Frontline platform to support HoloLens. The integration of HoloLens 2 into Ubimax Frontline extends the benefits of Ubimax’s software into mixed reality environments, making it easy to enrich existing and new AR workflows with holographic 3D objects. Preview here


Varjo

Varjo was certainly a crowd favorite at AWE, where the company announced and demoed its new industrial-grade headset. Varjo says XR-1 Developer Edition delivers on its promise of making mixed reality indistinguishable from the real world. The video pass-through headset is capable of producing images with a resolution of more than 4K per eye, making the XR-1 the only device that can seamlessly blend the real and the virtual. Varjo will begin shipping XR-1, which connects via wire to a powerful PC, to developers, designers and researchers in the second half of 2019.

Varjo has also teamed up with Volvo, which uses its tech to test-drive virtual car designs on the road. Check out VentureBeat for more specs and examples of industrial applications for XR-1. In addition, hear from Volvo’s Amanda Clarida at EWTS 2019.


Wikitude

Wikitude now supports all leading wearable technologies, not only standalone devices like HoloLens but also a new spectrum of tethered smart glasses starting with the Epson Moverio BT-35E. This means users can engage with AR content wearing head-mounted devices connected to 5G smartphones. Learn more


Vuzix

The smart eyewear maker revealed that the Vuzix M400 Smart Glasses are now available for purchase at a cost of $1,799 as part of an early adopters program. The device, however, won’t actually ship until September. With a larger memory profile, improved voice recognition/noise cancelling, a new touchpad, built-in GPS, OLED display, and Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 at its core, M400 promises improved interactivity, power consumption and thermal efficiency. Learn more

Catch Atheer, Bose, Lance-AR, LogistiVIEW, Qualcomm, RE’FLEKT, ThirdEye Gen, and other leading enterprise AR/VR solution providers at EWTS 2019.

 

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.

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

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

Fast and Secure Customer Service via AR

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

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


Continual Innovation on the Assembly Line at Boeing

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

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

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


VR Helps Adidas Corporate Teams Find Their Stride

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

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

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


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

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

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


Haptics for Better Handling

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

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


Compressing the Sales Process

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

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


VR for Public Outreach: Clearing the Air About Petrochemical Operations

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

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

 

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

 

Recreating Disasters and Training Claims Adjusters with AR/VR

Warnings and other use cases of AR/VR in Insurance:

The UK-based insurer Allianz used augmented reality to generate customer awareness around the possibility of home accidents. The company built a model house that had an accompanying augmented reality (AR) app called “Haunted House.” Looking into the house through AR-enabled mobile devices, customers could view a variety of virtual accidents and dangers, including a toaster that starts to smoke and sparkle, a sink flood that breaks the bathroom floor, and a cracked aquarium. In a similar use case, Australian-based NRMA Insurance introduced a virtual reality (VR) car crash simulation that gave Oculus wearers the opportunity to feel what it’s like in a crash situation. The user (wearing a VR headset) experienced the accident sitting inside a real car that moved through a hydraulic system in coordination with the action in the virtual world. The goal of this campaign? To promote safe and careful driving.

Customer Service:

Betting on a future where virtual customer service is the norm, PNB MetLife recently launched “conVRse” – an immersive and personalized customer service simulation – across 10 cities in India. Wearing VR headsets, policyholders at a number of the insurer’s branches in India can interact with Khushi, a virtual customer service representative and life insurance expert. MetLife says this is the first time VR is being used in insurance and hopes the on-demand VR support will be a major differentiator that reaches Millennials and other digital savvy consumers.

Explaining Insurance Plans:

The Group Retirement Savings (GRS) division of Canadian insurer Desjardins Insurance has been developing educational tools for some time now in a variety of media. The newest option for learning about Desjardins’ retirement plans? Augmented reality. GRS created a mobile AR app starring a child character named Penny. By downloading the app your way Desjardins and printing out a “Penny Dollar,” consumers can point their phones and activate videos, each one about a different retirement planning topic. AR is just the latest step in Desjardins’ effort to make the process of choosing a convenient retirement plan less confusing and stressful.

Advertising:

Liverpool Victoria (UK) partnered with Blippar to make AR newspaper flyers that, when viewed through users’ phones and the Blippar mobile app, come alive. What appears is a 3D model of a house that you can explore by tilting your device, discovering in the process all sorts of objects that can be insured within (ex. car, pet, etc.) Users can even order insurance right from the app.

Damage Estimation:

Live video collaboration tool Symbility Video Connect allows consumers themselves to participate in the insurance claim process by helping adjusters collect information for damage estimation at the first notice of loss. Via the policyholder’s smartphone camera, the insurance adjuster can remotely inspect the damaged property, collecting all necessary data to assess the claim object and process the customer’s claim faster. Though the solution currently works with the customer’s smartphone; in the future insurers might offer something similar complete with a pair of smart glasses upon purchasing an insurance plan, allowing their claims adjusters to cover a wide geographic location.

In a similar vein, Donan (forensic investigation firm) and Matterport (3D scanning camera company) partnered to enable fire investigators to create highly detailed photogrammetry scans turned into interactive 3D models that can be reviewed from anywhere in the world. Using a VR headset, PC or mobile app, investigators can virtually walk through the fire scene in order to more easily assess damages and write an estimate for quicker claim settlement; they can also include the scans in official documentation for structural fire losses. Moreover, the ability to fully document a fire scene could be a gamechanger for litigation; a lawyer in an arson case, for example, could transport the jury to the scene of the fire with VR headsets, making the evidence come alive.

Risk Assessment:

Zurich Insurance’s risk engineers and field inspectors often need their hands free in order to climb ladders and work in tight spaces; it can be really inefficient and inconvenient for these field workers to access necessary data like checklists or site plans on a handheld mobile device, so the Swiss insurance company turned to AR glasses. Wearing smart glasses, engineers and inspectors can view multiple screens of information right before their eyes and consult with other experts (see-what-I-see communication) from the field.

Employee Training:

In 2017, Farmers Insurance announced it had invested significantly in virtual reality for training employees. At the time, roughly 50 new hires had gone through the pilot program, but Farmers had yet to do any comparison studies. Before VR, the home, auto and life insurance company would send employees to a two-story house in L.A., but as the trainers (teachers) damaged the house in the same way with every class, trainees weren’t exposed to enough situations to really learn the trade. New hires wearing VR headsets, however, could walk through six different floor plans and experience 500 different damage scenarios for thousands of training simulations. The virtual training sessions could also be recorded for trainees to review later. For a novice claims adjuster, the more training scenarios, the more comfortable it is to enter a real customer’s home. Farmers reported positive early feedback, noting potential savings of up to $300,000 a year from not having to pay for new hires’ travel to traditional training facilities.

 

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

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

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


Trends and Pain Points in Mining

Bad Reputation

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

Material Resources

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

Siloed Operations

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

Safety & Labor Scarcity

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


Current State of Mining Technology

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


Potential for AR/VR and Wearables

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

Applications of Immersive and Wearable Tech in Mining

Exploration of New Mine Sites

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

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

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

Development and Planning

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

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

Safety

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

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

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

Operations

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

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

Training

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


Conclusion

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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.

The Price of Drugs: Exploring New Realities in Pharma

Drug discovery, development, testing, approval, manufacturing, marketing, sales, and distribution—the pharma industry is defined by a number of processes – some years-long and all highly sensitive – that are coming under increasing strain due to rising demand, changing regulations, pricing pressures, the rise of personalized medicine, and the explosion of available data from new wearable devices. In response, large, mainline biotech firms like Pfizer and Novartis, smaller CMOs (contract manufacturing organizations), equipment manufacturers and others involved in the highly fragmented pharmaceutical sector are looking to emerging technologies to improve efficiency, speed up research and production, widen margins, and guarantee quality and safety.

What is takes to develop a drug

In the past, drugs were discovered either by isolating the active ingredient from a traditional remedy or completely randomly; today, molecular biology or biochemistry is used to manipulate the metabolic pathways related to a disease, with major pharma companies increasingly outsourcing this research to universities and biotech companies. Once a compound (potential drug) is identified, it costs an estimated $1.3 billion to develop it and over a decade to gain approval and begin commercial production. In most nations, only a small fraction of potential drugs is ultimately approved by government authorities, and only a fraction of those ever provide a return on investment.

FDA approval comes only after heavy investment in pre-clinical studies and human trials, which help to determine correct formulation and dosing, as well as safety and effectiveness. Drugs can fail part-way through development and capital can dry up, forcing a company to discontinue testing. While new patented drugs are potentially the most profitable, the time to market is very long. Needless to say, the pharmaceutical business is high-risk, low reward.

Drug production

Pharma is one of the most wasteful industries, losing billions each year in manufacturing costs alone. Production has been plagued by inefficient communication, inaccurate reporting, and poor efficiency and reliability. This is as much the result of the fragmented, globalized, and extremely risk-averse nature of the pharmaceutical industry as the increasing complexity of drugs, stringent standards, and lack of financial incentive. Moreover, the equipment itself is difficult to operate, requiring trained specialists to use and maintain, and many engineers still use long, paper-based procedures. The combination of complex equipment and high stakes make pharma ripe for digital disruption.

Disruptive trends in Pharma in 2019

 As in other industries, data is becoming one of the most valuable assets for pharma companies, but data has to be analyzed and delivered to real people in order to drive smarter, faster (real-time) decision making. The potential is great: Applying machine learning to aggregate data sets from all stages of drug production and distribution, including such sources as new wearable devices, smart machines, track-and-trace initiatives, etc. can help pharmaceutical firms meet regulatory scrutiny, reduce human errors, speed up time to market for new drugs, and even better market products. Though pharma is significantly behind other advanced manufacturing sectors in adopting new tech, a number of trends coming to the fore in 2019 are expected to force the industry’s hand.

Strained manufacturing operations

Biologics are large molecule drugs made from living organisms; used to treat diseases like cancer and autoimmune disorders; produced through complex, carefully monitored manufacturing processes (1,000+ steps); and given through injection or infusion (vaccines, gene therapy, etc.). Though the large majority of drugs on the market are small molecules, biologics are on the rise, requiring expensive manufacturing infrastructure. Drug manufacturing has also been impacted by serialization: Introduced to help combat counterfeit drugs, serialization – whereby each saleable unit of a prescription product is given a unique serial number – slows down packaging and requires manufacturers to update their equipment, software and training. On the other hand, serialization generates loads of data that could provide efficiency-boosting insights via advanced analytics.

Rising demands

Tight government price controls, supply disruptions created by natural disasters, job cuts and other factors have created a shortage of generic drugs and medical staples. There is also great demand for oncological and immune-suppressant drugs and therapies driving increased use of HPAPIs (high potency active pharmaceutical ingredients) in drug manufacturing. As the pipeline of major blockbuster drugs winds down, HPAPIs are becoming a more attractive market; and as a result, more pharma manufacturers are investing in upgrading existing facilities to meet their specialized containment requirements and protect employees. Pharma is becoming a tougher market in general, with politicians, health insurers and consumers calling for pharma companies to reduce exorbitant drug prices while also maintaining standards and production efficiency—a tall order.

Immersive wearable tech in pharma

If you can’t raise prices, then you need to cut costs elsewhere. For pharma companies, this means spending less time and money on R&D and going to market faster. As the drug pipeline shifts to meet demand for personalized medicine (targeted biologics), pharma companies are feeling the pressure to revamp their product lines, factories, and processes to become more streamlined and cost-efficient.

AR/VR

For drug discovery

R&D spending in pharma has been rising parallel to the growing complexity of drug development, leading forward-thinking companies to explore AR/VR as a tool for discovering new drugs faster (and therefore cheaper). If VR-trained surgeons are able to complete procedures faster than non-VR trained surgeons, it follows that pharma researchers would innovate faster with VR than they currently can using computer graphics (CAD) and static models of molecules made of wooden balls and wires. Indeed, whether in the classroom or the lab, virtual reality is proving effective for visualizing and conveying difficult concepts while augmented reality can put interactive complex molecules into the scientist’s real-world environment.

Wearing a VR headset, drug developers can step inside a molecule or compound to see how it responds to different stimuli and quickly simulate complex drug interactions. Wearing AR smart glasses or a mixed reality headset, researchers can manipulate molecules and chemical structures in space – folding, knotting, and changing the shape of the molecules right before their eyes – and tweak a drug’s chemical makeup so it bonds to the protein in question, altering its function to the desired effect. AR/VR decreases the number of errors in the years-long process of drug discovery, which is essentially one of trial and error, by helping “drug hunters” iterate and improve (get to the right shape) faster. As a result, companies are able to develop better drugs with fewer side effects. Immersive tech can also improve collaboration among researchers around the world, eliminating barriers like distance and language by allowing two or more scientists to walk through the same chemical structure together from separate locations.

For manufacturing

Training and education

In other manufacturing sectors, augmented and virtual reality are allowing new workers to learn on the job without making mistakes as well as safely practice operating equipment before using a real machine. Likewise, AR/VR can significantly improve training outcomes for pharmaceutical workers. In addition to “practice runs” on complex pharmaceutical manufacturing equipment even before entering a facility; a process engineer wearing safety smart glasses can learn on the job while still meeting high levels of control and quality by accessing step-by-step instructions and other multimedia support for troubleshooting and repairing a machine right in her field of view or connecting via livestream to a remote expert for guidance and support. Operators and scientists can also use VR to learn the proper principles of aseptic technique and the proper procedures for different laboratory and production environments (ex. the specialized containment and personal protection requirements for HPAPIs). Beyond production, AR/VR can help explain new treatments to doctors and patients, and train nurses to administer a new drug or therapy.

Heads-up, hands-free information and documentation

 In manufacturing in general, data from connected machines is unlocking the ability to perform predictive maintenance, saving manufacturers millions of dollars in downtime; so a systems engineer wearing smart glasses in a pharmaceutical plant could receive real-time, heads-up and hands-free notifications about, say, a location that will soon need replenishment or an instrument that’s predicted to fail, allowing him to catch and address issues in advance, thereby improving efficiency, speeding up production, and lowering costs. Anywhere along the production cycle, digital information can be beamed in this way to augment an engineer’s view and intuitively show him or her what to do. For instance, an engineer could use smart glasses to scan the QR code on a piece of equipment, automatically bringing up work instructions or an interactive diagram tailored to that machine. Engineers could access batch records heads-up and hands-free and record values and videos via voice command, never needing to take their hands or attention away from a process. This is also an easy and effective method for audit readiness.

Remote support

All of this instant, hands-free access to information – presented heads-up and in context – is designed to enable users to work faster and more accurately, but it’s not just the challenges of visualizing complex drugs and the use of incorrect, out-of-date paper procedures, manuals, and documentation that slow down time to market; the need to fly in specialists to a pharmaceutical facility when something goes wrong is another contributor to what has become a years-long, complicated, error-prone and unrewarding process. Immediate ROI and time saved can be had from adopting AR glasses for remote support, especially when users need vendor advice. With augmented reality software, the expert can even draw on the user’s display to highlight specific buttons or connections and drop 3D arrows into her real-world environment in the facility.

Conclusion

The possibilities for AR/VR in the pharmaceutical sector are great and desperately needed. Pharma companies should be taking cues from other advanced manufacturing sectors, which are already seeing results in training, efficiency, quality insurance, and safety through the use of AR glasses and VR headsets. Of course, pharma is a sensitive industry, and new devices open up new opportunities for hackers to gain patient data and secret drug research. Any investments in emerging technologies must be accompanied by investments in cybersecurity.

 

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.

 

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.