Back in August of last year, I asked for good examples of augmented reality (AR), virtual reality, and mixed reality (MR), all together known as extended reality. Unsurprisingly, I saw plenty of examples of the type my original post complained about: visually stunning but almost entirely useless for anything other than showing off. Then there were the augmented-reality glasses, used to recreate a particular workflow that everyone involved eventually agreed was simpler, cheaper, and more effective when done with pen and paper. But there were also solid use cases, through which real time and money were saved and real benefits accrued. And there were examples of advances in hardware and software that decrease cost, increase usability, and begin to make the previously impractical worth a fresh look. Some of these technologies really can be ready for industrial use, today.

My report, “Extended Reality Will Help Manufacturers With More Than Just Training And Remote Assistance,” has just been published. I’ll also be hosting a webinar on March 11: Augmented Reality And Virtual Reality In Industry: Good For More Than Just Training. Please do join if you can. Work is just getting started on a follow-up report, in which I will look much more closely at the link between these devices and data generated by the internet of things.

Man studying a virtual jet engine through VR glasses

One thing quickly became clear as I did this research: Too much attention is paid to rich and fully immersive environments. Most of the success, today, is more mundane. It’s often just about basic virtual reality training and video calls back to base. But if you’re a global organization looking to save time and money by not flying staff to your training centers, that can be a big driver.

Barloworld uses AR to help its service engineers in remote locations across southern Africa and is exploring the potential of video to let customers demonstrate a problem before engineers visit. In Spain, Allianz saves 6.3 million kilometers of unnecessary travel each year, letting loss adjusters review claims by video link. At Nokia, factory workers learn new workflows in VR before relying on AR to nudge and remind them as they start performing the same tasks on the shop floor.

For as long as smartphones have had cameras, field service engineers have used them to get a second opinion from more experienced colleagues. Now, companies such as Microsoft, OverIT, and SightCall productize solutions to that same need in extended reality, reducing the average time to resolve issues in Airbus’ A330 assembly line by 60 minutes and improving field service productivity at Enel by over 100%.

But the single biggest inhibitor to widespread adoption of extended reality tools is a lack of good data — and too few of the players in this space either recognize the problem or demonstrate the capability to do something about it. Digitized manuals and plans aren’t particularly easy to page through on a pair of smart glasses. Rather than reams of digitized pages, field operatives need contextualized atoms of content directly related to the task at hand, and these take time and money to create. Similar effort is required to create the 3D models that drive VR and MR use cases. CAD and PLM systems from vendors such as Dassault, PTC, or Siemens offer one source of data — but these multi-gigabyte models must be simplified to fit in a headset’s limited memory. The computer model must also be ground-truthed to make sure the designer’s beautiful digital vision actually was built in reality.

There’s a lot more to explore here, in the report, on the webinar, and in this ongoing strand of research. Forrester clients can schedule an inquiry call to talk about this. Anyone can schedule a briefing.

(Image source: iStock)