Virtual and augmented reality were once the domain of science fiction. Thanks to Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of Oculus Rift, the consumer market for these technologies is growing increasingly competitive. Leading brands like Samsung, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, HTC and Sony are launching offerings, but according to analysts, it may be the enterprise that leads to the rapid adoption and innovative usage of these technologies. The use cases for field service are numerous including immersive training, helping less skilled workers remotely perform technical tasks, and visualizing complex, technical plans.
Deloitte Consulting expects to see VR technologies rapidly adopted by enterprises in the next 18-22 months. And the company specifically cited field service as an industry that stands to benefit from them. ABI Research makes the case for AR, noting that while virtual reality tends to grab the headlines, AR has one foot that remains in the “real world” and will allow more practical enterprise applications. The research firm sees 2016 as a turning point for AR smart glasses, predicting that 21 million units of AR smart glasses will be shipped in 2020, with sales expected to reach $100 billion.
We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting VR and AR devices currently being used in the field.
Daqri Smart Helmet: Protects Workers and Gives Them X-Ray Vision
The most impressive and expensive of the new breed of smart devices, the Daqri smart helmet protects workers and gives them hands-free, “X-ray vision” of their environment. It uses Intel’s 3D RealSense camera technology and is equipped with over a dozen sensors to analyze environments and deliver data to its user. The camera tech allows wearers to overlay maps, schematics, and thermal images to effectively see through walls, pipes and other solid objects.
Price / Availability: $5,000 to $15,000 a unit depending on corporate package. Expected to ship in March 2016.
Tech / Features: Intel M7 processor; Intel RealSense camera tech; computer vision and navigation technology; 360 degree sensor array with high-definition video; thermal vision sensors; 4D Augmented Reality displays; live equipment data visualization.
Cool Field Use: In a pilot project with KSP, a steel mill that produces steel pipelines in Kazakhstan, workers used the smart hardhat to safely access information when they needed it, without having to leave the production line and go back to the control room. The control room data was projected onto the helmet’s visor, leading to a 40% increase in worker productivity and 50% reduction in factory downtime.
Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses
Vuzix smart glasses have made their way into the enterprise: our customer Alstrom found them to be a much better alternative to Google Glass. These Android-based glasses are enhanced with a wearable monocular display and onboard processor, recording features, and wireless connectivity capabilities designed for a wide variety of enterprise applications. They come with pre-installed apps that let users take still photos, record and playback video, track timed events, and link to their phones or tablets. As an Android-based device, users can take advantage of the enterprise Android apps already in existence or create their own.
Price / Availability: $999 (USD) / Shipping now.
Tech Inside: Display resolution: WQVGA Color display; Aspect ratio: 16:9; Field of view: 15 degrees, equivalent to 4 in. mobile device screen seen at 14 in.; Left or right eye usable; OMAP4460 at 1.2GHz; 1 GB RAM; Android ICS 4.04, API 15; 4GB flash.
Cool Field Use: NTT DATA, the Japan-headquartered telecommunications and IT services company, now uses the Vusix M100 to allow continuous, remote monitoring of technicians in the field. Senior engineers can share the point of view of a technician wearing the M100 Smart Glasses working on-site and can provide immediate instruction in real-time using an overlaid augmented reality (AR) marker. Before using the smart glasses, NTT DATA needed at least two engineers at the work site to ensure quality control, resulting in higher operating costs, a heavier burden for senior engineer staff, and reduced productivity.
So far, all of the devices listed use AR rather than VR tech. VR, has mostly gained
attention as a mind-blowing gaming experience. In the enterprise, however, it has potential to radically reduce costs and errors with virtual prototypes. From buildings to complex industrial machinery to power plants and oil tankers, a virtual prototype can be uploaded and inspected safely, more conveniently, and at a lesser cost.
Price / Availability: $599 / 28 March 2016
Tech/ Features: Not yet available.
Cool Field Use: Automobile maker, Ford, has recently added the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to its virtual reality platforms. It’s used with a shell of a car, where the parts such as the steering wheel and seats can be repositioned to match those of a prototype car. Other field service uses are for training technicians.
Osterhout Design Group (ODG) R-7
The Osterhout Design Group started out as makers of high-end night vision goggles. Last year it began shipping its R-7 augmented reality glasses for enterprise applications. ODG has spent over six years developing its smart glasses. The groups says it’s been working with government customers and key corporate partners to build and refine them. ODG’s glasses provide their users with the power of a tablet that has 3D graphics overlay in a hands-free, heads-up format. Packed with positional sensors, the glasses know where you are, where you’re looking, and how you’re moving, enabling a precise AR and VR experience. The plus side for field service is that the glasses are robust and can be used in tough environments.
Price / Availability: $2,750 / Shipping now
Tech/ Features: Runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor and includes Wi-Fi, GPS navigation, and motion sensor.
Cool Field Use: There have been no field service case studies yet, but the company has said the glasses are aimed at the enterprise market. It has also been busy cultivating app partners including Augumenta for gesture control and navigation capability apps; Dysonics to allow for interactive 360° audio that creates more immersive AR/VR experiences; OpTech4D for training and assisted reality designed for oil and gas companies; Paracosm for 3D mapping and AR capability; Scope AR for AR maintenance functionality; and Vital Enterprises to allow tele-presence and remote assistance solutions. Osterhaut does have plans to enter the consumer market, and has raised funding that’s been described as a minority stake from 21st Century Fox.
Though the Meta 2 isn’t out on the market yet, the AR device has already garnered loads of attention. The device launched at Ted 2016 and raised $26 million in its round of Series A funding from the likes of Tim Draper and Horizon Ventures, the fund of Hong Kong billionaire Li Kai Shing. What makes the Meta 2 so different from other AR headsets? Meta uses direct hand interaction, allowing users to grab, touch, and move digital objects - or holograms - just as they would in the real world. Think “Iron Man” or “Minority Report.”
Price / Availability: Development Kit $949; Launch expected in Q3 2016
Tech / Features: Sports a 90-degree field of view, currently considerably wider than other AR systems. It also features a 2560 x 1440 high-dpi display and a see-through headset that the company says allows workers unobstructed eye-contact with other workers.
Cool Field Service Use: Meta 2 is still working with its pioneers, but believes its headset could be used in the fields of manufacturing for smoother workflows, faster assembly, streamlined logistics, hands-on training, remote assistance, and 3D modeling.