Unlocking workforce productivity with Spatial Computing

At VMworld 2019, in the solutions exchange and in a general session, we showed off a new project at VMware focused on several emerging technologies. The effort is an advanced research and development project under the Office of the CTO xLabs program, looking at how Spatial Computing will impact the future of work.

You might be asking yourself, what is Spatial Computing? Spatial Computing (also known as XR – eXtended Reality) is an umbrella term for technologies relating to displaying and manipulating digital information in spatially contextual ways. Ok, so what does that mean? Let’s start with a few great examples of spatial computing.

Augmented Reality: Delivers significant employee productivity gains

The first is Augmented Reality (AR), the ability to overlay digital information and virtual objects onto the real world. This isn’t just providing a “heads up display” – like smart-glasses –  this is about sensing the world around you and delivering information, data and virtual objects in relation to that 3D world.

Photo: Boeing – using AR to help with assembly and wiring 

An example would be how Boeing uses AR to show engineers how and where to place wiring within their aircraft. Virtual wiring is overlaid onto the real aircraft to assist the engineer with correctly installing the real wiring. This is called augmented workflows. The result? A 90% reduction in first time errors made and a 30% improvement in wiring installation time. For companies like Boeing and other manufacturers this is a game changing productivity and quality improvement.

Virtual Reality: Provides lower cost, safer, more effective training

The second example is Virtual Reality (VR), the ability to place a user in an immersive synthetic environment. Many of you likely tried VR back in 2016 and understandably may not have been impressed or had the impression that VR was just for gaming. In the last 3 years, VR has significantly matured with many new devices on the market and a healthy eco-system. Facebook, Microsoft, HTC, Lenovo, HP and many others offer hardware and software solutions.

Image: OSSO VR – training surgeons in virtual reality

For the enterprise, VR is emerging as an effective training tool. An example would be how healthcare providers are training surgeons on complex medical procedures. VR allows the trainee to practice in a safe, risk free environment. VR also allows the simulation of scenarios that may be difficult to replicate in reality. Results have been surprising, studies show that trainees improved by 230% and were 20% faster than others trained with traditional methods. The studies also highlighted that information retention is dramatically improved. The other great indirect result of using VR for training is that the user is fully engaged and focused while wearing the headset.

A new paradigm in computing

At VMware, we believe that Spatial Computing is a new paradigm of computing that will augment the workforce by bringing together several emerging technologies, it’s not just about AR and VR. Spatial Computing offers so much more when combining AR and VR with technologies such as computer vision, machine learning, robotics, drones, IoT, haptic feedback systems, hand tracking, body tracking, 5G and edge computing.

Together these technologies offer tantalizing opportunities such as:

  • Using computer vision and machine learning with AR to guide workers in real-time during complex or dangerous tasks.
  • Using spatial computing to remotely deliver expert, intuitive and immersive education that replaces or reinforces traditional educational methods.
  • Using 5G and edge computing to deliver high-fidelity or compute intensive spatial experiences to lightweight head worn devices.
  • Using 360 cameras, robotics and haptic feedback to give users virtual presence at real events or real places, extending our experience in places that may not be accessible.
  • Using spatial computing to enable global talent to collaborate on design, architecture, engineering, construction or field work in real-time.
  • Using VR to reduce pain, as a distraction therapy, to aid in physiotherapy or help others empathise with those that are neuro-diverse or have accessibility needs.

Science Fiction or science fact? This isn’t just another VR fad

This sounds like science fiction, but this is science fact today and early adopters are starting to disrupt their industries. 50% of the leading enterprises in manufacturing and engineering are either evaluating or deploying spatial computing today.

VR and AR are not new, yet recent advancements in mobile chipsets, small high resolution displays, near eye optics, depth sensing and new software libraries such as ARKit, ARCore and Unity XR Foundations have made spatial computing possible. Couple this with the availability of quality devices at a reasonable price and spatial computing is now a practical reality for enterprises in 2019.

Since 2016 there has been a 400% increase in the number of devices shipping with 45+ devices available on the market.  It’s important to also recognize that mobile phones and tablets are also AR capable devices. Apple and Google have both made AR an important focus for their mobile operating systems. Microsoft launched HoloLens 2 AR device in 2019 and partner with various hardware vendors to offer a VR headset range called Windows Mixed Reality. HTC, Facebook, HP and others have all released new VR headsets in the last 12 months.

We also see plenty of startups offering spatial computing software solutions focused on immersive training, augmented workflows, office productivity, remote collaboration, design visualization and more. There are also a wealth of digital agencies creating content and custom applications for spatial computing.

8 key use cases where spatial computing brings benefits for the enterprise

So, the technology is real and there’s a healthy eco-system, but what problems does Spatial Computing solve for your organization? Several studies, such as this one by Cap Gemini, have highlighted key use cases for spatial computing in the enterprise and documented the expected benefits.

For virtual reality the primary use cases are:

  • Immersive training
  • Design visualization & collaboration
  • Sales and Marketing
  • Virtual education

Photo credits: Airbus, OSSO VR, Ford

For augmented reality the primary use cases are:

  • Augmented workflows
  • Remote assistance
  • Interactive advertising
  • Augmented locations and wayfinding

Photo credits: Boeing, NHS UK, Bosch

If there’s so much momentum and so many use cases, why aren’t we seeing greater adoption?

As a Chief Technology Officer, Chief Digital Officer or someone responsible for IT, you’ll understand the challenges involved in adopting and deploying new technology within the enterprise, not to mention technology that directly impacts the end user.

A typical example of a spatial computing deployment begins with a line of business identifying the business benefits and driving initial efforts but getting stuck at the proof of concept stage. This isn’t unusual for technologies that may require new devices, end user adoption or new integrations with existing systems, for that, devices and connectivity will need to go via IT.

Today, many of the devices and solutions don’t integrate with IT systems, they can’t be managed or secured, and therefore they won’t be able to be deployed in production.

The other challenges for enterprises are the wealth of point solutions that need to be brought together, the expertise required around a new technology stack, integrating with existing business systems and the cost of creating content. Finally, due to hardware limitations, we expect that enterprises will need to adopt different devices for different use cases, causing further complexity.

Spatial Computing today is difficult to adopt.

VMware & Spatial Computing

At VMware, we are focused on solving our customer’s digital transformation challenges. Spatial computing adoption is a great example of where VMware is uniquely positioned to help. Our focus on any app, any device, and any cloud, allows us to abstract away from existing spatial computing hardware and platforms to deliver a service that, simplifies yet secures the technology for IT, while providing end users a simple and consistent experience. Consider a possible VMware vision with Spatial Computing supported across any device, any app and any cloud.

Our goal is to reduce the obstacles in the way of spatial computing adoption. There are 4 key areas we are focused on:

  • Helping our customers manage and secure new spatial computing devices coming into the enterprise.
  • Helping users access their applications and data on these new devices with a consistent consumer simple and secure experience, on-prem, at the edge or in the cloud.
  • Helping our customers deploy, manage and integrate spatial computing with existing systems and new spatial services.
  • Helping our customers get started with initial spatial computing applications that address key use cases.

We are taking an open and platform-agnostic approach allowing customers the greatest flexibility and choice for their spatial computing solution – and it works with existing VMware products and services.

Interested to learn more?

Our work is an advanced R&D project in the Office of the CTO xLabs program, and we are eager to hear from customers and partners on how they are using or planning to use spatial computing. Please reach out to us at vxr@vmware.com. In the meantime, check out our VMworld session here.

You can also follow us for more information on our twitter account @ProjectVXR or reach out to myself @mcopping@alanrenouf or @arjunatvmw

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