In this blog I will take you through the considerations for any Augmented Reality (AR) / Virtual Reality (VR) enterprise deployment, the tools you will need and the steps to take for a successful rollout.

At VMware we’re working on technology to support Spatial Computing in the enterprise. If you’re not familiar with Spatial Computing, please check out my blog here. Spatial Computing is the convergence of emerging technologies such as AR/VR, computer vision, depth sensing and more.

Like many organisations you are likely evaluating or deploying virtual reality for training or design collaboration purposes or augmented reality to assist in assembly, inspection and repair. Its also very likely that you are either in the proof of concept (PoC) stage or just beginning a production rollout.

For the purposes of this blog, we are NOT covering smart-glasses such as Vuzix, Google Glass or RealWear. We consider these to be “assisted-reality” technologies rather than “augmented reality”. Augmented Reality devices have the ability to present data and content in 3D with context to the physical surroundings, where as most smart-glasses cannot do this (although there are exceptions). VMware already supports these “assisted reality” devices with a large number of successful production deployments. Smart-glasses are typically more mature from a management and deployment perspective over augmented reality and virtual reality headsets.

For AR and VR devices though, many customers are struggling with their PoC or production deployment. This is because until recently, the tools didn’t exist to secure, manage and use these technologies in the enterprise. So, what challenges are enterprises facing?

Challenges you’ll face or are facing

  1. You’re stuggling to get devices deployed. Your IT team won’t deploy devices they can’t or don’t know how to manage and secure.
  2. You have to manually configure each device before distributing it to a user, that’s not practical for a 25+ device deployment.
  3. You can’t easily deploy device profiles, OS updates, applications or content.
  4. Your device doesn’t come with a simple, enterprise user experience.
  5. Your main application doesn’t work well in kiosk mode (i.e. users can’t manage Wi-Fi or other settings).
  6. There’s no security, you can’t control access to applications and content based on corporate users or groups.
  7. Every application has its own set of credentials, not to mention different AR/VR control paradigms.
  8. You’ve bought standalone devices, but they can’t deliver the fidelity of a PC experience.
  9. Your existing 3D content or legacy applications won’t run on your chosen device.
  10. Users can’t securely access your corporate content remotely.

Do these sound familiar? So, how can you solve these challenges?

Five things you need for your enterprise AR/VR soluton

We believe there are 5 pillars to any enterprise AR/VR solution from the perspective of deployment:

 

Lets get an overview on each of these pillars before diving in deep in following blog posts.

1. Device Management Solution

Almost all enterprises today have existing IT systems (mobile device management or MDM software) that manage devices within their organisation such as phones, tablets, laptops and desktops. From a management perspective, devices are considered either Corporate Owned Personally Enabled (COPE), Coporate Owned Shared Use (COSU) or Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) devices. VMware offers Workspace ONE Unified Endpoint Management (UEM) in order to manage these difference devices in the enterprise.

Your IT team will want to manage any new AR/VR device using their existing device management solution. This will help them manage new devices with minimal additional effort. Its important to understand the capabilities of that solution as well as the device you want it to manage.

AR/VR devices come in a few flavours today: PC based devices (PCVR), standalone devices based on Android/Linux and standalone devices based on Windows (HoloLens 2). PCVR is reasonably straightforward as IT can manage like they do normal Windows desktops/laptops. The problem with PCVR is that it isn’t easily accessible or mobile and requires deployment and management of costly fixed hardware. The alternative is to deploy standalone devices.

The majority of standalone AR/VR devices today are based on Android. You need to understand from the hardware vendor what Android features they support. Not all Android devices are equal. Just because they share a foundation in Android Open Source Project (ASOP), it doesn’t mean they support management features such as Android Enterprise.

NOTE: Facebook just announced Oculus Quest 2 (expected in October 2020), the table below, represents testing with Oculus Quest 1 and results may be different for this new device.

The critical piece for any enterprise is for a standalone AR/VR device, based on Android, to support Android Enterprise features. Below is a quick comparison of two standalone VR devices on the market today, the Oculus Quest (version 1) and the Pico Neo 2:

 

Today the Oculus Quest is limited in its management capability as it does not allow MDM systems to run as “device owner”, which is a capability introduced with Android Enterprise. The Pico Neo 2 supports “device owner” permissions and therefore MDM management actions do not require user permission to run.

2. Secure Application and Content Access including Single Sign-On

Once you can manage devices, how will your users access enterprise applications, content and data for AR/VR? Current VR devices ship with consumer like UX with access to a catalog of games with typically no security and no concept of user identity. Devices are typically associated with a vendor managed identity or a social media account – not suitable for enterprises.

IT will want to ensure that only corporate users can access corporate content on any standalone device. In order to do this, IT will likely require the use of corporate credentials and the ability to control access to devices, applications and content at a granular level.

IT will want to be able to provision applications and content to these devices using their existing management solution and ensure that these applications are visible to the user once they access the device.

If you are only running one application on the device, then you can attempt to implement kiosk mode on the device (which has some of its own challenges) and have the application itself deal with security and identity (ideally using identity federation). VMware’s Project VXR does this to enable the use of corporate credentials for access to corporate applications.

However, if you (and eventually you will) want to give users access to multiple applications or different content from different vendors you will need to have a way to secure the device and manage user access using corporate credentials. VMware’s Project VXR was built for this very use case.

To simplify access you will want to implement Single Sign-On (SSO). The user either unlocks their device and can access any provisioned application (using a user certificate), or they authenticate once using their credentials and SSO into native and or web applications and content.

3. Enterprise UX

Once you can manage devices, provision applications to users and enable them to access those applications securely, you need to start thinking about the overall user experience (UX). For new technology like AR/VR its critical to get this right.

AR and VR are very different computing technologies to what we are used to. The technology is worn on your head, you have one or two handheld controllers, there’s no mouse or keyboard and no screen to touch. AR/VR can be intimidating initially, particularly if your vision of reality is in fact a virtual reality. Users will be more comfortable if they are not overwhelmed, the user interace isn’t alien to them and they are in comfortable virtual surroundings.

Many current headsets provide a consumer experience aimed at tech-savvy gamers. This means the UX is focused on consumer app stores with games and videos with content and UX not suitable for enterprise use cases.

Consumer UX – Busy, complex, focused on games

vs

Enterprise UX – Simple, familiar, focused only on enterprise use case

For enterprise use cases its important that the very first interaction with AR/VR headsets is a simple and positive experience to ensure users are not put off. Enterprises will want to control the user experience, typically by using kiosk mode to avoid a consumer UX and run an enteprise application or custom”launcher”.

Any application or experience should be guided on first use so its absolutely clear how a user should use their headset, controllers and interact with the application or content. Enterprise users will want to login and access only the applications provisioned to them in simplest, most intuitive and efficient way. Too many times, AR/VR app developers experiment with spatial user interfaces (UI) and get it wrong. Keep it as simple as possible.

If enterprises deploy different AR/VR devices they will want to ensure a consistent user experience across devices. Similar to how VMware Workspace ONE’s Intelligent Hub App does this for mobile devices, Project VXR does this for AR/VR devices, a common UI/UX across devices.  Finally, many enterprises will want to brand the user experience, for example including corporate logos and corporate 3D environments.

4. Remote AR/VR Capability

So you are all set and have successfully deployed standalone headsets to employees to enable immersive training, augmented workflows, collaboration or your specific use case. Standalone headsets are now easily accessible, managed via IT’s MDM solution and can deliver a solid AR/VR experience.

However, standalone device CPU and GPU capabilities are limited. Immersive training and design visualiation use cases can often require a level of fidelity just not capable on a standalone device.

Lets take a virtual reality simulation of a rocket engine for design review purposes. The rocket engine 3D model has over 20,000,000 polygons (maximum 12 million shown at once) and lots of different textures and materials. For a smooth VR design review experience you’ll need to deliver 72 frames per second to the headset at its native resolution – anywhere from 1440 x 1600 to 1,920 × 2,160 for each eye display. Standalone devices are not powerful enough to show high fidelity models in VR. So what’s the answer?

Having a remote AR/VR capability allows you to run high fidelity simulations and models on a powerful virtual machine backed by a GPU in a datacenter or location and stream that experience to a headset over Wi-Fi or in the future 5G. This approach gives you the benefits of a mobile, easily accesible VR device but with the power of a graphics workstation.

The following video shows a rocket model being rendered natively on a standalone device (on the left) and when its streamed from a virtual graphics workstation to the same headset (on the right).

For more information on remote AR/VR capability, see my blog here.

5. Content & Integration

AR and VR are transformational technologies for enterprises, particularly with an increasingly distributed workforce, yet these technologies are useless without content. AR and VR are new mediums that require new tools to author content, new types of content (3D) and new processes and technologies to integrate your existing content and data.

There’s huge growth in the number of companies that now offer AR/VR content development, particularly around immersive training. There’s also a healthy marketplace for tools and content to create AR/VR experiences from underlying development engines such as Unity and Unreal to authoring tools such as Amazon Sumerian alongwith 3D model marketplaces. There are plenty of options if you wish to build your own or buy something off the shelf.

Ultimately though you will want to get your existing product data and content into AR/VR. This might be product designs, building plans, architectural models, medical data, CAD/CAM data or even instructional documentation. There are three challenges here:

  1. Importing your data/content into your AR/VR app or development tool
  2. Optimizing your content for AR/VR
  3. Updating data/content

Unity and Unreal (development tools for AR/VR) both offer tools to import existing 3D data into an AR/VR application. There are also open source efforts to enable the importing of industry standard 3D formats such as GLTF into various AR/VR platforms.

Optimizing your 3D content is more complex. There are various techniques here to reduce the polygon count and detail of a model automatically, or you can avoid this and use remote AR/VR to deliver the content. Be aware of the capabilities of any device and its ability to render complex 3D data.

When considering the need to update data/content, it forces you to think about where data/content resides and how your application can handle content dynamically and from a remote source. This consideration is more around application development, but also is a consideration for security and how you (or your application vendor) provide a more future proof AR/VR experience.

If data/content is stored on-prem or in the cloud you need to consider how this is pushed to headsets or how employees access that content remotely. From a security perspective, today’s standalone headsets lack encryption capabilities for data at rest and also typically don’t have built in VPN functionality. Your device management solution can help here in providing encryption, per-app VPN capability and secure remote file storage.

Finally, you may need to access legacy applications in AR/VR in order to facilitate experiences, this might be web content, web based applications or remote Windows applications. Easy access to existing applications and 2D content in AR/VR can be useful and removes the need to take off a headset and access a PC. Lack of keyboard access today in VR limits interaction with existing apps, but enterprises should consider this functionality when evaluating enterprise AR/VR platforms, tools and applications.

Summary

Deploying AR/VR in the enterprise requires solutions around the 5 key pillars outlined. Ignoring any one of these pillars can lead to stalled deployments or stuck with a solution that isn’t future proof. In this blog series we will examine each of these pillars in detail and walk through implementations that achieve a successful outcome.

In part 2 we will deep dive into the first pillar – AR/VR device management.