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How Augmented and Virtual Realities Might Change Productivity Forever in the Next 10 Years
Daniel Faggella   Apr 14, 2016   Ethical Technology  

In the last 10 years, we’ve seen some amazing leaps and bounds in human productivity. Our phones are smaller, our internet is faster, and software and hardware automates much of what we used to do manually.

What we often forget is that the future will not necessarily look like the present, just like the present (in some respects) looks nothing like the past. We forget how many people swore they’d never use or purchase a cell phone, or that people routinely went to physical libraries just 10 or 15 years ago to get a new book, or that Google Glass as commercially viable would still have been the stuff of science fiction five years ago.

The “future” has crept up on us before, and in the workplace of the coming decade, it’ll happen again. Thanks to developments in virtual and especially augmented reality (AR), we can plan on an entirely new dimension of efficiency and convenience in the office of tomorrow.

Many of these futuristic applications, though not yet mainstream, exist to some extent today. One such example is real-world “tutorial” or instructional AR overlays. Imagine never flipping through an owners manual again to figure out how to use or take apart any device. Companies like Augmate have already seen a huge productivity opportunity in overlaid instruction, and their InstructAR technology is designed to do away with manuals for good.

Scope AR is another company with similar AR capabilities, though their recent product Remote AR shifts beyond glasses to encompass cell phones and tablets and a more interactive experience between humans, integrating AR solutions with live customer service calls.

Though the examples above help the user take apart or fix hardware, we can imagine augmented overlays that take us through any pre-recorded desired task or goal. From editing a video to finding a lost file on a hard drive to replacing a broken part of a computer or an engine, companies will have reason to record augmented “lessons” that are installed in computers and don’t have to be taught a thousand times.

Joe Rampolla is the host of the InsideAR podcast. In a past interview he stated, “We are seeing companies explore the use of augmented reality in factories and warehouses that can quickly retrieve or store merchandise through augmented capabilities of forklift operators or managers.  These technologies will revolutionize productivity.” 

He’s right, and these technologies are in many desk-less workplaces already, even if in a form less complex than full-blown tutorial overlays. Personal productivity is being improved not only with overlaid instructions and directions, but by use of task lists and real-time updates that are relevant for the user. A construction equipment operator might have overlaid directions for a specific task. A mechanic might have an overlaid task list of how to fix a rare exhaust issue.

“There is something like an added 30% efficiency added to time on task when people have directions in their field of view,” says Augmate founder, Pete Wassell in a recent interview. Augmate is aiming to provide a platform for the augmented reality applications of desk-less workers, such as forklift operators, mechanics, and other laborers. Pete mentioned that not only is the “task list” kind of augmentation less obstructive of the user’s vision in performing the task (as opposed to full-blown tutorial graphics and steps), it’s also much easier to manage given today’s processors and battery capabilities.

Whether by prioritized list or with the help of overlaid, direct instructions, one can imagine few employers not being excited about the prospect of more productive employees. Even with only a 10% lift in productivity - never mind the 30% to which Pete from Augmate refers - the adoption rate in any given industry would be astronomical.

Furthermore, this technology is poised to expand beyond mechanical and construction jobs. A company called Meta, based in Redwood City, California, has developed a headset that allows users to access and manipulate digital information, all through a virtual lens. Their website showcases opportunities for its Meta kit technology in manufacturing, communication and media, medicine, education, and 3D modeling. In a TED Talk, Meta’s Meron Gribetz went so far as to make the promise to replace all of Meta’s employees’ computers with its AR technology by March 2017.

Productivity will be revolutionized as we begin interacting with our machines and data in more intuitive and expansive ways. Remember the famous scenes in “Minority Report”  and “Ironman”? We may not be there tomorrow, but our marriage to keyboards is already on the rocks, and I posit that in the next five years this chasm widen.

Though some might scoff at the notion of alternative interfaces, most anyone with a smart phone (myself included) is using touch screen technology and voice activated commands, both of which are a step beyond keyboards. CNN’s John D. Sutter put together a collection of nine technologies that would overcome the keyboard in 2010, and that’s still just the tip of the iceberg. 

The amazing, immersive technologies of SixthSense famously demonstrated in Pranav Mistry’s TED talk are already finding their way into the workplace as we speak. Ultimately, it is unlikely to be a single augmented reality that revolutionizes personal productivity, but a cumulative effect of many new developments. Blair McIntyre, director of the Augmented Reality Environment at Georgia Tech, put it this way in a past interview: 

“If you imagine the ideal version of AR, the see-through head-worn display you always wear, that overlays bits of content on the world around you, the potential impact on personal productivity is potentially huge because so much information that you might need will be in-the-world as you travel through it.  The opportunities to effortlessly, serendipitously synthesize information you knew about (but might have forgotten) with  newly discovered information, would be huge.  It’s not one ‘killer app’ that will make us more productive, but the ‘killer existence’ of this integration of all the bits of information about the world and people around us.”

It doesn’t appear to be a matter of ‘if’ these technological advances will shape our productive future, but ‘when’. As for which will hit the mainstream first, that’s anyone’s guess, but you can bet that the “working world” will be an entirely new landscape in the coming decade. 

Daniel Faggella is the founder of TechEmergence, and blogs at SentientPotential.com.



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