In addition, AR is
up the design process,
reducing the need for physical prototypes and shortening time to market,” says
Ryan Pamplin, vice president
of Meta, a Silicon Valley startup
that makes AR headsets. As the
technology becomes more and more
commonplace, he says, it could even
help save lives. “And I can’t think of better
ROI [return on investment] than that.”
AR is often confused with virtual reality (VR). To distinguish
one from the other, consider their root words. Virtual: something that doesn’t exist; a simulation. Augment: to make something bigger or greater by adding to it, to increase. With VR, the
user straps on an opaque headset and is immersed in an entirely
separate world. AR, on the other hand, blends the real with the
digital: Users see the physical world around them, but the view
is overlaid with virtual media. If AR users are wearing the technology (in the form of glasses or a helmet), the eye piece will be
see-through, allowing for complete awareness of real surroundings as 2-D and 3-D images and messages are projected in their
direct line of sight. With both AR and VR headsets, users make
gestures with their hands and head or use voice commands to
direct the technology. Alternatively, AR can be used on a smartphone or tablet.
AR Goes to Work
The worldwide slowdown in labor productivity since the Great
Recession has proven difficult to overcome. While productivity
rose 2. 7 percent annually from 2001 to 2007, the growth rate
was only 1. 1 percent between 2008 and 2016, the U. S. Bureau
of Labor Statistics found. AR may have the potential to boost
that significantly by increasing workers’ speed and accuracy. Test
programs where workers use AR headsets to view step-by-step
instructions for complicated assembly work—instead of referring to a desktop computer or paper manual—routinely show
productivity gains of between 20 percent and 35 percent.
At Boeing, workers who assemble intricate wire harnesses
that transmit signals and electrical power in planes are using AR
headsets with software developed by Upskill. Instead of having
to constantly check a computer, workers see each step appear
in their field of vision. This has cut assembly time by 25 percent
and reduced the error rate to nearly zero. Upskill’s studies regu-
larly show that AR improves efficiency by double-digit percent-
ages, confirms Kim of the Herndon, Va.-based company. “This
affects thousands of employees, and represents millions of dol-
lars in savings.”
By wearing the AR technology instead of using it on a smart-
phone or tablet, workers can get the information they need at the
exact moment they need it. If they leave their workspace to find a
part, for example, AR goes along to help identify the correct piece.
If a machine breaks down, employees can use AR to identify the
problem and fix it quickly. Service technicians can plot out their
process in advance but still can make spur-of-the-moment adjust-
ments in the field. An employee with a question can be connected to
a subject matter expert, who can view a live stream of the situation
or look at photos taken from the worker’s perspective.
At the office, AR headsets could one day replace desktops and
laptops entirely. Many of Meta’s 130 employees are already trying
the technology out: Currently, workers who do computer-based
work wear AR headsets—and check their e-mail and complete
other tasks by using hand gestures instead of typing
on a keyboard or clicking a mouse. Maggie Elkin,
SHRM-CP, the company’s HR director, is an AR
convert. “I have always struggled with organiza-
tional charts because they were a t wo-dimensional
map of a complex, very three-dimensional idea,”
she says. “I can now visually represent not only
direct reporting structures but also cross-func-
tional teams and workflows using space instead of
a flat plane. I can even walk around it.”
Names to Know
These are the emerging players in the virtual reality and augmented reality headset market:
Google Cardboard: AR, for consumer use, priced at about
$15, works with a smartphone, owned by Google.
Google Glass: AR, for commercial use, priced at about
$1,500, owned by Google.
HoloLens: AR and VR combined (mixed reality), for commercial use, priced at about $3,000, owned by Microsoft.
HTC Vive: VR, for consumer use, priced at about $799,
owned by Microsoft.
Magic Leap: AR and VR combined (mixed reality), for consumer use, price unknown (not yet released), owned by the
startup Magic Leap.
Oculus Rift: VR, for consumer use, priced at about $499,
owned by Facebook.
Samsung Gear VR: VR, for consumer use, priced at about
$129, works with a smartphone, owned by Samsung.
Sony PlayStation VR: VR, for consumer use, priced at
about $399, owned by Sony.
‘I can now visually represent not only
direct reporting structures but also
cross-functional teams and workflows
using space instead of a flat plane. I can
even walk around it.’
—Maggie Elkin, SHRM-CP, HR director at Meta