These days there’s so much to be said of office space. We’re seeing open-plan spaces with hot desks, large windows with natural light and plants, game rooms, gardens, in-office restaurants, pet-friendly areas, and anything else you can think of that stimulates creativity and productivity in the work place.
Astronauts, surgeons and engineering companies are huge supporters of remote virtual reality-enabled training as it decreases risks and costs. At the inaugural SingularityU South Africa Summit. Mxolisi Mgojo, CEO of Exxaro Resources, spoke about how their employees, some of whom hadn’t completed matric, were able to operate and fix complex mining machines and vehicles with the help of a remote online expert and virtual reality. Yet some business owners are still asking themselves whether there is budget for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the average business.
The two are often confused – virtual reality places you in a 360-degree animated or live-action environment with the help of a head set; while augmented reality creates a composite view by superimposing a computer-generated image on the real world with the help of a smartphone, tablet or AR-enabled device.
I believe 2018 will be the year in which the digital dimension in the work place – thanks to AR and VR technologies – will become more of a reality beyond merely gaming or entertainment. It will add another layer to our world.
The VR market is estimated to exceed $40 billion by 2020, according to the Global Virtual Reality Market (Hardware and Software) and Forecast by Orbis Research. The biggest players – with a 50% market share in 2016 – were Sony, Facebook, Google and Samsung. Augmented and virtual reality are going to be a trillion-dollar industry in the near future. At SingularityU South Africa, we see it as one of the disruptive exponential technologies that is rapidly changing our world.
Apple iOS11 is equipped with ARKit technology and in future all smartphones are going to be AR-enabled, which is really going to be a gamechanger. Augmented and virtual reality are going to become ubiquitous. I predict that both technologies will be mainstream by 2020.
So, what will work stations, offices and businesses of the future look like and how will these technologies change the way we work?
Virtual and augmented reality will replace 2D computer screens with 3D presentations that are brought to life through animations fused with real-life components. Though we’re still in the early stages, mobile- and desktop-enabled VR and AR applications will allow employees to put on a compact head set that is comfortable to wear for an extended period of time, and be transported through space where all their applications – spread sheets, Word documents, web browsers – are infinitely suspended in the air around them. A video feed will allow them to see their hands typing on the keyboard. It’ll be like something out of Minority Report.
Icelandic tech start-up Mure VR has caught onto what psychology calls Attention Restoration Theory and high-fascination environments (nature’s patterns, textures and colours), which stimulate cognitive renewal and improve concentration. So, they developed the Breakroom app. The virtual desktop-type app allows users to become wholly immersed in any kind of natural landscape and background. Such VR environments encourage greater productivity and fewer distractions in the work space.
Virtual reality is slowly but surely going to kill video conferencing because it’s a much more immersive experience. Gone will be the days of Google Hangouts and Skype conference calls, when you can have a virtual boardroom with executives from around the world, who just have to put on their head sets to see an animated or real-life avatar of their colleagues, as if they are in front of them. It’ll forgo the necessity to travel to attend those meetings – saving time, travel and accommodation costs, while decreasing traveller friction. Because VR allows employees to work from home, we’re also going to see a rise in the location-independent workforce and digital nomads that work more flexible hours and have a healthier work-life balance.
Besides the obvious virtues of augmented and virtual reality in the office, these technologies also allow businesses to sell their products to clients in more immersive ways, undergo realistic customer-service scenarios without the risk and reduced costs, and provide near real-life simulations of technical procedures that allow employees to fix things through remote viewing.
One of 2017’s greatest breakthroughs was how the medical industry started to embrace Microsoft’s HoloLens for medical education and diagnosis. Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University in the United States are leading the way.
Magic Leap’s Leap One AR headset – which includes a wireless controller and is kitted out with cameras and sensors for accurate head and body-tracking – is essentially a wearable computer. Whatever it is that you’d do on your smartphone or computer is projected into your field of view, about the size of a VHS tape if your arms are half extended. It gives users a viewing window into mixed reality.
This is definitely going to be one of the biggest things to watch in 2018. And we’ll see many more improvements in wearable technologies in the coming months and years.
Then there’s how virtual reality will impact the real estate sector. Instead of wasting time and money driving from one residential or commercial property to the next, a realtor can walk you through a number of properties around the world within an hour. Once you’ve bought the property, you can use the recently launched IKEA Place AR app, which runs on Apple’s ARKit, to virtually furnish it with the swipe of your finger. The app scales the IKEA products, based on room dimensions, with 98% accuracy and it’s so detailed that you can even see the texture of the fabric.
Augmented and virtual reality are going to be used more and more for company inductions, team building in the form of gamification features as well as for promotional and marketing campaigns as with some of Mann Made’s projects from the Carling Cup virtual reality 360-degree video to our VR activations that use the Oculus Rift or Apple’s ARkit.
These days just about anything can be composited with an AR component and the future will also see the rise of mixed reality – a combination of real and virtual worlds, whereby an action in the virtual world will affect the real world. This is only the beginning of 2018!