Augmented reality at work
If you watched the 2002 blockbuster movie, “The Minority Report,” no doubt you’ve wondered what it would be like to work with the user interface Tom Cruise so famously manipulated in that film as head of the law enforcement squad Precrime. Scenes of him opening files, pushing aside windows, zooming into images with a hand gesture or a finger flick – no use of a monitor, a keyboard, or a lowly mouse – were just as exciting as the movie’s plot twists.
Can you imagine how different your work day would be if you had that kind of augmented reality (AR) at your fingertips?
Unlike virtual reality (VR), which is an artificial simulation of real life, AR is a technology that integrates digital information into existing reality, so that it has the potential to provide far more value to today’s workplaces.
AR, for example, can help technicians who wire control boxes in wind turbines see exactly where each wire goes in their field of vision, saving them the time and hassle of flipping through the pages of a technical manual. An experiment of just this sort resulted in a 34 percent faster installation time despite the fact that it was the first time the worker used AR instead of his usual printout manual as a guide.
Of course, the success of AR at work depends on a number of factors, such as the source of data made available to workers, the way it presents that data to users, and the ease by which the worker can use and interact with this data to get tasks done faster and more accurately. With these elements in place, Deloitte looked at the ways by which AR may bring value to organizations that have increasing data-intensive and variable work, in a report entitled “More real than reality: Transforming work through augmented reality.”
Understanding the type of tasks each job requires is an important step in understanding how AR can help. These questions are a good starting point:
• What do I need to know to accomplish this job successfully (complexity of information)?
• Where, and how often, do judgment and intuition come into play in this job (variability of the task)?
Based on the answers to these key questions, AR can improve work along four main categories:
Low complexity, low variability: Equilibrium
In this scenario, an employee can use AR to do what she already does but a bit better, because AR can make up for the limitations in human senses or abilities. AR, for example, can provide enhanced visibility of terrain in, say, stormy conditions, or provide an overlaid measurement scale to enable greater precision in construction or repair.
High complexity, low variability: Infinite mind
Many workers are now being asked to handle high volumes of data, sometimes more than what the human mind can handle. AR can be used to provide workers with a data overlay in a way that is easy to understand and still allows the worker to accomplish her tasks.
Siemens’ Vectron series of train locomotives, for example, has AR manuals that allow workers to pull up CAD drawings or repair instructions for the exact part at which they are looking. This gives workers immediate and easy access to several thousands of pages of information that are critical to their work.
Low complexity, high variability: New connections
Tasks involving human interaction can be highly unpredictable. In this scenario, AR can be used to make new connections and enable a “see-what-I-see” type of sharing. A surgeon who has just developed a new, life-saving technique can more easily share this discovery with other medical professionals using AR, and perhaps even assist remotely when that technique is first used by other doctors.
This use of AR will make untethered work an even more efficient option, and can also enhance collaboration across the globe.
High complexity, high variability: Full symbiosis
For tasks that are highly variable and require a great deal of information, workers can use AR’s computing power to augment their intuition and creativity. AR can enable workers to handle, access, and analyze high data volumes and connect with other resources in real time. It’s a case of human and machine becoming a true team.
To reduce human workload and fatigue-driven errors, NASA is studying ways in which astronauts can collaborate naturally with robots and computing systems through AR. In particular, the agency is looking at AR to help with, “grounding, situational awareness, a common frame of reference, and spatial referencing.” Similar AR-driven systems can also be used to help people in highly unpredictable and dangerous situations, such as search and rescue missions.
These four scenarios for the use of AR are no longer confined to sci-fi movies; the first two areas discussed here, for example, have already been widely piloted. While AR technology needs to develop further – much of AR is currently limited to 2D image recognition, for one – it is already showing promise in the way it can change the work environment. So if you’re still holding out for a “work desk” similar to the one Tom Cruise had, you might just get your wish in your lifetime.
The author is a partner with the Risk Advisory group of Navarro Amper & Co., the local member firm of Deloitte Southeast Asia Ltd. – a member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited – comprising Deloitte practices operating in Brunei, Cambodia, Guam, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.