Over the course of history, there have been three industrial revolutions that completely transformed society. The first, which began in the 1700s, was sparked by the invention of the steam engine, which was used to mechanize production. The second took place in the late 1800s and was defined by the emergence of electric power, which was used for mass production. The third industrial revolution occurred as a result of the introduction of digital technologies and the internet.
Each of these industrial revolutions has left its mark on society. Now, experts believe that a fourth industrial revolution is right around the corner, and it’s largely due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts predict that this revolution will be driven by the widespread adoption of two new technologies: augmented reality and virtual reality.
What Are Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Technologies?
It’s important to have a basic understanding of augmented and virtual reality technology before learning how they could spur the next industrial revolution.
Augmented and virtual reality are two types of extended reality technologies, which are technologies used to enhance the senses. But the two technologies provide very different experiences.
Virtual reality technology transports users to simulated worlds where they can move around and interact with their surroundings. This technology blocks out the real world so users can completely immerse themselves in the simulated environment. Users typically need a virtual reality headset such as an Oculus or HTC Vive to experience virtual reality technology.
Augmented reality, on the other hand, does not completely block out the real world. Instead, it combines elements of the digital world with the user’s real world. It allows users to superimpose digital elements such as images, videos, and sounds onto their real world environment. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality typically does not require the use of a special headset.
How the COVID-19 Pandemic Changed the Way People Work
The COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of day-to-day life, including the way people work. Many offices and workplaces were forced to temporarily close as a result of COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. This left employers with no other choice but to let their employees work remotely until they could return to the workplace.
Prior to the pandemic, only one in five employees worked from home some or all of the time. But now, 71% of workers are working from home all or most of the time.
Although the coronavirus pandemic will eventually come to an end, many people hope that remote working is here to stay. In fact, more than half of the workforce hopes that they can continue to work remotely once the pandemic has been resolved.
Remote work benefits both employees and employers. It provides employees with flexibility and gives employers the chance to save money on operating costs. Because it is a win-win situation, many employers may be happy to let their employees continue working from home in the future.
This shift to remote work could completely transform the business world and increase demand for augmented and virtual reality technology.
How Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality Could Make Remote Work Easier
It was easy for some people to start working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. But shifting to remote work was impossible for other people who work in the field, one-on-one with customers or patients, or in industrial occupations. Performing their job duties remotely was not a possibility in the past.
But now, augmented and virtual reality can help people in these professions perform their work from any location. Not only will this change the way people work, but it could also change the way in which businesses operate, leading to a massive industrial revolution.
The Industrial Applications of Augmented and Virtual Reality
There are many different industrial applications of augmented and virtual reality technologies, including:
- Virtual/Interactive Demos
- Remote Support
- Remote Meetings and Conferences
- Product Design
Businesses can now provide virtual, interactive demos to consumers and third party partners using virtual reality technology. This gives consumers and third party partners the opportunity to test out new products without ever seeing it in person. The experience will be just like an in-person demo with one exception: it will take place in a simulated environment.
Both augmented and virtual reality technology have revolutionized the way in which businesses and schools train their employees and students.
For example, aspiring surgeons and nurses practice everything from needle placement to neurosurgery on augmented reality models. This allows them to practice in a safe environment where mistakes will not have serious consequences.
Augmented and virtual reality technologies are also used to train employees in the automotive industry. Some assembly line workers are now trained on how to put together different parts of a vehicle in a simulated environment.
Pilots train in a simulated environment created by virtual reality technology, too. This gives pilots the opportunity to practice what they would do in certain emergency situations.
These technologies have even been embraced by law enforcement agencies, who use it to train personnel on how to make good judgment calls in stressful simulated situations.
All of these training sessions can take place remotely, which is a major change that the new industrial revolution will bring.
In the past, it was impossible to provide certain types of support to employees or customers from afar. For instance, an automotive technician typically cannot diagnose an issue with a customer’s car without inspecting the car in-person. An IT professional usually cannot help an employee troubleshoot an issue without running diagnostic tests on the computer in-person. But augmented reality technology makes it possible to provide remote support in situations like these.
For example, if a customer has a problem with their vehicle, they can get remote support from an experienced automotive technician. The technician can use augmented reality technology to project instructions or highlight certain components of the vehicle into the customer’s field of view. This way, the technician can guide the customer through each step of the process of making simple repairs on their own.
An employee who is having trouble connecting to the company network can now receive remote assistance from an IT support representative. Just like the automotive technician, the IT support representative can guide the employee through the process of addressing their issue.
These are just two examples of how augmented reality technology can be used to provide remote assistance to employees and customers.
Remote Meetings and Conferences
Remote teams can participate in audio or video conferences using services like Zoom or Skype. But virtual reality technology offers a better way for remote workers to meet and collaborate with one another.
Remote workers can use virtual reality technology to attend virtual meetings and conferences with their co-workers. This technology can transport them to a simulated conference or meeting room where they will be able to see their virtual co-workers, write on a virtual markerboard, and sit at a virtual conference table.
This technology will make them feel as if they are actually in the same physical location as their co-workers, so it can satisfy their need for face-to-face time. It will also create a welcoming environment where remote workers may feel more comfortable sharing ideas, voicing concerns, and working together just as they would in a real office.
Thanks to virtual reality technology, engineers can remotely collaborate on the design of new products. In the automotive industry, for example, some manufacturers are now building virtual models of new designs instead of creating clay prototypes. Every member of the design team can access and make changes to the virtual model. As a result, an engineering team can create and finalize a design without ever touching a physical model of the vehicle or being in the same room with one another.
Being able to remotely collaborate on virtual models isn’t the only benefit of using virtual reality technology to design new products. Building a virtual model is far less expensive than building multiple clay prototypes. It also allows the engineering team to make changes more quickly so they can finalize the design and get the product in the market as soon as possible.
How to Prepare for the Augmented and Virtual Reality Industrial Revolution
Businesses must start preparing for the upcoming augmented and virtual reality industrial revolution. Here’s how:
- Budget accordingly. Businesses may need to invest in headsets or other extended reality accessories for their employees. Each headset should cost about the same as a laptop, so it’s important to factor this into budgets over the next several years.
- Find the right team. Businesses may need to hire programmers with experience building augmented and virtual reality platforms. These programmers can ensure your augmented and virtual reality platform is designed with all of the unique features you need to reach your business goals.
- Expect a learning curve. It’s not hard to use augmented and virtual reality technology, but businesses should still be prepared to provide training to employees. Some employees may catch on faster than others, so businesses should be prepared to provide additional assistance to employees if necessary.
Taking these steps now will ensure your business is ready for the changes that the augmented and virtual reality industrial revolution may bring.