December 16, 2021
Tired of the word ‘metaverse’ yet?
In 2020, augmented reality remote support went mainstream, and people began to seriously discuss the virtual workplace of the future. In 2021, remote support and virtual training use cases exploded and the virtual workplace (virtual enterprise) got a new name: The Metaverse. Applications like remote collaboration and immersive training became even more critical as companies dealt with the Great Resignation and global supply chain issues. And Apple and Facebook (sorry, Meta) dominated XR news with rumors of consumer AR glasses in development and Zuckerberg’s vision for the future of work.
This year, AR/VR/MR (XR) stepped up to alleviate labor and supply chain shortages. Here are the use cases that stood out:
Increasing use of XR for soft skills training
In October, Accenture acquired 60,000 Oculus Quest 2 headsets for training new hires, perhaps the largest deployment of VR headsets to date. The news followed Bank of America’s rollout of VR for training approximately 50,000 employees across nearly 4,300 financial centers in North America. Users will practice tasks such as notary services, empathy, and typical client interactions. In November, wealth management group St. James Place rolled out 200 Oculus Quest headsets for roleplaying across the business. It appears that VR training is gaining ground in the world of finance.
So many training cases
In 2021, numerous companies piloted or deployed virtual reality for training: XPO Logistics completed a pilot of Oculus headsets for training less-than-truckload dock employees, while Pfizer employed VR to onboard and train manufacturing workers at its new sterile injectables plant before the plant opened. Bristol Myers, DS Smith, Hyundai Power, and Penske Truck Leasing – among others – also made the news for VR training. Even the government wanted in: The DHS, NIOSH, NIST, and USDA all looked at virtual reality to train staff.
Remote support blows up
Countless companies adopted XR for remote support during the pandemic, and dozens more joined their ranks in 2021: Equipment manufacturer BID Group adopted PTC ThingWorx IoT platform and Vuforia AR solution to improve customer assistance and troubleshooting, while Rio Tinto deployed Vuzix smart glasses at its Ovu Tolgoi mine (one of the world’s largest known deposits of copper and gold) for remote inspections. Ford rolled out TeamViewer’s Frontline AR solution to dealership technicians around the world, as did Bühler Group, whose production lines ensure the food supply for two billion people daily.
More and more manufacturing companies are also now offering XR-enabled remote support as a service to their customers and partners: This year for instance, ABB launched solutions ‘Closer’ (step-by-step guides) and ‘Raise’ (remote MRO), HP packaged its AR remote industrial printer support program as ‘xRServices,’ and Schaeffler debuted its ‘Virtual Fitter’ service.
HoloLens 2 was a popular device for remote assistance and collaboration at companies like Daimler Trucks N.A., Eaton (Watch Alexandre Georgetti’s case study from EWTS 2021), Ecolab (Ecolab’s Kevin Doyle spoke on the Remote Assistance panel at EWTS 2021), JLS Automation, LyondellBasell, and Mercedes-Benz Canada.
It was also the device of choice for tech companies: HP equipped industrial printer customers with HoloLens 2 for remote support and training. Intel is using the mixed reality headset device for augmented instructions in computer chip production. Even Microsoft uses Microsoft HoloLens 2 for remote audits of its Azure data centers.
Early adopters expand their use cases
In 2021, early adopter KLM ramped up AR/VR training for pilot, cockpit, and crew training. The airline expects to use VR in the future to train for any environment or equipment that’s difficult and/or expensive to simulate or handle. Another early adopter Audi designed and tested assembly of its new e-tron EV entirely in virtual reality. (Audi has also been using mixed reality to present new products at events and for logistics planning.) BMW is now using XR for workstation planning, training, qualification, and more; and I can’t even keep track of all the ways XR is used at NASA: In 2021, the space agency was profiled for ProtoSpace, a 3D visualization tool for designing space probes and planning work in space, and astronauts’ use of AR to make repairs aboard the ISS.
XR advertising to grow in 2022
It goes without saying that design was another top application for XR in 2021. The technology also made inroads on the sales and marketing front, entering consumers’ homes: Italian sports car brand Abarth launched a VR test drive pack, a VR headset and pair of Bose headphones delivered to customers’ front doors; and Dyson enabled customers to try out products at home, drawing on the visualization and simulation work of the brands’ designers to open a VR store. Look out for more immersive advertising and sales experiences in the year to come!
If you take anything away from this roundup of use cases, it should be this: Every company will use XR. Immersive technology is well on its way to becoming essential to industrial and white-collar workers alike. You will train in XR, complete tasks with the aid of XR, and meet and collaborate with others in XR. Welcome to the Metaverse.