December 17, 2019
THE YEAR XR WENT TO WORK IN ENTERPRISE
We entered 2019 eagerly awaiting next-generation devices like HoloLens 2 and Google Glass EE 2. The year would deliver those devices and more, as the world’s biggest consumer tech companies entered the XR (AR, VR, MR) space and top names in consumer VR/MR turned their attention to enterprise. Major efforts to facilitate larger enterprise adoption and increased market cooperation would make 2019 the year that extended reality became a permanent fixture in enterprise.
Companies that made the news for using XR in 2019:
2019 was a big year for the Oil & Gas industry. Shell (with Honeywell) announced expanded deployment of RealWear’s HMT-1Z1 and HMT-1 in a dozen countries. ExxonMobil launched a VR initiative tied to its major plant expansion project in Baton Rouge, which involved working with the local community college to create a VR training lab for students. Inside Exxon’s digital garage, oil and gas operators practiced skills in VR. Fortum, a Nordic energy company and power plant operator, began using Varjo VR-1 for control room training; and just this month we learned that BP is using Microsoft HoloLens for exploration and – you guessed it – training.
In Automotive, Audi fully embraced VR for its first all-electric series model, the Audi e-tron. Not only did the automaker use virtual simulations to prepare service techs worldwide, it also dispensed entirely with a physical prototype, making the e-tron the first vehicle tested entirely in VR. Competitor BMW rolled out Ubimax Frontline on the RealWear HMT-1 to all its U.S. dealerships, while Volvo test drove vehicles wearing the Varjo VR-1 and signed a deal with Vection to use XR for marketing, training and more. Beyond headsets, auto manufacturers showed interest in haptics for VR and exosuits/exoskeletons: Nissan tried out the HaptX VR gloves to design 3D models, and Tesla attributed reduced injuries in its Fremont factory to sensor suits and ergonomic analysis of production lines in VR.
Unsurprisingly, the top application of AR/VR in enterprise this year was training followed by design. ISS astronauts used Magic Leap One to train for an EVA run, Qatar Airways tested HTC Vive to give engineers a refresher course on Rolls-Royce’s biggest engine, and truck manufacturer Kenworth (part of Paccar) bought 50 HoloLens headsets for training on two dozen tasks. Changi Airport introduced a VR simulation to cut down aerobridge training by 25% and Australian mining company BMA trialed VR to prepare miners for underground. Early adopter Airbus also partnered with Microsoft to develop MR solutions for its own customers, the first of which was a training program for Japan Airlines’ maintenance operators and cabin crews.
It wasn’t all industrial training, though. In October, Brazil’s largest bank rolled out AR to enhance surveillance staff training. Specialty outdoor retailer EVO certainly wasn’t the only retailer to use VR to boost headcount in time for Black Friday, and FedEx saw success using VR to train package handlers. VR for soft skills training also “became a thing” in 2019: Walmart (working with STRIVR) handed out Oculus Go headsets to test over a million employees for promotions, and Farmers Insurance developed a VR program with Talespin to help employees practice interpersonal skills. On the solution side, DDI Labs began working with partners like STRIVR on a library of VR scenarios for diversity and soft skills training.
More use cases
In 2019, we saw big brands like adidas move beyond XR in marketing to pursue applications behind the scenes and throughout the product lifecycle, from design to merchandising and consumer research (with eye-tracking). We also saw XR used to attract workers: Challenger Motor Freight, for one, worked with NexTech AR to develop AR recruiting materials for Millennials. Warehouses remained fertile ground for AR and wearables: IKEA expanded its use of ProGlove (along with visual/acoustic feedback) for picking, and DB Schenker tested exoskeletons. Towards the end of the year, a large order of AR glasses showed that XR adoption won’t be slowing down in 2020: Sword purchased 10,000 Vuzix Blade glasses to enable security personnel to scan faces, detect weapons, and receive critical threat alerts hands-free. The security firm wasn’t the first or only company this year to bundle AR glasses into its product offerings.
The enterprise immersive/wearable tech market matured a lot in 2019, going from scattered hardware/software updates to ambitious initiatives to fast forward and enable adoption for companies of all sizes. Design platforms abounded as new sophisticated hardware arrived on the scene, and the AR glasses race became official as Apple, Facebook and others revealed their future intentions.
2019 gave us second-gen AR/MR devices and higher-resolution VR headsets: In May, Google unveiled the $999 Glass Enterprise Edition 2 with a Qualcomm XR1 chip, longer battery life, better camera, and support for Android Enterprise MDM. The HoloLens 2 debuted in November with twice the field of view, hand and eye tracking, a convenient flip-up display, and a price tag of $3,500. First seen at CES in January, ThirdEye’s X2 Smart Glasses also came on the scene, launching at EWTS in September. The lightweight glasses cost just under $2,000 and come with built-in applications Remote Help and ScanEye, which generates and overlays 3D CAD models. Similar apps are available for HoloLens 2, including Remote Assist and Product Visualize, revealing current enterprise priorities.
We said goodbye to some familiar names (ODG, Meta, and Daqri) in 2019 and welcomed new players, including Lenovo with its ThinkReality A6 headset and, interestingly, device-agnostic platform. It seems Lenovo is also targeting remote assistance/training along with 3D product design and data visualization. The company recently teamed up with Varjo to make its desktop and mobile workstations VR-friendly—just one of many partnerships this year intended to speed up enterprise XR adoption.
It was also a great year for designers and engineers thanks to several new headsets with impressive resolution specs: The enterprise pro edition of HP’s Reverb headset – comfortable and budget-friendly at $649 – has an easy-to-clean leather ‘faceplate’ and cord for connecting to the HP VR Backpack. On the other end of the price spectrum, Varjo’s XR-1 (up to $10,000 for the Developer Edition, not including the yearly service license) boasts human-eye resolution and integrated eye tracking. Varjo has been marketing the device to industrial designers, engineers and researchers.
Big names in consumer XR eye the enterprise + the race is on:
In 2019, Oculus unveiled the Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest. Though Oculus’ new business package includes the Quest, companies can also inquire about high-volume orders of the Rift S and Oculus Go. Selling out of the newly formed VIVE Enterprise unit, the HTC VIVE Pro Eye arrived this year with integrated eye tracking and a relatively moderate price of $1,600. Finally, Magic Leap has made its enterprise intentions clear: A late addition to the EWTS 2019 expo floor back in September, Magic Leap just updated its website to emphasize enterprise use cases and announced a 2021 release for the professionally-focused (still $2,300) Magic Leap 2.
Another surprise entrant to the AR market in 2019 was Bose, bringing audio AR to our attention, and it turned out to be a great year for RealWear: The intrinsically-safe AR headset maker raised $80 million, acquired Kopin’s Golden-I Infinity, and revealed plans with UROS to deploy 10,000 HMT-1s to frontline industrial workers in Kazakhstan.
2019 is also the year the race to produce consumer AR glasses became official: Facebook Reality Labs is planning to build AR glasses, Amazon released its $180 Echo Frames, Huawei filed some patents, and Apple is reportedly on track to release an AR headset in 2022 followed by glasses in 2023. Going into 2020, enterprises might want to begin thinking about how business models will change when consumers wear AR glasses in daily life.
Below the Neck
VR gloves had a moment in 2019, with a notable number of real-time haptic feedback gloves at both AWE and EWTS, including the Oculus Quest-integrated BeBop Sensors Forte Data Glove and VRgluv. (Haptics stand to greatly enhance everyone’s favorite XR application.) Staying below the neck, ProGlove unveiled the MARK 2 smart glove for advanced assembly and logistics, Xyntek partnered with Nymi to offer its pharma and life sciences customers biometric wearables for authentication, and the quest to develop standards for exoskeletons in enterprise continued.
Software & more:
Qualcomm steps up + efforts to facilitate adoption
Market cooperation greatly increased in 2019 and I’m not just talking about software providers announcing support for more devices. Qualcomm really stepped it up, solidifying an ecosystem to accelerate enterprise XR adoption. At EWTS 2019, the company announced the Qualcomm XR Enterprise Program to connect XR headsets based on the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR platform with enterprise solutions. Earlier in the year, Qualcomm revealed its Snapdragon Smart Viewer Reference Design to speed up XR headset development. The company also announced broad ecosystem support for XR headsets paired with (near-future) 5G smartphones based on its Snapdragon 855 platform and revealed Boundless XR for PC, a dual-mode HMD without cables or external sensors. The idea is that the 5G version will move from local hardware to 5G Mobile Edge Compute. Capping off the year, Qualcomm announced Snapdragon XR2, “the world’s first 5G XR platform,” which may power some of the first 5G XR headsets. In more 5G news, EE turned on the UK’s first 5G network on May 30 and ThirdEye became Verizon’s first official smart glasses partner for 5G mobile edge computing.
In 2019, companies teamed up to integrate their skills/technologies, resulting in better enterprise XR applications. LogistiVIEW, for one, partnered with Fetch Robotics (autonomous robotics) to give clients more flexibility than traditional automation allows. The Wild partnered with Igloo Vision on shared immersive environments to improve enterprise collaboration. Vuzix and ST Engineering developed the first biometric-enabled smart glasses platform (Blade embedded with ST’s biometric AI platform). Facebook and Cornerstone OnDemand partnered to help mutual clients build training apps that can track users’ progress, and Zebra Technologies (a leader in warehouse solutions) partnered with Six15 (a leader in AR optics) to create the HD4000 HMD.
Other efforts focused on rapid implementation: For example, Vuzix teamed with Ubimax to offer the first Everything-as-a-Service smart glasses solution, allowing enterprises to rapidly implement smart glasses without the usual upfront investment, and Vuzix announced a Smart Glasses Remote Worker Connectivity Bundle on Sprint Curiosity IoT (connectivity has been one of the major obstacles to AR in the field).
If there’s one takeaway from 2019, it’s this: We’re well past the early adopter phase. 40% of small to midsize businesses are currently evaluating AR/VR (Gartner expects this number to rise to 70% by 2022). We’ve got data—a number of studies this year by Stanford and others showed XR training is more effective than traditional; and the Construction Industry Institute demonstrated that VR doubles the ability of inexperienced workers to spot design errors in a 3D model. Perhaps even more compelling, employees themselves want the technology. 60% of U.S. workers want to try AR/VR training (Genesys) and a recent Mojo Vision report revealed that employees expect to use emerging tech like AR/VR on the job. It’s not full steam ahead, however, as we count down to a new year. Challenges remain—it’s very early days for 5G, focal rivalry is real, and demand for XR content creation is growing faster than the talent pool needed to meet it. Nevertheless, here’s to buying my first pair of smart glasses for office productivity in 2020!
Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2020
The 7th Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is October 20-22, 2020 in San Diego! Join hundreds of Fortune 1000s to try out the latest in wearable tech, including AR/VR/MR, body-worn devices, and even exoskeletons, and to learn how today’s biggest companies are profiting from and scaling the technology. More details, including program and the largest expo of industrial AR/VR/Wearable tech to come on the EWTS 2020 website.