I admit it, besides being a tech geek all my life, I’m also a lifelong sci-fi movie enthusiast.  I remember watching “Minority Report”[1] almost two decades ago. The action thriller takes place in 2054 and introduced gesture-controlled augmented reality.  What really resonated with me was the effectiveness of the augmented reality enabled workstation that Tom Cruise’s character used to track down suspects.  With simple hand gestures, he intuitively manipulated data files and video streams that were projected in mid-air.

Roughly five years later, Marvel’s “Iron Man”[2] was released. Tony Stark’s version of an augmented reality enabled workstation played a key role in the design of the famous suit. Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr., designed and built the Iron Man suit in his lab. His technology empowered him to manipulate 3D models with his hands and have natural language conversations with his intelligent virtual agent, JARVIS.  And when Stark put on the helmet, we got another glimpse into the future with an assisted reality interface. The real-time contextual data and voice commands allowed Iron Man to protect the universe hands-free.

These immersive experiences may seem futuristic and only available through the magic of Hollywood.  But many of the Extended Reality concepts in these movies can be deployed within the enterprise today. They can enable teams to accelerate business growth and increase job safety and satisfaction.

This blog post will discuss Extended Reality, from 2D Assisted Reality and the blended world of 3D Augmented Reality, to the fully immersive Virtual Reality. And, I will share common use cases and benefits that we see with our clients.

Extended Reality

In the broad sense, Extended Reality (XR) provides a form of digital sensory awareness that is driven from the physical world around you. It delivers real-time, highly personalized and contextual experiences using a combination of audio, visual and even tactile.  Extended Reality is often described as a combination of the two terms: “Augmented Reality” and “Virtual Reality”.  You can visualize them using the diagram below which is based on the Immersive Computing Spectrum[3]. On one side of the spectrum is your physical or real world, while the other is a fully computer-generated experience, where the user is immersed in a virtual world.

Assisted Reality

Within the XR Practice at Accenture, we recognize another category within Extended Reality, “Assisted Reality”. This is positioned between Real Reality and Augmented Reality on the immersive spectrum.  Assisted Reality can provide personalized, interactive, real-time 2D digital content that is highly relevant to the task at hand.  The user looks at digital content such as schematics, photos, videos, audio or textual information overlaid on top of the physical world.  This experience is provided through a smartphone or pair of smart glasses. The key benefit of smart glasses is that users remain hands-free, allowing them to complete their task while guided by step-by-step instructions.

Augmented Reality

Augmented Reality goes one step beyond 2D Assisted Reality. It blends the physical and digital worlds with interactive 3D, spatially aware, digital content and holograms. Users still have a grasp of the physical world around them, but can now see 3D digital content anchored in space. This can aid users in completing complex tasks safely and effectively.  The experience can also be shared with multiple users on site or at remote locations. 

Imagine you are a field engineer in a remote location with a coworker, performing monthly maintenance on complex and expensive equipment.  You and your coworker put the Augmented Reality headsets on and are able to see and interact, in physical 3D space, with an exact digital replica of the equipment. As you monitor real-time sensor readings and review maintenance notes on a virtual dashboard, you can observe your coworker being guided through step-by-step procedures, ensuring that they are performed correctly as each step is digitally logged.  This experience is more immersive, interactive and integrated to the physical world. The user’s immediate needs, location and objectives become the context that drives the experience.  Such solutions can be used in a variety of applications from equipment repair, to emergency medical technicians.

In today’s digital world, the connected workforce out in the field or on the factory floor requires real-time and dynamic access to intelligent enterprise systems. These systems empower them to perform their jobs more efficiently, accurately and safely.  Cross-industry use cases around Assisted Reality and Augmented Reality that we have co-created with our clients include:

  • Guiding workers step-by-step through standard operation procedures and tasks.
  • Simplifying compliance, audit and regulatory documentation.
  • Digitally capturing the expertise of the workforce while on the job and making it available for training sessions.
  • Performing a video call to a remote expert for on-demand support or approvals.
  • Providing real-time contextual data from enterprise and intelligent sensors systems.

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) is a fully immersive experience where users have an “in the moment” sense of presence in a computer-generated environment. They interact with highly convincing imagery and digital content with no direct connection to the real world.  This experience is provided though a tethered or portable head-mounted display where the user becomes present in a virtual world. VR provides many benefits to the enterprise in immersive learning, unleashing employees’ potential through engaging and interactive content.  Clients that we helped develop VR training offerings are:

  • Observing a faster time to competency of the participants, with knowledge retention rates up to 40% higher over traditional learning methods.
  • Able to have employees practice difficult and dangerous tasks in a safe environment, potentially reducing costly mistakes and avoiding serious injuries.
  • Enhancing core people skills such as public speaking, empathy and emotional intelligence.
  • Seeing an overall increase in engagement and satisfaction.

Extended Reality is the new enterprise experience in today’s digital age and Accenture has been on the forefront of bringing XR capabilities to our clients for almost a decade.  You don’t have to wait for an Iron Man suit or the year 2054. To learn more how Accenture can help enable digital transformation by creating at-scale enterprise Extended Reality experiences for your business, visit our XR Services site.

References

[1] Minority Report (2002) 

[2] Iron Man (2008) 

[3] Immersive Computing Spectrum 

EJ Dougherty III

Technical Architect Science Sr Manager, Extended Reality Practice

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