From Pikachu to Patients: The Rise of Augmented Reality

By on May 22nd, 2017 in Managed Learning Services

Whether or not you were caught up in the phenomenon of 2016 that was Pokémon Go, you were surely aware of the craze. The game, developed by Google spin-off Niantic, popularized location-based and augmented reality (AR) technology. It became one of the most used and profitable mobile apps in 2016, having been downloaded more than 500 million times worldwide.

This phenomenon helped to register in public consciousness the existence and potential of AR technologies, even though their use in training and commercial applications goes back to the late 1990s. Like many disruptive technologies, AR has followed the profile of the Gartner Hype Cycle, passing through the “peak of inflated expectations” and the “trough of disillusionment” before emerging onto the “slope of enlightenment.”

Often, however, AR requires a shift of public perception on a massive scale to kick-start—not just the acceleration of application development, but also the confidence of the major investors to support the technology. In 2012 AR, along with virtual reality (VR), was being hailed as the next generation technology to watch, with markets estimated at £600 billion (approximately $776 billion) by 2016. Today those estimates have been revised (reflecting passage along the Gartner Hype Cycle) to a more conservative $90 billion annually by 2020. Surprisingly, given the relative amount of buzz, AR is already a much larger market than VR, with hundreds of commercial, industrial, and military applications provided by literally dozens of hardware and software vendors.

So, what does the potential hold for AR in the field of learning & training, and what needs to happen to realize this potential?

Here are just some of the applications and augmented reality solutions that have been developed over recent years:

  • Nurse training at UK teaching hospitals involves AR to overlay filmed patient responses on mannequin training to develop the empathy so crucial in critical care situations.
  • The Museum of London has developed an app that superimposes historic views of London streets when the viewer holds their smartphone up to a present-day street scene. This approach has also been used to view the site of the World Trade Center and the location of the Berlin Wall.
  • Businesses have already started to take advantage of AR and are using it in customer product support. In order to help their users easily change ink cartridges, HP Support launched a mobile app that shows customers how to change ink cartridges in their printers. Volkswagen introduced a similar app for service mechanics that recognises engine components and overlays animations of maintenance techniques.
  • Defence company Lockheed Martin is collaborating in an AR project using smart glasses to speed up maintenance procedures for F-22 and F-35 fighter jets. When engineers look at the aircraft using the smart glasses, they see digitally displayed plans projected over the physical plane. They can then use a tablet to enter any damage or defects.
  • Infrastructure is inherently 3D. Yet, the only design document that is legally approved for construction is the 2D drawing. A team at Bentley Systems has developed an AR application where the blueprints are overlaid on the construction site through AR glasses.

So, what are the key training trends where AR can be seen to add value in the future? Industry analysts seem to agree on three areas:

Training at the point of need – AR has the capability to provide on-the-job training without the need for employees to consult a manual or even look away from the task.

The ultimate test bed – AR can create practice environments in the real world. It’s already being used in this way to help teach surgeons and other medical professionals, and as the technology becomes more accessible, it’s likely to be used in other sectors where there is a requirement for safe practice.

Collaboration – You can have people working in groups or teams to complete tasks. They have the tools for communication in their hands, without you having to create a huge communications infrastructure.

One of the strongest points in favor of the continued embedding of AR technologies within mainstream training is the accessibility of the platform. Unlike VR, mobile devices are already owned by employees. The next generation of smartphones (such as the Lenovo Phab2) already have AR capabilities embedded within the operating system. This is a technology that is here to stay, so it is now up to the L&D community to consider how best to apply the learning opportunities it offers to use augmented reality in business.

Jeremy Miles

Stories of Mice and Men

It’s funny when you look back over a career, especially one that has taken a number of twists and turns, to see if you can establish a common thread that runs through everything. My job history has been pretty varied—from research biologist to filmmaker, university director to commercial business manager, and now freelance educational consultant.

If I try to find the theme that links all these roles and ties into my own personal strengths, it would probably be as a storyteller…confused pause…OK, let me unwrap that a bit.

Whilst completing my PhD in reproductive biology I realised pure research wasn’t for me. I was also teaching undergraduate anatomy at the time and I found film was a great medium to convey detailed information (and save quite a few laboratory mice in the process). This quickly led to a career producing educational videos. Irrespective of the context, essentially a filmmaker, like a teacher, is a storyteller, using the medium to convey wonderment.

This was in the 1990s, just as digital learning technologies were beginning to emerge. As director of Media Production at the University of Portsmouth, I established the university as an early adopter of multimedia and streaming technologies. However, people don’t necessarily adopt change automatically—you have to present a compelling picture of the future and generate buy-in. Again, storytelling is critical to allow people to understand and embrace change.

What followed was a period in the private sector, heading up Operations departments within fairly large professional services organisations. At the turn of the century, talent management was a key priority, finding and retaining the best in their field. Where I saw greatest success was in those organisations that had a truly ‘joined-up’ vision of their business, and as senior directors, we had to convey that vision to all stakeholders - customers, prospects, and staff alike. Guess how we did it … stories. Not a fictional untruth, but a compelling narrative that got people genuinely excited.

Today, I am still using the power of storytelling to help organisations realize the best from their people and engage the whole organisation behind a vision of success. When I look back, maybe my career choices have not been so random after all.
One comment on “From Pikachu to Patients: The Rise of Augmented Reality
  1. Jeff says:

    Jeremy, thanks for sharing your insight. It will be interesting to see how GP Strategies incorporates AR into our future solutions for our customers. Good, thought-provoking blog post.

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