Companies are adopting AR and VR to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic

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Two virtual reality and augmented reality experts discuss the ways in which organizations are using the technologies in their businesses.

Tech is reshaping our business and personal lives in more ways than ever. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are playing bigger roles in companies as leaders look for ways to keep employees connected at a safe distance. TechRepublic’s Karen Roby talked with Rishi Ranjan, and Digam Panigrahi, co-founders of GridRaster, about the use cases for immersive mixed reality. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

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Dijam Panigrahi: This is a medium which allows you to do something, the next best thing you can do in terms of being physically there. And this is an excellent medium that solves that problem right now. What the restrictions are there around traveling and people operating from houses, and you still need to have those businesses keep running, and this is a medium providing excellent opportunities.

A few of the use cases where this has been really amazing has been trying to view and repair things remotely. All of a sudden, all these complex machines, whether you are talking in the medical industry or aerospace and defense automotive, this is being now serviced remotely.

This is made possible only because of augmented reality and virtual reality. Otherwise, it would have been a big struggle with all that restriction around travel and social distancing norms and all being in place. The other has been on the training front. There’s nothing which is as good, you can’t do anything better than train people in a virtual environment like with VR and AR, which has been huge in terms of keeping those businesses running. This is at least a couple of use cases which have been absolutely tremendous to keep many of those companies. You will see, whether it’s Nestle, or whether it’s Ford … take any industry, big companies over there, they have been leveraging this technology to keep things moving during this pandemic.

Karen Roby: Talk about some of the specific ways you’re seeing this with training and other ways to keep people connected from a safe distance. 

Rishi Ranjan: Just to capture that, we are very focused right now on aerospace, automotive, and defense manufacturing. In the case of training, our customers cannot bring their customers, their employees, on premise. There are restrictions all the time that only you can run at 10% capacity. Now, with mixed reality their employees can start training on all these complex machines in their living rooms. And they expect these whole work-from-home restrictions to at least remain there for one and a half year more. The lapses and everything are out.

Now, they’re seeing that they don’t have to really slow down on any front on training. They can train on a very complex space, spaceships, cars. All of those, they can keep training. They can even keep designing all of those things without any significant impact on them. And you can see that similar thing in medical, that now doctors cannot travel, but now the people who are remote, they can get hands-on help remotely from the doctors who are exported. Again, we are not focused on those verticals right now. But we know that very similar use cases are being used in the other workspaces.

Karen Roby: What are some of the challenges that companies face when trying to implement this type of technology?

Rishi Ranjan: The first thing is that mixed reality is new. So again, in some of the verticals, especially in the defense sector, it has been used for 30 to 40 years. So they are very, very used to using these. But, in other ones the devices are just getting used. They are just getting available right now. And so a lot of those use cases, people are trying to ramp up fast, but it’s a new medium. We have never seen this medium being used before. So, just content creation is a big thing. The devices are not fully there. You can use it in certain use cases, but it’s not that you can use it in any use cases yet. But those are the restrictions out there.

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The scaling of the problem is that when you look at the devices, these are screens sitting on your face so it’s very critical they should be light. If you have to carry a one-pound device on your face, your neck will start hurting after 30 minutes. Things are moving in that direction in the end. But, the problem is that the experience of the spatial augmentation that we are trying to bring, it needs a lot of compute, a lot of processing, before you can provide that help to the user. And that’s where we come in, that we bring all of those lower compute loads on the cloud.

But we believe the device to be much lighter. You don’t have to tether it to your PC and all those things to use it. But still, that device side, also, devices are improving. There are known rumors that Apple is working on the glasses, which will hopefully come in a couple of years and it will become the coolest. But those will go ahead and remove a lot of the friction that still people are feeling as a new medium.

But then creating the content, how do you pay the content as to that? Also, the friction points that people are facing. Some of the verticals we’re in the defense sector, we have seen that people have been using it for tens of years. So, they’re much more advanced. And that is where a lot of those learnings will come in and it will help the ecosystem. But some of the other verticals where they’re just starting to use and trying to catch up very fast, those friction points are still there.

Karen Roby: I know we talked about some of the larger companies like Nestle and groups like that. But when you talk about smaller businesses, smaller companies that have much smaller budgets. And digital transformation for some of them, they’re just moving through that right now and being forced to, because of the pandemic. How do you see those smaller companies and businesses coming into the fold with AR and VR? Do you see them starting to see the benefit and trying to find the money in their budget to make this happen?

Dijam Panigrahi: I say that’s a great question. And that’s something we think for overall ecosystem and for the AR/VR use case, a real big pickup, it has to move beyond. The big thing with the pandemic, what has happened is, now because of this whole situation that a Gen Z that has come to this. Now, the things that we have been trying to plan to (implement) it, or maybe the next couple of years, and all of a sudden, this all has to be framed within a few weeks or few months. Because they know that without using this medium, some of their businesses, they cannot continue to operate the way they really want to operate.

And we are seeing that. We are seeing that in terms of the interests that we are getting. We are seeing that in terms of even our application partners who are working there. They are getting those requests. The platform that we are providing here is designed toward that. How do you drive down the total cost of ownership, the cost with which even beyond those large players can actually leverage this medium? But the cloud-based approaches that we taking allows them to do that in a much more economical way and across a location, getting multiple users to work in that environment. So, we are solving a lot of that problem. So we are definitely seeing a lot of interest to pick up this medium for those businesses.

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