Changing How We Work with Augmented Reality

There are two types of people in the world. First, there are the people who saw Apple’s debut of their new augmented-reality virtual-reality headset, the Apple Vision Pro, and thought it was a groundbreaking moment in consumer technology that would forever the change the course of modern life. Then, there are the people that thought it was the dumbest thing that had ever flashed across their screen. What do you use it for? To watch a movie in your living room where you already have a huge TV? To play those clunky VR games that never caught on? And, priced initially at a patently inaccessible $3500 starter cost, you could throw in a few more adjectives: user-hostile, elitist, and wasteful.

Does the truth lie somewhere between those two extremes? Well, it’s complicated.

The real truth is that, like any other attempt at technological advancement that came before it, mixed reality could fall flat on its face. But unlike bitcoin, or NFTs, or anything else in that realm, this one feels more like a trend than a fad. It’s underlying tech is physical, tangible. For once, it’s not that hard to explain. You strap a super powerful mini-monitor-plus-mini-computer to your head, and it projects images of ultra-real objects that you can interact with. And bonus: years from now, when the tech gets really good, maybe it all will fit in the frame of a pair of eyeglasses. That’s it. Simple. For comparion’s sake, have your nearest Bitcoin bro try to explain the tech behind the blockchain to you in fewer than four sentences.

And we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the ways humanity can harness something like this. There are these poignant videos of people connecting with each other in metaverse-like spaces, emboldened to be open with their emotions. because they can hide behind a Kermit the Frog costume. Elsewhere, you have people dive bombing into their TVs because the realness of that virtual reality feels too, well, real. (There’s really no shortage of videos of people looking like absolute idiots wearing these things.) But the applications that Apple showed off look truly compelling. And, maybe for the first time, like they might actually have utility in our lives. Remote collaboration. Detailed simulation. Transformative experiences.

And it doesn’t have to be all fantastical wild worlds. It might be even be more powerful when it’s just showing you your real world, just with a bunch of stuff on top of it. Collaborating with people in a real room but with all this helpful material floating around.

Maybe, one day, we’ll be able to reenact scenes like this, or like this, in real life. We can dream, right?

It might not be guaranteed to change our world, but it has a chance. And in the meantime, at minimum, its capability—to transform our workflows, to enable us to see things we’ve never seen before, and influence our productivity—should not be underestimated. So let’s dive in and take a look at the ways the game might be forever changed (if “Tim Apple” has his way, at least).

More than just a silly toy


Virtual Reality has matured into a sophisticated technology with applications across a multitude of sectors.

Again, some people watched this demonstration from Apple showing how it might be used in an office setting and scoffed. Others—those already accustomed to hybrid workplaces, open floor plans, and more modern takes on work, might have had a clearer vision. They can likely see how a tool like this could fit into their days.

From healthcare to education, and even in the corporate world, VR will prove to be a game-changer in enhancing productivity.

No more boring video calls


The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift towards remote work. But despite all our advancements (and all the VC and investor money that got poured into Zoom over the last three years) there are still major limitations to conventional video conferencing. It’s challenging to truly replicate the dynamic of an in-person meeting or brainstorming session. That’s where that big clunky thing strapped to your head steps in. Starting to notice a trend?

With VR, you can meet with your colleagues in a virtual boardroom, complete with interactive whiteboards and 3D models. You can collaborate on projects in a shared virtual space, regardless of your physical location. This not only enhances teamwork but also fosters a sense of presence and connection that’s often lacking in traditional remote meetings. And as Apple demonstrated in their unveiling, the images you see of other people don’t have to be of other people with clunky things on their heads. It’s just you. It might be a processed, machine-learning approximation of you, but it’s very nearly as close to you as you could hope to get.

Training for work without the scary parts

If you’ve ever wondered how people in high-stakes and life-or-death jobs ever learned how to do their job in the first place, you’re not alone. As it turns out, there’s no one good answer. Training, especially in high-risk industries like healthcare, aviation, or manufacturing, is a bit of a mystery box.

Traditional methods sometimes fall short in providing a truly immersive learning experience. And on the flip-side, thrusting trainees into real-life scenarios like ride alongs or shadowing professionals on the job can be dangerous, or disappointingly ineffective given the inherent risk.

Imagine a medical student being able to perform surgeries in a virtual operating room before stepping into a real one. (Shades of video games like this but about 100,000 times more real.) Or a pilot honing their skills in a virtual cockpit, simulating emergency scenarios without any actual risk involved. (This already happens, in big clunky rigged boxes that bounce on hydraulics, but they cost $60,000 and are rendered obsolete within 10 months of shipping. With augmented reality, a new instrument panel or immersive AV package is a firmware update away.)

This is the power of training in augmented reality. It provides a safe, controlled environment for learners to practice and perfect their skills. They have rigs now that rumble immersive audio in your ears; even some that blow air on your face. And there’s that incredible million-pixel screen wrapping around your entire head, making you forget you’re not flying 30,000 feet in the air.

Its got all the makings of a massive paradigm shift in how we approach training our most vital workforces.

Simulating the real world


There has always been a yawning gulf between the ideas in our heads and the finished products that we create. And often it feels like those ideas need to go through all sorts of transformations and forms, and with them different applications and physical spaces to support them, before they reach the finish line.

For artists and creative types, products like the portable tablet went a long way towards changing that. Gone were suitcases full of colored pencils and paints and erasers—no more easels and canvasses strewn about studios. Now one little stylus was two or three taps away from becoming all manner of writing and drawing implements, styles, thicknesses, intensities, colors.

But for designers and inventors, who need to work in prototyping with physical materials, that process of testing and developing has always been time-consuming and expensive. But now, you’d be shocked at the number of things that can be handled with a headset and maybe a 3D printer if you’re feeling fancy.

Architects, engineers, and product designers can use AR to create and test their designs in a virtual environment. This means being able to walk through a building before it’s even constructed, identifying flaws or making adjustments in real-time. You can even run simulations to test production lines, ensuring efficiency and safety before any physical resources are committed (or real money is burned in trial and error). Imagine how many nights sleeping on the factory floor Elon Musk could have been saved if he could just run a simulation first.

Depending on the complexity of the object, a project can go from 3D render to 3D print to prototype in a manner of days. That used to take multiple weeks, and involve multiple vendors, and technical processes, and guys named Derek in greasy Carhartts handing you overpriced invoices. Maybe even a shipment across the country. Now you’re making things appear in mid-air in front of you in your pajamas. And you’re claiming that isn’t a big deal? A fad? Something that won’t help you achieve more in less time?

From tinkering in your garage, to appearing on Shark Tank, to selling on Instagram shop, all in a flash.

Step into a painting

And for those of you who work in more directly creative fields, the potential benefits are even easier to imagine.

There are videos circulating of artists stepping into their own paintings, making them fully traversable 3D environments. And that only unlocks new worlds of artistic expression, new mediums to explore and make your own, and make the whole thing an NFT and make millions…

Or gather all your sculptures in a 3D space and arrange them how you like, without the help of indelicate movers (or risking a fate like this). Now no one has to book a cross-country flight (or schlep down the 110 freeway) to see your exhibit.

There are even new possibilities for architectural design and urban planning. Architects can walk clients through virtual buildings, providing an in-depth understanding of their vision. This not only improves communication but also speeds up decision-making processes with even the most delicate choices.

The videogame-ification of entertainment?


And while we skipped over it at the beginning, we can’t neglect to mention the seismic effect mixed-reality experiences have the potential to make in entertainment.

You’ve likely heard the bullet points—traditional media is passive, and reality experiences are interactive and immersive. This opens up exciting possibilities for storytelling.

The video game industry has grappled with it already, in a way, for decades. Many of their proponents, awash with stories of life-changing experiences, have tried to convince larger media of their worth as storytelling vehicles.

But there’s a fundamental difference between video games and every other form of art: you get to choose where you look. You can look directly at the villain delivering a monologue at you, or get more interested in the flowers on the ground next to him. You can steal a car in Grand Theft Auto to get to your next mission all the way across the city, or you could just…walk there. For four hours. Up to you. You have the power to shape your story, and alter it, infinitesimally and infinitely, from the person sitting next to you, or from the last time you played it. Does that change it’s classification as art, or as a reproduce-able story?

That debate is a fun and worthwhile one to have. But in the meantime, the results are unanimous: it’s fun as hell. And you should give it a try.

A new way to teach, learn, and experience


But maybe the most exciting possibilities for this technology, funnily enough, are in the world of education. Imagine students taking virtual field trips to historical landmarks, or exploring the depths of the ocean without leaving the classroom. Theoretical concepts can transform into physically tangible experiences. Plato’s Cave from a first person perspective? Ninth grade will never be the same.

AR can also help to cater to different learning styles and abilities. Visual learners can benefit from immersive 3D models. Kinesthetic learners, put upon as they often are in typical learning environments, can interact with virtual environments. It levels the playing field and provides equal educational opportunities for everyone.

Or there could even be a history class where you witness pivotal moments in time, or a biology class where you explore the intricacies of cellular structures up close. It’d be like The Magic Schoolbus in real life! Not to sound corny, but it would make learning fun. And that level of engagement would endure throughout a lifetime. It’s powerful stuff.

Staying deeply locked in

But let’s talk about why you’re reading this article on a productivity blog.

Aside from the perhaps overly-simple point that you’re blocking your vision—and thus your capacity to be distracted—about as thoroughly as has been possible in the modern history of eyewear, a reality-altering headset has far deeper implications with regards to your focus.

When you put on a VR headset, you enter a different world. You’re fully immersed in the task at hand, free from distractions of the physical environment. This level of immersion can lead to heightened focus and increased productivity. It’s akin to stepping into a zone where you’re completely absorbed in your work. A new world built from the ground up to be as helpful to your cause as you could possibly need.

Embracing the new frontier


The potential applications of augmented and mixed reality are limited only by our imagination. As developers and creators continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible, we can expect to see even more groundbreaking uses for this technology—worlds, truly, still yet unimaginable

From virtual art galleries to collaborative design spaces, the creative potential of this technology is boundless. It’s not just a tool for productivity; it’s a canvas for innovation across all industries. It has the potential to transform industries, enhance learning, and redefine the way we collaborate.

From training and simulations to remote collaboration, education, healthcare, and entertainment. A seismic shift in how we interact with our environment, work, and learn.

So, whether you’re a student, a professional, or simply a curious explorer, don’t hesitate to step into the virtual realm. The future is now, and it’s waiting for you to be a part of it.

As we stand at the threshold of this virtual revolution, it’s crucial for individuals and industries to embrace the potential of VR. This technology is very likely not just a trend—Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Cook have all but staked major portions of their reputation on it.

It could fall flat on its face. But it also very well might not. And in the meantime, courtside at the Lakers sitting next to Jack Nicolson sounds pretty cool, right?

Robin Copple

Robin Copple is a writer and editor from Los Angeles, California.

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