Industrial XR and why you probably aren’t late
Industrial XR and why you probably aren’t late
Nomenclature: With “Industrial XR” I mean the AR / VR / MR / XR Utilization in more traditional industrial companies for business use, who for the most part undergoing a digitalisation transformation.
What is the state of affairs with XR at industrial companies?
Broadly speaking VR and AR are at the Gartner hype-cycle at ‘trough of disillusionment’ and on the ‘slope of enlightenment’. These are the post-hype stages where the real positive business starts to slowly but gradually take off. At my work, I regularly engage with several billion-revenue companies and this matches quite well with what I witness.
At our company, at Intopalo we ramped up our VR and AR operation gradually up in 2015. This would best qualify as a demo-driven era, where many people we met had their first VR/AR experience ever. Any real positive business was far and few, and typically one-off solutions for example for marketing. My back recalls that we diligently hauled the bulky VR/AR gear and computers into customer meetings 😀
Widespread interest in many companies took off. It was somewhat untargeted and with a general false sense of urgency; “we should get to this area or we fall behind”. Some first real business cases started to, if not stabilize, at least to emerge as a widely known approach; for example, use Virtual Reality as a training solution technology. The real positive business impact was maybe slightly more but not much than the previous year.
The last year was a clear watershed year in creating positive revenue using these technologies. Things are now picking up. What I still find noteworthy is the vastness of problems tried to address with these technologies. There are about 10 different types of archetypal solutions that we work on today. I think it is a hallmark for a time where the de facto use cases have not yet stabilized. It is a sort of lookout period still for many companies, and maybe for the right reasons as I argue below. Speed is not the only winning factor in this game.
I am confident that starting this year and going few years beyond we see 3..5 approaches to stabilize and emerge from different companies.
Go business first
When I design the XR approaches with my clients, I find it useful to keep one foot firmly on the business. It is relatively easy to envision inspiring visions with these technologies, and it is equally challenging to quantitatively point out the estimated revenue streams. If you sometimes see me as a buzz-killer, please remember that I only care about companies real success, because it is the only reason for me to succeed with my clients in the long run (that way I am selfish).
The vast majority of work to get “XR business success” is not the XR visual development effort. It is the related business design, the service design, the UX design, and very notably the technological integration with company’s own digital platform - how does your mechanical designer’s CAD model end up into virtual reality with realistic setup and actual embedded user interface running on the product with near-zero effort? And why does it make money?
Go experience first
User experience is today an imperative attribute to any service or product. To get this right with XR is very different and typically one can’t replace traditional 2D user interfaces with these solutions. These technologies will address a new breed of use cases and services. Sometimes when we design the solutions with clients, we ultimately end up defaulting to enhanced 2D flat screen user interfaces with a roadmap to start adding XR milestones at later stages.
Nobody is late and “me too”
XR is one of the fastest technology areas to productize that I know. If you only think about the XR visualization part, quite seriously you may have a demonstration in some days or weeks, and even a real product in some months. These are very short timeframes. This makes it also a quite plausible candidate for “me too” productization. Once a company A comes up with a solution B that really “hits it”, it is reasonably fast to imitate. This implies that, while being first certainly has its perks, there are no big reasons to despair for the followers (provided the underlying company digital platform is in check, yaiks).
So what exactly is cooking? Here are few picks that I believe that will be here to stay at least for a while:
- Virtual Reality assisted R&D processes. Consider for example mechanical design.
- Augmented shopping, planning, and visualizing.
- Virtual reality based training and simulation
- AR assisted working in general
- Local, near, and remote operations and monitoring.
Hot next: AR + AI
The next step at least for us has been combining AR with AI. It is a quite natural direction and is proving its worthiness. It is equally exploratory turf as the whole XR has been so far, but definitely worth exploring. Below you can find a video of a relatively straightforward demonstration:
Few weeks ago I also had the pleasure meet the folks at Aalto University, who also research this very topic and appreciate both its necessity and challenges.
At the end of the day, my projections are guesses. The world of XR is in incredible flux at the moment, and I am very very grateful to hear what do you think. What do you think are the future pragmatic directions of XR to make profitable stuff?
*)ARKit + docker based microservices architecture, of which one service is CNN (Convolutional Neural Network) with online learning aspects, i.e. whenever a face is recognized, the system gets more accurate.