In recent years there has been a lot of buzz about the emergence of a “new kind of reality”- one which is a mixture of elements of the physical world around us, and those created digitally. Enabled by lighter, more powerful devices and high bandwidth wireless internet, this “blended reality” is opening new possibilities in a variety of fields, from research and engineering to entertainment and education.Extended Reality in the Automobile and Medical Education Sectors.
Three distinct types of digital-physically blended reality have emerged. These are:
- Virtual Reality
- Augmented Reality
- Mixed Reality
The umbrella term for all three scenarios is “Extended Reality”, or XR. In this article, we take a look at how XR is transforming the Automotive and Medical Education fields. According to a Global Digital IQ survey done by the firm Price Water House Coopers and published in the Harvard Business Review in 2017, Automotive and Healthcare are two of the top three fields seeing the most investment in XR technologies.
XR in the Automotive Industry
The potential for “reality enhancement” has been recognized by the auto industry since its inception. For instance, some modern cars use proximity sensors to inform drivers about safe distance via auditory feedback. Manufacturers have also experimented with overlaying information like speed etc. directly onto the windshield, similar to a fighter pilot’s “Heads-up Display” to improve the concentration of drivers and put more information at their fingertips.
With the advent of widespread mobile internet at 4G and 5G speeds, digital data can fuse with physical objects with much more realism than ever before. The automobile industry uses all three types of XR for a variety of manufacturer-focused, customer-focused, dealer-focused and auxiliary support-focused applications.
Manufacturers use both VR and AR extensively. Virtual Reality is extremely efficient to promote R&D, simulation and remote manufacturing, as well as collaborative operations management. AR-enabled glasses are used in the field and the factory floor for applications in supply chain management, on-product repair training, quality control, and logistics.
On the customer experience side, AR-enabled showrooms allow potential clients to test drive, customize, configure and accessorize before purchasing. These XR experiences can range from simple smartphone apps that give only a little extra information to highly elaborate setups in showrooms where potential customers can sit in a seat similar to the actual car seat, put on VR glasses to get realistic test-drives, or use Mixed Reality headsets like Microsoft’s Hololens to look at an actual car and customize it to their taste before their eyes.
With regard to actual car features, some cars have now started offering 360-degree holographic projections on the windshield instead of dials and gauges, which improves drivers’ situational awareness without being distracting. XR functionality also extends to driver-assist and mechanic-assist AR-enabled maintenance apps that can be used in “point-and-shoot” mode to help the viewer completely understand a component or feature’s functionality, construction, maintenance procedure and more.
An important part of the value chain of cars is the dealerships and showrooms. Salesperson training and empowerment through information technology is key to customer satisfaction. Thus, XR is often used in dealerships not only to train and test sales representatives on their product knowledge but also used in assisting dealers to close deals quickly by allowing virtual options and pricing to be streamlined. This allows the buying journey to become as short as possible.
Clearly the role of XR in Auto is only set to increase. Industrial applications will align manufacturing to Industry 4.0 standards. Meanwhile, customer-oriented applications will make buying, driving, navigating and maintaining cars more hassle-free for buyers. We expect this trend to also benefit a number of supporting industries, from the eLearning industry which will create a mountain of training aids for the new XR enabled platforms, to software developers who create new, specialized apps, hardware manufacturers who create new, innovative hardware to respond to the expanding need of consumers and even industries like insurance which will allow agents to review damage in real-time and process claims remotely.
XR in Medical Training
As the Human species devises new ways to use technology to make life easier, it is inevitable that one of the areas of focus would be healthcare. After all, what good are self-driving cars if one’s healthcare remains Victorian? Just as the great strides in healthcare and medical research made great strides in the past, so too is a new era of IT-driven strides already rising. Extended reality is already used to visualize and simulate surgeries, interpret test results, experiment with prosthetic design and even help therapists derive new techniques to help their patients overcome various mental health issues.
Healthcare and medical training is another matter. Training of doctors, nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists, mental health professionals, and other healthcare providers continues to largely be the same mix of classroom training, observing in the field, and some degree of hands-on experience. This is slow, expensive and limited in its reach. Digitization has already begun impacting the learning through ebooks and videos, but XR allows this to go several steps further:
- VR-based replicas of detailed anatomy are expected to be widely used instead of cadavers as primary training, making it suitable even for remote learning
- Trainees for areas like neonatal care and midwifery can get another layer of training, between the classroom and often nerve-racking first experience with small babies, allowing them to practice till they are satisfied before ever stepping into a high-stakes environment;
- A fascinating area of development is the use of VR for radiologists, to help interpret and visualize scan readings in full-360 view, helping create much more accurate medical assessments.
- Emergency responders need to practice their skills constantly. Furthermore, they often find it difficult to learn new guidelines and techniques necessary for their life-saving work. VR on headset holds excellent promise to address this need.
- VR and AR also find uses in early and mid-school training in techniques like CPR, use of equipment like defibrillators and even familiarization with common visual cues for potentially dangerous situations like choking, snakebites, life-threatening allergies, etc.
- XR is now getting used by mental health professionals to treat conditions like PTSD, anxiety, depression, and various phobias.
It is worth noting that VR and AR are used in multiple ways, including limited simulations, extensive deep-immersion programs and so on. A promising development is the use of VR within gaming environments to create gamified healthcare, a very exciting concept. We cannot wait to see how this one develops!