Haley Bucelewicz | 11.03.16
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Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have been getting a lot of visibility lately. And it’s no surprise, considering these cutting edge technologies add a twist to reality. Virtual reality allows humans to explore new, artificial worlds through a headset or goggles. And augmented reality enhances the world we live in. It overlays digital information on real-world objects through wearables like Google Glass or using the camera on a mobile phone.

Technology giants can’t seem to agree on which technology will be the next big thing. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, has big plans for VR. He plans on making VR social, and just committed $250 million to VR content. Meanwhile, Apple’s Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook believes AR will surpass VR in commercial sales.

So which technology is the next big thing? And more importantly, which technology will improve how we provide service? After all, we build technology to make our lives, and our customers’ lives, easier. Let’s take a look at what each has to offer.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is a fully immersive experience. It takes users into an interactive computer-generated virtual world. Some virtual environments are so realistic that users would find it difficult to tell what’s real. It’s a whole new way of interacting with the Internet, brands, and distant regions of the world.

Virtual reality has been most successfully applied by the video game industry. That’s no surprise considering it makes players a part of the game. But VR has gone beyond the gaming industry and has proved a valuable tool for marketing and training.

The real-estate industry, for instance, will likely be one of the biggest VR adopters. It allows realtors to showcase properties in a new and exciting way. And home buyers can experience the full features of a house without leaving their homes for a tour. Not only is it great for marketing, but it makes the home buying process cheaper and faster. The travel industry will use VR in a similar way, by helping clients choose hotels and locations easier. There’s probably no better way to promote a product than by putting someone right in the middle of it.

But virtual reality’s biggest potential lies in teaching people new skills. Forget textbooks and forget lectures or classroom training. VR bridges the gap between theoretical and practical learning. The military uses VR to train soldiers in skills like hand-to-hand combat. Soldiers can improve their skills without getting hurt.

Field service organizations could also use this technology to their advantage. Field technicians could train for the job using virtual reality. This frees up the time of the seasoned field engineer who gets stuck training the new guy. Plus, VR proved to be more effective training than traditional classroom work in other industries, such as public safety.

The fact that virtual reality is fully immersive can also be a disadvantage. It disconnects people from the outside world completely. So although VR could help train techs, it’s probably less useful on the job. It’s harder to multitask with the VR headset taking over your interactions with the physical world. You probably wouldn’t be able to learn how to fix something in VR while actually fixing it in the real world.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality blends virtual reality and real life. It lets people remain aware of their surroundings, while also enhancing reality. And because it’s not fully immersive, it has an advantage over VR. It assists field technicians in real-time, without taking them away from the job.

AR makes information interactive, visual, and much easier to process. So it’s no surprise that AR has been successful in field service and on the job maintenance. AR wearables keep techs hands free and display all information at their eyeline. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) recently started using AR glasses in the field. Their techs can communicate hands free with experts via annotated video. This makes repairs faster and reduces delays.

Moreover, AR helps bridge the gap between younger and older generations of field service technicians. Younger people tend to be more comfortable using new technology. But they don’t have the mechanical skills or experience of older generations of field techs. Businesses can give new techs AR smart glasses to ease the training process. And they’ll save time and money spent on training because AR will show young techs how to make repairs on the spot.

With AR to help visualize information, a tech can look at a machine and see exactly what needs fixing. And they can begin the job right away without delay. They can even have someone on the other end to guide them through the repair. That means they won’t have to stop and call for backup. They can keep chugging along.

So which reality-bending technology is the likely winner for field service?

Virtual reality will be useful for training and teaching new skills. Field service organizations can avoid the time and money spent on training techs with virtual reality. It’s been proven a more effective method and it gives techs hands on training.

Augmented reality will improve field service efficiency and help with on the job fixes. Field techs will have all the information in front of them to complete a job quickly. They won’t need backup, which frees up other techs to complete more jobs. And the customer will be happy with first time fixes.

Ultimately, AR has the advantage because it allows people to be productive and enhances reality at the same time. VR takes our full attention, so it can teach us skills but doesn’t allow us to use them at the same time. And we don’t need more reasons to keep our customers waiting.

If you’d like to learn more about AR and VR, follow the links below: