Connect: How technology is changing communication

Immersive Technology Could Help Change How We Work

What if an office could be anywhere you wanted, at any time? And what would that mean for people, countries, and even robots?

Work and specialized labor are at the heart of many issues related to globalization, immigration, and borders: People emigrate to new countries for work, and companies are increasingly firming up their international presence and looking to make international hires. Technology allows workers to collaborate and share information in real-time, even if they’re not physically together.

Augmented reality (AR), which puts digital representations of objects into your physical space, could be the key to changing how we think about work. AR has quickly evolved from a laboratory experiment to a staple in pop culture, entertainment, and media, and 67 percent of organizations are considering incorporating it into their procedures.

During his keynote address at Facebook’s F8 developers conference, CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke about a virtual reality meeting space the company developed, called Facebook Spaces.

“This virtual reality experience is going to give you a taste of what it’s like to have this real sense of presence with your friends, no matter where they are in the world, and to start interacting with all kinds of digital objects on the road to fully augmented reality,” said Zuckerberg.

Exploring what happens when possibility becomes reality.

Augmented reality is already being used in an immersive technology called holoportation. A special set of cameras captures an object or person in 3D, which (or who) can then be placed in a physical space anywhere in the world as a hologram. You can then hear, respond, and interact with that person as if he or she were in the room with you. Health-care innovators have already used the principle to create simulated, realistic anatomical human models that students can summon in their dorm rooms and use to practice surgical procedures.

With 43 percent of Americans working remotely at least some of the time, holoportation could be transformative. Meanwhile, for companies, it could allow them to connect with rare, specialized expertise instantly, no matter where they are based. And it could completely change standard office processes and interactions.

For example, DAQRI, an L.A.-based company, is bringing AR into the workplace with its Smart Helmet and Smart Glasses, which employees at companies like Space X and BMW are already using to improve their workflows, according to DAQRI co-founder Gaia Dempsey.

“You have all that intelligence and tools in your AR device and you can pull down the 3D models and use them for an inspection, or assembly workflow or design process as you’re going through your job building a Space X rocket or building a BMW car,” said Dempsey.

Training employees for new roles could also be made easier with augmented reality. In one case study, a Siemens employee learned how to assemble a gas burner—a process that usually takes about a day—in just 45 minutes. And Dempsey believes AR can help them retain the information better, too. “It’s not just the fact that you’re following step-by-step work instructions and you only know how to do it when the information is there,” she said. “It’s also because it’s an intuitive and kinesthetic way of conveying the information. The parts of your brain responsible for spatial awareness and pattern matching and building intuition are all getting activated so that is staying with you after the fact.”

Beyond just training lone employees, augmented reality could play an important role in team-oriented, high-stakes occupations—like teaching firefighters to work together under pressure, bandmates being able to practice together even if they’re miles apart, or high-level executives being able to really feel connected and collaborative in the event of a PR crisis that must be addressed.

An augmented reality office could also attract specialized talent from anywhere and could cut down on the overhead costs necessitated by a physical office or the transportation of employees or talent. Dempsey said that DAQRI’s Remote Expert can connect your field of view to an expert anywhere in the world who can give you guidance at any time, whether you’re a driver changing a tire or a plant employee manufacturing a part.

And this new way of approaching work could also allay increasing anxiety about robots taking over human jobs, per Dempsey. “If you can imagine putting on a pair of glasses and learning how to do anything, that could transform the dynamics in the economy and the workforce,” she explained. “It means that you will never be automated out of a job, because you can learn anything.”

The Possibility Report is an ongoing series about how technology is changing our understanding of the world around us. This article is part of CONNECT, our discussion about how emerging technologies could change how we communicate and bring unprecedented numbers of people online.