The global response to slow the spread of COVID-19 catapulted us into an enhanced digital environment overnight. While many adjusted seamlessly with virtual meetings and remote collaboration, other “essential” facilities were left to juggle safeguarding their indispensable frontline workers with operating and maintaining uninterrupted service delivery. They have turned to Extended Reality (XR) and wearable devices to reduce risks in the delivery of essential services.
Wearable devices range from lightweight “Remote Advisor” glasses or lenses where the user can see his or her surroundings to fully immersive headsets that transform the user to a virtual world. This technology can be paired with XR software to equip facility and equipment operators with knowledge-rich content while they are on site. For example, virtual information can be projected within the surrounding physical environment to deliver context-specific data using the Microsoft Hololens. This system can provide frontline workers with an interactive first-person perspective of all relevant resources, including models, manuals and operating procedures.
The benefits of using XR are not limited to viewing information that provides building and facility operators with a solution that promotes consistent and quality operations in today’s society. Further advantages include:
Combating Staff Shortages: The threat of COVID-related staff shortages has affected thousands of industries, but perhaps none more profoundly than workers in healthcare facility operations, water and utility services, and data distribution centers where the demands to maintain critical infrastructure are paramount. Fewer frontline workers required doing even more with less, and during an emergency or equipment malfunction, staff often do not have time to flip through pages of documentation to locate the resolution or process. Equipping staff with XR-powered solutions allows them to view the sequence of steps necessary to solve their given issue. New or substituting staff aiding skeleton crews can quickly become proficient and integral members of the team.
Providing Remote Assistance: XR is solving the knowledge delivery challenge imposed by social distancing by enabling seasoned operators and technicians with many years of experience–who may be in identified high-risk categories–to train new generations of operators and technicians without physically being together. Facility operators can share their views or troubleshoot problems through wearable technology, share opinions through annotations of views and chat or add trainees dialed in remotely to learn or watch a process.
Promoting Two-Way Collaboration: Some XR solutions on the market today offer remote collaboration functionality that captures high-quality images despite low connectivity/low bandwidth environments, such as in building basements and rooftops. This solution promotes real-time, two-way collaboration and annotation of field-captured images, allowing up to 20 participants to simultaneously view real-world conditions while remaining physically distanced. In this critical coronavirus era, delivering frontline workers with virtual workforce capabilities reduces their risk of exposure by providing them with a contactless way to capture and transfer pivotal institutional knowledge.
Delivering Hands-Free Functionality: Extended reality eliminates the need for workers to leave their equipment when a problem arises. Instead, operators can pull in context-specific information like on-demand instructions, graphics, checklists, troubleshooting guides, and diagrams with the click of a button. This shift to a paperless and hands-free environment is ideal for conveying information with maximum retention, especially as the “digital generation” enters the workforce.
Thinking About ER? Considerations to Assist You
XR’s ability to assist with solutions to challenges facing us is undisputable, but it's important to remember that the right XR solution is one that works for you. After deciding on cost (which is often the most important factor in the decision-making process), here are some other questions you should discuss with your consultant to ensure you find the right solution for you.
Ease of Use
- How intuitive is it to operate?
- How long will it take to teach staff and operators to use?
- How long does the battery last?
- How will the device perform on site, particularly in extreme temperatures?
- How much bandwidth does it have/need?
- What connection type does it require?
- Do I need a power cord? How about any other cords?
- Can I wear a hard hat while operating the software?
- If applicable, do I operate the device with one eye or two eyes? How does that impact my organization's safety protocols?
- Is the device voice-controlled?
- Does it work with an app on my phone/tablet, or is it remote powered?
Security and Compliance
- After my data has been collected, where does it go?
- Should I expect any problems while traveling internationally (i.e. clearing customs)?
- Is this solution GDPR-compliant?
Many essential facilities have turned to Extended Reality (XR) and wearable devices to reduce risks in the delivery of essential services.
XR’s ability to assist with solutions to challenges facing us is undisputable, but it's important to remember that the right XR solution is one that works for you.