Mixed reality takes off – virtually and literally / by Scott A.

Since the recent release of Microsoft’s HoloLens, it seems every second story is about Mixed Reality and how it is going to change the world.

CSC Bassan

I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with Jarrod Bassan, principal consultant at CSC,  who is an expert on the use of mixed (augmented) reality in business. He also bought his HoloLens to the café – much to the amusement of fellow diners.

In case the acronym CSC is not familiar it stands for Computer Sciences Corporation, first established in the US in 1959 to provide programming and compiler tools to mainframes. It helped put a man on the moon, made IBM and Honeywell computers more usable, and, like all good pioneers, has continued to grow. It has 66,000 staff in 60 countries and 6000 in Australia.

But let’s move back to the topic. Mixed reality is going to be the fifth industrial revolution – cloud is so yesterday!

For those new to mixed reality, it is the mixing of real and digital worlds in real time. It is not virtual reality (VR) where everything is created on a computer and viewed in a cloistered headset. iTWire has a good primer on MR here.

Bassan is not new to MR. He joined CSC in 2000 after it had started experimenting with MR in 1998, nearly 18 years ago. But the machinery, telemetry and broadband speeds to do much with it have really only just come of age.

He has a passion for the mining industry, developing CSC’s position on the future of the mining industry and has published several related papers, including “A Day in the Life of a Mine Worker in 2025”. That was evident from his opening statement.

“Imagine that you can move people from remote, dangerous, and high-cost locations like mines and bring all that functionality to a safe office environment.” He is a firm believer in using remote telemetry and MR to make it safer for everyone.

“Sadly the tech was just not up to it, and now in 2016 it has crossed the line. It is going to dramatically change the way people work and interact,” he said.

"It is important to draw a distinction between VR and MR – VR requires you to 'escape' into a virtual world free of any external influences or interference. MR simply overlays digital on the real, and its applications in the real world are enormous.

"For example, a repairman could go to the site and collaborate with his supervisor on what to do, what parts are needed and even learn any additional skills from the supervisor. Typically, a complicated repair cycle can involve up to four trips – investigate, return with the parts and fix, a follow-up inspection, and perhaps ongoing monitoring and adjustment – MR may get that down to one or two.

"MR also has a major role to play in improving productivity. According to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), Australia has dropped to number 18 for the 2015 IMD World Competitiveness Scoreboard. CEDA chief executive, Professor Stephen Martin said Australia’s decline to 18 in the world rankings highlighted a concerning trend over the last five years.

“The overall result is drawn from rankings for four key areas – economic performance, government efficiency, business efficiency and infrastructure and Australia has slipped significantly in all these areas over the last five years,” he said.

Bassan is a little more upbeat although no less serious in warning about what will happen if Australia does not lift its productivity. Australia suffers from the tyranny of distance (from the rest of the world as well as being an expansive country). "As such we have had to develop a lot of IP here and work smarter. We have a highly skilled but expensive workforce. The economics of developing an MR workforce makes the greatest sense here."

"With MR we can have things like distributed teams working as part of global teams applying -exporting - our expertise. We can be the trainer or supervisor for lower cost labour in other countries all from the comfort of our offices – all without travel or relocation costs."

We spoke about acceptance of MR, as distinct from VR.

"With VR you need to be isolated from the real world by bulky headsets – that is not going to change. It’s a pretty antisocial activity.

"With MR you can use the Microsoft HoloLens or a DAQRI Smart Helmet and as technology gets better, these devices will eventually be no more obtrusive than eye glasses.

"MR is already making its way into offices, mines, factories and more – the DAQRI is a great example. Using MR companies can reduce production error, reduce costs, increase safety and have a happier workforce because a key tenet of MR is collaboration.

"Boeing, for example, used MR/AR tablets to help its workers build airplanes. Using the tablet’s camera to capture a scene, the image was overlaid that correct image and parts. In tests it dramatically reduced manual assembly errors by 90% and increased the speed of assembly by 30% – something important in making a plane!"

What about MR in the home?

MS_Hololens_CSC.JPG

He says it will not be long before MR makes it into homes. "Imagine that MR can replace every TV screen or monitor in your home. Or that people will simply use MR to display art and even décor of their choice. Sure, it’s a cost issue now, but Moore’s Law means that the prices will tumble and the technology will double every few years – MR devices will become smaller and cheaper."

We spoke for an hour so here are the key takeaway messages.

  • MR is here and will lead the next revolution.
  • MR devices will become smaller, cheaper and more powerful
  • They will gain common acceptance especially as the next generation grow up with it.
  • It will dramatically change the way people interact and collaborate.
  • It will increase productivity and quality outcomes.
  • It will connect Australia to the rest of the world and make us competitive again.
  • It will initially be of most benefit to field workers and those in hazardous environments but will be all pervasive in offices as a link to the cloud and to help visualise work and data.
  • Collaboration/training is perhaps the easiest use to monetise.
  • It is not a question of should we [Australia] embrace it – it is about global competitiveness and survival, and we have the skills to get there earlier. The trick is to achieve more with the same workforce.
  • Its uptake will be rapid – resistance is futile, if not deadly for a company’s survival.
  • Australia already has some of the best MR/AR skills – look locally.

CSC has set up a Centre of Excellence in its Melbourne office headed by Bassan where clients can experience the possibilities with MR first hand.