Anant Shiv, Business Unit Manager at Stereoscape, sat down with Laura Hyppönen to discuss how Extended Reality (XR) can facilitate and improve workplace performance.
Could you tell us about your background & role at Stereoscape?
I come from a Mechanical Design Engineering background, with a Master’s in International Design Business Management. Before joining Stereoscape, I worked in various design, development and engineering projects in IT and aerospace industries. I joined Stereoscape in 2018 to work on productisation, and as of this year, I’ve been responsible for managing our new business unit that focuses on productivity improvement solutions based on interactive XR technologies.
What is Stereoscape’s background and position in the XR landscape?
Founded about ten years ago, Stereoscape started out in stereoscopic and other 3D content (hence our name!) and gradually added interactive technologies in the offering. In the past four years, our core emphasis has been on interactive Extended Reality (XR) for the enterprise market. Specifically, our mission is to put XR in the service of people at work. We have been developing various professional solutions based on Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality for clients such as Nokia, Wärtsilä, Vaisala, ABB and Valmet to name a few. We sell our XR solutions under the PROSCAPE and SHOWSCAPE names.
In your view, how does Extended Reality add value in the enterprise arena?
XR provides a new dimension to how people see, use and share digital information. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we can interact with the digital world. XR allows us to blend digital content in our physical environment; use natural interactions like gestures and gaze; and present objects and information in a 3D space rather than being confined to a flat 2D screen. When applied successfully, XR can help make digital information more accessible and understandable.
Can you give an example?
To help our client Nokia demonstrate the potential of their 5G technology in a highly illustrative and experiential manner, we delivered a multi-user VR experience where an expert at Nokia’s 5G lab in Finland shares the same virtual space with customers located in another part of the world. The expert gives the customers a tour in a virtual lab, that we created by 3D laser scanning the actual 5G lab. All participants are present as avatars or virtual characters in the VR environment. It has been a hugely successful demonstration of 5G. There are many other examples of our XR projects on our website.
In your view, how can industry and enterprise clients benefit from XR?
Our goal is to apply XR tools to help employees in our client organisations work smarter, learn faster and collaborate more effectively and efficiently.
For our client companies, this means potential to lower costs, improve safety and quality, and increase productivity. XR can also enhance customer experience and engagement and shorten development cycles. And it can provide companies with entirely new business opportunities in the form of XR-enabled services to customers. Both academic research and practical implementations indicate that the performance and productivity improvement potential is significant.
More and more companies are embracing the new technologies and understand the value and potential of XR. Early adopters already have empirical proof of the operational benefits of applying XR solutions to their working practices and processes. Studies also show that the majority of workers, and an even larger share of millennial employees, are willing to use XR technologies in the workplace. It therefore comes as no surprise that many forward-looking companies have engaged in proofs of concept or piloted XR projects, with many projects already maturing into full-scale implementations.
What services do you offer in the field of XR?
Our XR solutions and services cover experiential marketing, immersive learning, assisted working and collaboration. Let me tell you a little bit more about each of these areas.
In marketing, XR enables new opportunities to engage customers, like virtual showrooms and virtual walkthroughs. You can basically turn any location into a virtual showroom for one or several users to explore. You can offer highly convincing experiences of products and spaces that are still on the drawing board, show products in life size and easily add new products to your showroom. The virtual space is unlimited. What’s more, you will avoid transporting physical equipment to tradeshows etc. It saves both costs and the environment. We also build hybrid solutions where a screen-based interactive product experience is augmented with AR elements or enhanced with both AR and VR. These solutions are getting increasingly popular.
In learning, XR is a powerful tool for “learning by doing”. A virtual space is a safe learning environment; mistakes do not involve risk of injury or equipment damage. Making invisible workplace hazards, like radiation, visible is an important advantage of XR, as we demonstrated in a learning solution for Fortum’s nuclear power plant. People feel more immersed, are more focused on the task and show higher levels of motivation in XR than in traditional training settings. Improvements in retention and recall as well as time and cost savings are also typically achieved. There’s already plenty of evidence of the benefits of XR-enabled learning.
In assisted working, AR and MR are the technologies of choice. Step-by-step installation or repair instructions, quality inspection checklists, order picking lists and other work instructions can be digitally superimposed on the real work environment – at the right time and place. Such on-demand, in-context information enhances worker performance, drives faster completion of tasks and ensures higher first-time quality. The AR/MR-enabled smart work instructions are also an effective tool for on-the-job learning.
In collaboration, several people can share the same virtual space to collaborate, for example, on product design or process development. And the people don’t need to be in the same location. “Collaboration without co-location” is a phrase often used in this context. XR-enabled assisted and collaborative working are combined in so-called remote assistance where an on-site worker and a remote expert can collaborate in augmented reality.
How easy is it to jump on the XR bandwagon?
In our client projects, we emphasise selecting the right use case and building a business case for XR. There’s already a substantial amount of experience of XR benefits in a number of industries and in different use cases like assisted working and learning. Our advice is to start from a clearly defined use case that meets a real need in the workplace in terms of employee performance, safety, quality etc.
A set of KPIs to monitor during proofs of concept and pilots is important to prove the business case. It’s not only keeping track of technological feasibility and business viability. Involving end users from the outset and getting their feedback on usability and desirability is vital. Fundamentally, professional XR is about making people’s working lives easier.
What can you tell us about the technologies underpinning XR?
XR technology continues to improve rapidly both in terms of performance and user experience. A growing number of XR software development tools; constant refinements in the comfort, ergonomics and processing power of head-mounted devices such as Oculus, HTC Vive and Varjo for VR, and Hololens, Magic Leap and Realmax Qian for MR; and a surge in new AR smart glasses coming to the market are important drivers of industrial XR – not forgetting developments in 5G, IoT and AI technologies.
Do you have any advice for choosing the right technologies for XR?
The variety of XR technologies available can be confusing, but there’s a place for each tool, and we are here to help you choose the right one for each use case. For example, if you are only beginning to explore the possibilities of XR, a good place to start might be Augmented Reality applications on smart mobile devices, where headsets are not required. In its “simplest” form, AR involves overlaying digital information on the camera feed of a smart mobile device, allowing you to see the information in the real world.
We are an end-to-end XR provider, which means that we help our clients in identifying the XR use case and the appropriate XR technology for the project. We then design and develop the solution, train end users as well as take care of the solution maintenance.
Any words to sum up?
Getting started on XR is becoming easier by the day. To companies that have not yet begun their XR journey, I would say it is time to start building an understanding of XR opportunities in the workplace. Extended reality enables entirely novel means of access to information, experiences and people, and its business benefits can be significant.