Powered By 5G, Extended Reality Gets To Work For Business
In a year when “being there” suddenly became a dangerous notion, “virtually being there” has stepped in as the new normal. But the restrictions of interacting in 2-D have emerged as a major source of frustration.
5G may provide a solution, however, by bringing back that third dimension via 3-D video, virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) and that deeper blending of the real world and the virtual one in mixed reality (MR). Collectively, these distinct but related technologies are known as extended reality (XR).
Exploring Immersive Perspectives
Mixed reality and real-time 3-D video are enabling a host of new retail experiences, like letting customers visualize new furniture by overlaying an image onto their interiors before making a decision to buy. Likewise, within a physical store, the customer could be presented with an extended reality experience to view products that are not necessarily out on display. For a retail industry where the pandemic has hit brick-and-mortar sales hard, adding this extra dimension could help them recover.
Mixed reality allows us to also visit new places and interact with our surroundings in ways we would never have thought possible, providing a welcome escape. Theaters, art museums and national parks are among the places that are exploring new ways of welcoming virtual audiences and visitors. As an example, one of the participants in the 2021 T-Mobile Accelerator Spring Immersive Technology Programis Condense Reality, a startup based in the U.K. that combines computer vision with deep learning to capture and stream realistic 3-D representations of events—like live sports matches—to MR headsets and virtual communities that exist inside of games.
Another company involved in the Accelerator program, Everysight, has created AR smart glasses to enhance the sporting experience for cyclists, triathletes and other athletes. It is now aiming to extend the AR offering to new applications. The capabilities of the glasses range from augmented navigation to sharing the ride experience on video.
Nurturing startups involved in XR and immersive technologies is a key focus area for T-Mobile. In addition to the spring program, the accelerator has recently expanded in collaboration with Georgia Tech and Curiosity Lab at Peachtree Corners to create the 5G Connected Future incubator program. Here, MR employee training features prominently among the 5G use cases being developed.
Enhancing Employee Skills
In the business environment, using AR can make a huge improvement in training employees in new procedures by walking them through realistic training scenarios. On a continuing basis, they can also help workers perform complex tasks in the field by replacing manuals with pictures of working environments that are augmented with instructions.
Taqtile, a recent graduate of the 5G Open Innovation Lab—a program co-founded by T-Mobile—is one of the companies building AR solutions for desk-less workers that can make this possible. By superimposing visual instructions over relevant equipment, it allows technicians using AR headsets to view virtual service checklists, perform routine maintenance and troubleshoot problems using remote assistance. T-Mobile’s high-capacity 5G network using mid-band spectrum is key to providing the fast responses that enable a realistic feel to the experience. In a recent blog post, John Saw, executive vice president of advanced and emerging technologies at T-Mobile, described how Taqtile’s technology was being used by technicians upgrading T-Mobile’s own network. Similar technology is being employed in the energy industry to inspect turbines and pipework in power stations. People who work in healthcare, agriculture, construction, retail, manufacturing and transportation also do not work behind desks all that much and stand to benefit from developments in AR technology.
And it’s easy to see how an AR approach to training could also be used in these sectors. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, for example, how the additional pressure on hospitals has elevated the need for healthcare professionals to rapidly learn new skills.
In the future, other senses like touch and smell may be harnessed to create experiences that may be difficult to distinguish from reality. Using haptics—the science of tactile communication—5G finally offers us the chance to transmit a physical sense of touch without an excessive time lag. This would make a huge difference, for example, in remote surgery, since the surgeon would be able to detect subtle changes in tissue density when making an incision. In heavy industry too, operators using cobots to manipulate bulky components could work far more effectively with realistic latency-free tactile feedback.
As perfume developers and wine tasters can attest, smells can also be defined in terms of a set of notes, and it may soon become possible for these to be digitally “sniffed” and then recreated elsewhere. With multisensory XR, virtual presence could become almost indistinguishable from the real experience.
Extended Reality, Enhanced Business
The step change forced by COVID-19 has meant businesses pivoting to finding better ways to collaborate virtually and to increase efficiency and productivity across a remote workforce. Sectors as diverse as retail, utilities, engineering-based manufacturing and healthcare are all areas where 5G-powered XR can potentially have a positive business impact.
5G: Capable device required; coverage not available in some areas. While 5G access won’t require a certain plan or feature, some uses/services might. See Coverage details, Terms and Conditions, and Open Internet information for network management details (like video optimization) at T-Mobile.com.