Editor’s Note: Amber Cobb is the director of partnerships at RIoT, which will be hosting its annual Developer Day on March 11, 2022, on the RTP campus of Wake Tech starting at 8 a.m.  The purpose is to provide opportunities to learn more about augmented reality, emerging technologies and discover ways to upskill in preparation for the workforce of tomorrow. This column was written exclusively for WRAL TechWire.

The importance of continuing to adapt, learn, and upskill in the workplace has become a prevalent “ask” on job postings and with managers. Companies are seeing how employees who are the most agile are the ones to help bridge the gap when adopting new technologies in the workplace. Logically, the future of work is paved with new and emerging technologies.

One such technology on the threshold of exploding is Augmented Reality. It may seem difficult today to imagine AR becoming an active part of your workday, given the fact that smart glasses are not readily available and accessible to the average employee.  But the interesting thing about AR, is that you do not necessarily need a new piece of hardware to use it.

The definition of “augment” is to make greater, make bigger, enhance, supplement, and intensify. When you look at that through the lens of what could be in the workplace, it has an almost limitless potential; the problems it could solve, the workflows it could improve, a way to streamline training and upskilling- all by enhancing what’s already present.

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Taking hold of AR

In the last year we have seen AR take hold in the world of retail. Companies like Macy’s, Amazon, and Home Depot have all added an AR component to their apps and websites allowing consumers to see items in their homes or to envision how the color of paint will look on their walls. Warby Parker recently added an AR feature to their app to allow buyers to “try on” a pair of glasses before committing to them. As the consumer, all you need is any device with a camera and an internet connection.

The same applies in the workplace. What makes augmented reality such a powerful tool for the work environment that exists today is that employers will not have to make a significant investment in hardware to enable their employees to utilize one of the most versatile technologies out there.

For the workplace of tomorrow, tools such as new smart glasses, smart contact lenses, heads-up displays and a myriad of other devices will hit the market and will be designed with both personal and professional use in mind. Much like the ballpoint pen you bring from home to take notes today will potentially be the contact lens you put in your eye and wear to work tomorrow. Employers will be able to primarily focus on the software and application aspect of AR.

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An example

CrossComm is one of the software development companies focused on creating truly immersive AR experiences.

“Unlike smartphone-based AR, the wearable AR devices of tomorrow will be unobtrusive, hands-free, and always on- and most importantly, they will have enough intelligent awareness of our lives and the world around us to provide AI-powered assistance when we most need it,” said Don Shin, president and CEO.  “In time AR will become indispensable as it starts to assist our Reality above and beyond simply augmenting it.”

Augmented reality is still your reality, and the technology is adding a real time, digital layer on top of what is already there. There are times when people equate technology with creating a barrier and learning curve. That’s not the case with AR. In actuality, it is helping to break down barriers and flatten the curve where training is concerned.

Take the use case for on the job training: What if you could learn through a real time guided process how to wire and build on a production line? What if workers were provided instant feedback and multifaceted learning? Think of how speed, accuracy, and quality control would all improve. Now what if you were manufacturing an airplane or an artificial heart and could guarantee with 110% certainty that no errors were made during assembly?

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Training and learning

Rich Camacho is CEO of Blue Recruit, a platform built for blue collar workers and employers to make finding jobs and skilled employees more efficient.  Most jobs in the trades have a long onramp for new workers. “Solar Installers is currently the fastest growing job in North Carolina and seven other states, but it takes over six months to get a new installer ready to work in the field,” explained Camacho.

Many trade jobs require both in the classroom and in the field training that can significantly impact how fast a workforce can be built. The Blue Recruit team is trying to change that by developing an augmented and mixed reality solar panel installation training platform. “Our platform will reduce the average training time by 3 months, provide a safe training system, and reduce overall company training costs by an average of $11,000 per hire.”  said Rich, “It has the potential to revitalize training across the trades. We are all very excited for the upcoming launch.”

The power of AR in training and continued learning is not exclusive to the trades. The jobs of tomorrow will be created with technologies like augmented reality in mind and powered by a workforce which has confidently adopted them today.