Like many of you, I love to play with new technology. But after 30 years of futzing with new stuff, I’ve learned to be skeptical of fancy new tools, and often now wait until they’re “proven” until I recommend them to others.
This is the way I felt about Virtual Reality (VR). While I’ve played it many times, in most cases it was slow, the graphics were kind of cartoonish, the headset was uncomfortable, and I often felt sick to my stomach halfway through the process.
In 2014 Facebook announced an investment to purchase Oculus, a maker of VR headsets and gear, and even Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, stated that he believes the market is still years away (“It’s going to take five or 10 years of development before we get to where we all want to go”). So it all seemed like a brilliant idea, but one that could take a long time to mature.
Well I’m here to say it has arrived much faster than we thought. And the killer app? Corporate training.
After talking with a lot of vendors and looking at quite a few tools, I recently spent some time with a company called STRIVR Labs, which developed VR software to help sports teams and athletes learn how to improve their football performance. This company, which is only a few years old, built its software to help athletes simulate real-world field play (i,e., football fields) and teach the players how to move and respond to different plays and competitor activities. It creates such a realistic environment that players can wear the headset, watch and make the plays, and visually see (slow down, stop, replay) every movement on the field.
For this application, the solution was proven to improve player learning by 30% over traditional training applications. And if you look at the videos on the company’s website, you’ll see that it can be used for initial training, refresher training, and just about every other scenario a player needs. And, of course, there’s no need for a real-world scrimmage to put a training activity in place.
I went to visit STRIVR, put on the headset, and experienced the solution first hand. It blew me away. Not only is the experience as real as it gets (3D visual experience, including sound, with high definition quality imagery in 360 degrees), I found it amazingly fun, and the system captures all of your eye movements and activity during the session.
Then they showed me some corporate training applications. Walmart , for example, has been using STRIVR for almost a year, and has applications to demonstrate how to manage customers effectively, what employees should do on Black Friday, and sessions that teach safety conditions, merchandising, theft, and just about every possible “event” that can happen in a store. In one of the simulations, you can stand behind a deli counter and observe precisely how to serve customers (or not serve them) and see where glitches can occur.
Fig 2: Walmart employee simulates “Black Friday” rush
Applications for this technology are vast: safety training in hazardous conditions (you can go to an oil well or a construction site virtually), simulations of job interviews to identify bias and discrimination, and applications in retail, hospitality, and other customer-facing situations where employees need to see and feel the “real world” to really know what to do. (UPS uses VR to simulate and train drivers, for example.)
STRIVR has even used the technology to simulate real-world job interviews, where a person asks you questions and the system watches you eye movements to see if you are really listening or biased in your response.
There are hundreds of training situations where the real-world environment is complex, threatening, dangerous, or just very hard to simulate. The following is an example of a job site from client United Rentals, where you can literally walk around and see hazardous conditions, without worrying about falling into a real hole.
One of the best parts of all is that there is very little “content development” required. STRIVR provides a high resolution 3D camera that records the real-world environment, so companies like WalMart, United Rentals, and UPS can create new programs in a few hours, and constantly give employees up-to-date training on new situations, new store layouts, or changes in product, process, or pricing strategy.
“From our test, we’ve seen that associates who go through VR training retain what they’ve learned in those situations better than those who haven’t.
We will be rolling out this training to all 200 of our Academy facilities by the end of 2017. That means, the over 140,000 associates who will graduate from academies each year will have VR as an integral part of that experience.”
Given that this market is brand new, and companies like STRIVR are still young, we can expect this market to take off rapidly in the next few years. Today it costs less than $20,000 to equip a single training center at WalMart, and that price will likely go down. And other VR training companies like VirtaMed and SilVRthread are also entering the market. (KFC is now even using VR to train cooks in its restaurants!)
Augmented Reality May Be Even Bigger
Since I visited STRIVR Labs, Google Glass, Lenovo, and Blackberry have launched augmented reality glasses, also being used in training. While many of us expected to see Google Glass in our personal lives, it is definitely taking hold in corporate applications. GE is now adopting it for training in the manufacturing of jet engines, and has already seen 8-12% improvements in productivity.
Fig 2: GE Engineer uses electronic torque wrench coupled to Google Glass with visual assist for maintenance.
A Tech Pro Research survey from 2016 found that 39 percent of respondents are already using AR at their organizations, and of those that aren’t, 67% are considering it. IDC believe 111,000 AR headsets were sold in the commercial market during and forecasts there will be over 20 million sold by 2021 — giving the commercial segment 83 percent of AR headset market share.
The world of training technology is always exciting and fascinating to watch. Yes we all thought VR and AR would be lots of fun for entertainment, but the corporate training market may be the biggest opportunity yet.
About the Author: Josh Bersin is the founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a leading research and advisory firm focused on corporate leadership, talent, learning, and the intersection between work and life.