AR or VR: Which Makes Sense for My Business?
When I’m working with large organizations, I get a lot of questions around the difference between AR and VR, and the best use cases. Both can generate impressive results if implemented correctly. And both are completely unsuitable for certain applications.
Before even considering an investment in either technology, it’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of AR and VR. Note that these technologies are changing rapidly, and what’s written here is relevant for 2021.
What’s AR, and What's it Good at?
AR stands for Augmented Reality. Essentially, it’s technology that overlays additional visual information onto whatever you’re looking at. Your visual field, plus more stuff, like the word ‘scissors’ popping up when you look at a pair of scissors. If you’ve ever seen RoboCop, wherein the main character looks at the world through a visor that provides flashy crosshairs and information about adversaries, that’s basically it.
In consumer applications, this lets your phone do neat things like show you a Pokemon hopping around on your desk. In professional application, this allows real-time, hands-free display of helpful information. For example, if you run a manufacturing company, your frontline technician can get information on a physical asset while looking at it, through an AR headset displaying text showing its uptime, last date of maintenance, or whatever else.
This isn’t always super important. As long as your employees have mobile devices, they can access this information anyway. Seeing instructions and info on an AR headset isn’t so different than seeing them on a tablet with the camera turned on. However, there are a few situations in which AR is, in fact, very effective.
For example, with an AR headset, another user can access your field of vision remotely, giving you advice while seeing what you see. So, let’s say that a frontline technician needs to do something they don’t know how to do, and there’s no supervisor available to help. No problem: a supervisor can call in remotely, and virtually stand over the tech’s shoulder and help them get the job done.
Sometimes being hands-free is really important. Juggling a tablet while you're running around on an oil rig in Siberia, is tough. As well, your employee might need to wear protective equipment of some kind, in which case AR headsets can be incorporated into the hazmat suit, or whatever else.
Finally, AR can be great for compliance procedures. Instead of your employee checking a box when they perform some procedure, they can record a first-person video of them doing it. So, if your fireworks factory explodes, you can trace the problem back to detailed video records, rather than looking for subjective reporting on paper.
What AR isn’t great for, though, is training—which is exactly where VR shines.
What’s VR, and What's it Good at?
The difference between VR and AR, fundamentally, is that we’re talking about complete simulation as opposed to partial simulation. With VR, a whole alternate reality is reconstructed that can be completely different from the one you’re in.
In consumer applications, this leads to cool video games and chatrooms. In professional applications, it leads to a categorical change in the way that you can train your people.
Let’s take, as an example, the US Air Force. Training new airmen is incredibly expensive. It takes a lot of money to set up a mid-air refueling scenario. (AR wouldn’t be super helpful here—it can’t generate objects that aren’t there.) As well, it can be difficult to train people for rare events, such as, for example, your airplane bursting into flames—how do you convincingly simulate that condition in the real world? Not easily, because you can’t set a 250 million dollar airplane on fire; you’ll need a 1:1 physical replica, which is also expensive, just less so. And these costs and difficulties are multiplied for group training in highly complex scenarios.
With VR, you can skip all of that. Any environment can be simulated, and, within it, any event, no matter how rare. As well, multiple trainees can be situated within the same space, and given live guidance. It’s a flexible way to generate real memories from a virtual space that will lead to mastery in reality. Kind of like learning kung fu in the Matrix.
This can save an incredible amount of money. It also allows training scenarios to be updated with much less physical overhead. And some traditional teaching can be replaced with virtual scenarios, which increases engagement. VR is way more fun than the average lecture—there’s no looking at WhatsApp when you’re on a virtual battlefield.
And, finally,VR brings sophisticated analytics to training automatically. VR training gives you a granular view of each trainee’s performance as they’re executing the actual task at hand. For example, you can automatically measure how long it takes a group of 30 students training in VR to complete a task and what their error rate was, on every attempt.
When you think of AR and VR, don’t think of it as two flavors of the same thing. Think of it like a motorcycle compared to a tank. The same technology enables both, and they have some superficial similarities. But for all practical purposes, they’re completely different.
AR can enrich your real-time experience of the world. VR can replace it with a completely different one. The former can give your employees rich, hands-free, real-time information. The latter provides a game-changing, money-saving revolution in training. Look at your business objectives, and assess accordingly. Find out more by clicking the button below.