It’s Unreal: The Almost Unlimited Potential of Virtual Reality

Krystal Santa Maria

Krystal Santa Maria

Date: January 21, 2020

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Virtual reality (VR) is finally having its moment. No longer the stuff of suburban games arcades or kids with funny-looking cardboard Google Goggles, workers around the world are starting to use the technology to learn, collaborate and innovate.

The use of headsets to immerse wearers in an artificial 3D world has been around for decades and has been used to train soldiers and pilots.

But, with advances in technology that make it more viable and realistic – in conjunction with augmented reality and haptics – it is starting to make inroads into corporate environments, factories, mines, universities and hospitals.

While virtual reality obscures your vision with its headset, augmented reality (AR) overlays images, such as plans and blueprints, onto your sight (like Google Glass). Haptics gives the sensation of touch, which means you can feel the weight, for instance, of a “virtual” object in your hand.

Medical personnel have been using these technologies to speed up training, preparing surgeons for all sorts of medical emergencies they may one day encounter.

Deakin’s School of Engineering and School of IT have developed “Trinity”, a virtual pregnant woman, who is fitted with a haptic device, which allows students to feel her contractions, when they put their hands on her stomach.

VR is also being considered as a leadership development tool to help people develop empathy or perspective-taking, by giving them a sense of what it is like to walk “in the shoes” of someone who is different to them.1

Learning Without Knowing You Are Learning

Goldman Sachs estimates virtual and augmented reality to become an $US80 billion market in the next eight years – a growth that seems less surprising when you consider the $US2 billion Facebook paid for virtual reality headset company, Oculus, last year.

In Melbourne, Metro Trains is collaborating on a project to use VR, haptics and neuroscience to teach its drivers.

The company’s Executive General Manager of HR, Nick Dickinson, says the project should be able to upskill drivers 12 times faster than traditional teaching.

“I think this is going to change training,” he says.

The franchise operator of Melbourne’s suburban railway network, Metro Trains is collaborating with Deakin University and specialist providers to create a safer, more efficient and interesting way of learning.

“The speed at which you learn and the retention of learning is incredible,” says Nick.

“Yesterday, I went in a train simulator cab. I put my goggles on and lifted my hands up and I could see these green hands. Not my hands, but hands where I can wiggle my fingers and I can touch, in thin air, all these buttons. I can shift levers, and you’re learning while you’re doing it.”

The buttons and levers are labelled in the simulation and there is a commentary.

“You’re learning without knowing you’re learning,” he says. Nick adds that this kind of learning is safer and more efficient than traditional training methods.

Getting Personal with Analytics and Technology

While virtual and augmented reality are exciting developments, an expertise in analytics will be the next big role in HR, according to the Vice President and Division HR Manager of San Miguel Foods Inc., Roddy Abaya.

“I joined a discussion a couple of weeks ago with other HR executives where they were getting to the same conclusion: the next big HR occupation is a combination of IT, analytics and business process expertise.”

“Certainly, we can see the writing on the wall, that more and more, we need to harness that data to understand how we drive value in the employee experience.”

“We need to harness that data to understand how we drive value in the employee experience.”

Then, there are new uses for the devices we already have in our hands – our mobile phones, which could deliver streamed coaching sessions.

Chief Human Resources Officer at Super Retail Group, Jane Kelly, says virtual coaching may be used to reach team members who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity for one-on-one coaching.

It could be possible to live stream a coaching discussion to team members on their commute, or in their lunch break, or use a podcast, she says.

“I think there’s an opportunity around scale,” she says, adding that a message could be broadcast direct to employees “as opposed to having to cascade that message down through a traditional hierarchy where Chinese whispers takes hold and the message gets lost”.

“I think that’s probably the biggest advantage technology can have in the HR field – that direct message.”

Extended reality solutions, analytics and digital communication give us a taste of technology possibilities in HR. Are you tapping into this?

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