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Merged Reality is the combining of real and virtual worlds to allow physical and digital to co-exist and interact in real time. Augmented reality is a form of merged reality, allowing digital layers to be presented on top of physical layers, often using some kind of display technology like a headset, video screens, tablet or a user's mobile phone.
Its history is hard to pin down, but some writers cite the first fully immersive mixed reality system as the 'Virtual Fixtures' platform developed by the US Air Force in 1992 to allow human users to control robots in real-world environments. These included real physical objects and 3D virtual overlays called "fixtures". The virtual sensory overlays could be used to show physically realistic structures which when show to the user would be perceived as fully present in the real workspace environment.
According to online articles:
Because 3D graphics were too slow in the early 1990s to present a photorealistic and spatially-registered augmented reality, Virtual Fixtures used two real physical robots, controlled by a full upper-body exoskeleton worn by the user. To create the immersive experience for the user, a unique optics configuration was employed that involved a pair of binocular magnifiers aligned so that the user's view of the robot arms were brought forward so as to appear registered in the exact location of the user's real physical arms.
With virtual reality whilst the likes of Oculus and Magic Leap are working hard to shift units, the truth remains that the hardware itself is still bulky, can be cumbersome and blocks the user's eyes and social interaction. Apple still remains noticeably absent from the VR market. Its consumer adoption has mainly been for gamers looking for a more immersive experience. I can think of a number of organisations who have tried virtual reality (using Google Glass or equivalent) but in field service organisations the tipping point is most often at the point of balance between the cost and adoption rate of the hardware and managing the artificiality of the VR headset itself. The level of fidelity and context sensitive modelling that is often required can make actual deployment at scale cost prohibitive.
We see the path for augmented reality and mixed reality as somewhat different. The truth is it’s all about numbers. Whilst there are an estimated 82 million VR units in the world, assuming augmented reality capability is currently built out from the smartphone, AR units could hit over three billion. That's an awful lot more consumers and business who already have the ability to access augmented reality in their pockets! While current 4G networks can power current AR applications, more advanced and pervasive adoption of AR will require the greater speed and bandwidth of 5G networks and be a business case in its own right.
Merged reality gets round a lot of the challenges of virtual reality (requiring headsets, hardware and 3D modelling) and augmented reality (at times limited in its business application). Done right, Merged Reality can allow service organisations to fix customer problems remotely, by being able to see the problem their customer or field service technician is having, and virtually reaching out and touching the problem, as though they are standing right next to them.
Merged reality technology can be delivered from the mobile device using real-time video calls. This ability to be “hands-on” from a remote location accelerates and simplifies the way knowledge is exchanged and problems are solved. Merged reality adds missing visual cues, gestures, and non-verbal communication methods to any session. It can allow the hand of the expert gibing help to appear on top of a colleague's image. Telestrating, freezing images, using hand gestures and even adding real objects into the scene can get the point across in an easy and intuitive manner.
Typically service organisations we work with, want to make their field operation better - more efficient, more cost effective, more productive and with better knowledge sharing between staff. Merged reality fits well with these goals. More and more companies are looking at merged reality to help them reduce costs, improve productivity, maximize product uptime, and drive stickiness between their company and their customers.
Using existing mobile devices (iOS, Android) or a web-browser, experts can now visually collaborate as though they were working side-by-side. Merged reality blends two real-time video streams, that of a remote expert and an onsite technician, into a collaborative environment.
Research indicates that nonverbal cues are 430% more effective than verbal cues and that nonverbal cues make verbal / nonverbal communication combination up to 10 times more effective. Instant, accurate communication augmented by mobile merged reality and virtual presence can have a dramatic impact on service operations and proactively, efficiently and effectively attack hard costs that plague the efficiency and effectiveness of operations and customer interactions.
Our experience suggests that customers can experience a 7 to 15 times hard cost savings for every pound invested. Expert personnel can see a 10 to 20% increase in efficiency. In addition an estimated 33% of service work orders require a second trip. Using merged reality you can help eliminate 18% of second trips that are required due to a lack of experience. Merged reality will also reduce 19% of second trips caused by limited access to information, and avoid 28% of second trips caused by wrong diagnoses.
There are many customer success stories from merged reality. For example a large field service team who were able to fix a problem remotely leading to saving of £6,000 in parts and labor. A manufacturing company in the UK were able to reduce field service costs by £11,500 in the first month of using merged reality. A service organisation was able to save between 5-10 truck rolls per week (at an average cost of £90 per truck roll), leading to monthly savings of up to £3,700 per month.
Leadent Digital provides patented technology that uses the power of merged reality to help your field service business. Whether you need to quickly solve problems for customers, assist newly on-boarded personnel, eliminate wasteful trips or differentiate the way your products are sold, implemented and serviced, this technology will be a game changer!
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