Intelligent Realities For Workers

 In Executive Strategy, Innovation, Musings

Using Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Beyond Michael Thomas, SAS

Michael Thomas, a patent holding Systems Architect at SAS, focuses on the intersection of IoT, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence. He has published multiple times this year on reality technologies for the enterprise, including an article published by the Industrial Internet Consortium, “Intelligent Realities For Workers: Using Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Beyond.” In addition to these and other articles, he has authored three books on programming topics. He has worked at SAS for fifteen years architecting, developing, and marketing software. He leads SAS’s support of North Carolina youth chess.

Michael will be talking about Intelligent Realities; Improving Work with Augmented and Virtual Reality at our 2020 Product Innovation Summit and recently he and I got together to discuss his topic, the trends in AR/VR  and his work at SAS.

Teresa: I understand you have a number of patents. Can you share with me what influences your creative search for new and inventive technologies?

Michael: My patents are based around an invention that provides a way to do low latency, high throughput data visualization at the scale of the web. If you had many people all interested in a detailed “data reality” rendering of a commodities market, for example, this invention could do that. In this case, the invention came by first obeying a constraint to follow web architecture, which is known as REST.

The creative part was figuring out how to do the low latency and high throughput data transfer within that constraint. So as often is the case, a constraint led to creativity and discovery, including making some leaps based on how human perception differs from machine-to-machine data transfer.

Teresa: How did into involved in AR/VR? 

Michael: I started with VR to investigate new ways to perceive data. The initial opportunities I found were in marketing work. VR is a great way to get people to visit your booth at trade shows. In addition to exploring data in VR, we’ve used VR to do data storytelling with output from our products. For AR, I’ve been focused on the emerging AR headsets and Mixed Reality. The most interesting use cases provide relevant information to workers in a heads-up, hands-free manner.

Teresa: AR/VR has taken some time to catch on in the market. What do you feel will move virtual and augmented reality into mainstream? Do you think it
will ever get mainstream adoption?

Michael: AR and VR headsets are wearable computing. People are sensitive about what they wear. Adoption will increase as the headsets get more comfortable and capable. In contrast, smartphone AR is much easier to adopt, but doesn’t yield the heads-up and hands-free advantages of headset AR.

My focus is on commercial AR and VR instead of consumer applications. Especially with AR headsets, the action is in commercial. I’m not a big believer in AR headsets for consumers right now, but I’m not going to be surprised if Apple changes everyone’s mind. In the meantime, just for just commercial AR software, I’ve seen market projections in the $6B up to the $25B range in just a few years.

The commercial VR market looks to be around a tenth of the size of commercial AR. Key application areas include training, storytelling, and data exploration. Unlike consumer AR, there is already a booming consumer VR market. VR apps like Beat Saber and other exercise apps are potentially life changing for many. There are some great strides being made with mental health apps like Healium as well. Commercial VR is a strange market, but there are a loT more creative breakthroughs available in commercial VR than commercial AR.

Teresa: Why do you think so many companies seem to struggle with innovation?

Michael: The future tends to lose budget battles with the present and the near future, typically for really good reasons. Innovation needs to sit outside the budget battles that ensure, say, revenue growth in the current quarter. For example, Steve Jobs did this with the Macintosh but not allowing anyone from the Apple II team in the Macintosh building.

It’s isn’t just budget dollars that are scarce, though. It is also time and mind share of decision makers. On any given day, crushing the next killer app can look identical to good management of resources. Innovators seeking face time with upper management may get the “quick no” on such a day.

Teresa: What trends are you seeing involving the intersection of IoT, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence?

Michael: IoT digitizes reality. AR, VR and AI can digitally transform reality based on those IoT digital streams. Instead of having separate physical and digital twins, the promise is one seamless reality marrying the digital and the physical – for both workers proximate to assets as well as remote experts.

Teresa: If you had to narrow it down to three key pillars of innovating leveraging these technologies what would they be? What should others company keep in mind if they are looking to leverage augmented and virtual reality?

Michael: For any type of wearable computing, you will face obstacles to adoption related to comfort. For
XR headsets, app developers must answer the question “why would someone put a computer on their head for this?” As the devices get more capable, especially
with increased resolution, that question will be easier to answer. But it’s not like the iPhone and iPad, where you are doing typical tasks like email, web
browsing, location based activities, etc., but on a more available type of device. There’s little need to put on a headset to do the tasks you can do in other ways. Instead, killer XR apps take advantage of the new capabilities to do new types of tasks in new kinds of ways.

That said, my concept of Intelligent Realities is founded on looking beyond the XR headsets. When users don’t want to wear an AR headset, a smart phone or spatial augmented reality may be a better choice. For VR, every single VR app I’ve developed has also been ported to the flat screen. This doesn’t mean dismissing possibilities of improving reality just because there is resistance to headsets. Rather,
there are many ways to improve reality. And when you make workers’ realities better, you make work better

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