A concern that machines will replace workers animates much discussion about the future of technology. Robots, drones, and virtual reality all seem to portend a time not far distant when machines do work once done by humans. Indeed, in some instances, that future is already here.
While many people know AR through Pokémon only, it has significant business uses.
Proponents of augmented reality (AR), though, are increasing saying that AR will add to employee performance, hiking both productivity and safety and increasing worker satisfaction. The key point to them is simple: machines and human employees, working together, perform better than either alone.
On the Factory Floor…
Most people in the U.S. likely know AR through Pokémon, the wildly popular AR computer game. It overlays computer-generated material on reality.
A recent Harvard Business Review piece observes that AR’s ability to overlay video, images and text instruction on physical objects has huge potential in manufacturing work. An employee can, for example, repair a piece of equipment as the instructions are superimposed on the physical area being worked on. Workers are guided visually via AR throughout the job.
AR interface has been shown to improve employee performance on a variety of manufacturing jobs by impressive percentages, from 25% to 46%.
AR not only helps worker performance in the specific instance, it may be part of the solution to a macro problem: declines U.S. in productivity. Domestic productivity rose just 0.5% annually from 2011 to 2016, a significant drop from the 3% annually registered between 1996 and 2005. AR is one technology increasingly shown to work to boost overall employee productivity.
It may also provide one key to solving another macro problem: a rising need for manufacturing employees that is not likely to be filled by available workers. U.S. manufacturing is expected to generate 3.5 million positions over the next decade. Yet only 1.5 million seem likely to be filled. Into the gap? Potentially, AR and similar technologies.
…to the Start-Up Office
Manufacturing, though, is not the only sector that believes AR will augment productivity. In other technology news, at least one start-up, Silicon Valley’s Meta, has eliminated the desktop personal computer in favor of the AR headset.
Meta’s founder, Meron Gribetz, recently told the MIT Technology Review that employees can interface far more seamlessly with three-dimensional objects floating about them than with a one-dimensional stationary computer screen. Meta’s AR glasses, like those used in manufacturing, can overlay on physical objects. The work is performed by a gesture.
To what uses has Gribetz put his leadership skills? He gives design and editing as examples. Rather than using a tool like Paint, for instance, graphic design can be accomplished be using a virtual paintbrush. Editing can be accomplished with a virtual tool.
In the world of Pokémon and the factory floor, AR is here. It is coming as a method of business office interface where now the computer rules. Its ability to boost performance is a potential salve to U.S. productivity and a method of achieving synergy between human employees and digital technology.