How augmented reality and wearables can ‘re-skill’ the workforce
Headlines shouting “Brexit” have dominated the news of late and many analysts have characterized the vote as an “angry outcry” by working class citizens who’ve lost ground financially due to globalisation.
While that interpretation is debatable, it seems indisputable that globalisation has displaced a significant number of workers in many first-world countries. Workers in third-world countries have aspirations to skilled jobs, but may lack access to affordable education. Another category of workers in need of help is being produced by rapid technological change – in order to keep up with changes in their current job, many workers require some mode of accelerated, practical learning.
In all these cases, the combination of augmented reality (AR) and wearables is likely to contribute to 're-skilling' workers who seek to participate in an increasingly globalised workforce.
As you read this article, the IEEE Standards Association (IEEE-SA) – specifically, its IEEE P1589™ Standard for an Augmented Reality Learning Experience Model (ARLEM) Working Group, which I chair – is working on various aspects of AR and wearables-based standards that could accelerate the market for what’s being called “next-generation, working-class computing.”
Combining AR and wearables can provide visually based content needed for real-time, on-the-job training that directly leads users to learn new skills and circumvents laborious, costly and time-consuming classroom- or textbook-based activities. We are on the verge of having the means to provide training enriched by easily grasped knowledge at the point in time and at the place where it's most urgently required.
The use cases for the AR/wearables solution are numerous and diverse. One widely discussed case is procedural guidance via smart glasses, in combination with sensors or devices, to assist a trainee in a maintenance operation. Say a person is focused on a helicopter rotor on a new model and the full gamut of maintenance requirements extends beyond that person’s current knowledge with the predecessor models. With smart glasses and other AR delivery devices, we can package content so that the technician can cross-train on the job. Visualisation, especially for applications of handling and movement, is a very direct way of transmitting knowledge.
For more use cases, have a look at IEEE-SA’s Industry Connections program, which has several active projects relating to smart glasses, and AR in the oil and gas industry. Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance (AREA), a global trade organization, displays use cases for the enterprise and the WEKIT Community (Wearable Experience for Knowledge Intensive Training) solicits new use case ideas for AR in the workplace.
Humans learn quickly using a hands-on approach supported by explanatory visuals. And, of course, this approach could be used in conjunction with class time, textbooks and workshops. The fact is, the future of productive human work holds much greater opportunities than in the past and we are working on specific technologies in terms of hardware, software, graphical user interfaces, data models and so forth to realise the most efficient and effective means of learning.
A high-level way to think about this is that the technical standards address how learning-focused content can be converted into a universal, interoperable language that will drive visual lessons for workers wearing smart glasses. Standards will ensure efficiencies in taking solutions created for one domain into another domain. At IEEE alone, we have 45 technical societies that fall under the broad domains of communications, computing, industry applications and power and energy. Perhaps more importantly, standards provide the interoperability that supports the virtuous cycle of a coherent ecosystem, market growth, economies of scale, affordability, feedback and further advancements.
Allow me to digress to a few technical specifics. The IEEE P1589 working group is focused on developing an overarching, integrated conceptual model and the related data model specifications for representing activities, learning context and the workplace environment. Potentially, we will create other data model components needed for AR-enhanced learning activities.
This standard will define the required data models and modeling languages and their connections to certain, selected representation formats (e.g., XML, JSON). The creation of this standard and the interoperability specifications will provide the foundation for market creation, allowing market participants to add interchangeable component products to otherwise monolithic augmented reality learning apps.
Another role of the standard is to enable the creation of repositories and online marketplaces for augmented reality-enabled learning content. Specific attention will be paid to supporting reuse and repurposing of existing learning contents to cater to “mixed” experiences combining real-world learner guidance with the consumption (or production) of traditional contents such as instructional video material or learning apps and widgets.
ARLEM will also specify how to represent learning activities and their respective workplace reference models in a standardised interchange format in order to lower barriers for market entry for developers of applications that combine real-world interaction using sensors, computer vision and Web applications.
The IEEE standards development process, as you may know, is an open, transparent and inclusive approach that relies on all stakeholders to create the foundations for global commercialization of impactful technologies. We welcome all qualified participants. And even if you don’t participate in the actual standards development process, it behooves product and service-oriented enterprises to keep track of the direction standards are taking, as they are the key to future markets.
If I have one takeaway for you, it is to echo the IEEE’s mission to “advance technology for humanity” by noting that the ability of AR and wearables to re-skill workers the world over has the potential to keep people – and their judgement, tactile abilities, joys and passions – at the heart of 21st century productivity.