The industrialised world is going through a seismic shift in the way we design, manufacture, service, train, market and consume goods.
Increasingly our lives will be influenced by the cross integration of new technologies, such as IoT, 5G, machine learning, automation, big data and XR, as we head fast into the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.
Such technologies are being touted as tools to not only make our lives better, but as solutions to serious problems facing global business.
There is a rapid obsolescence of know how, an ageing population and industrial equipment, systems and supply chains are becoming ever more complex.
Productivity is slowing down across most advanced countries and the UK is one of the least productive in Europe. Productivity may have grown 0.9% and 0.7% in the final two quarters of 2017, but that is still a quarter behind countries like France and Germany in terms of output per hour, meaning it takes British workers five days to produce what others achieve in four.
With Brexit around the corner, it will be vital for UK PLC to increase its game, but this is not just a UK issue. In the United States productivity growth averaged just 0.5% per year from 2011 to 2016, compared to 3% from 1996 to 2005, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A new type of worker is needed - The Super Worker; one with a super computer brain, X-ray vision, photographic memory and the ability to teleport. One that is smarter, less accident prone, more productive and a true multitasker; their skills mimicking the powers possessed by some our favourite super heroes, to work alongside the machines and fill the growing pool of vacancies.
In the US, open vacancies in manufacturing are fast outpacing the supply of qualified candidates.
According to a 2015 Deloitte study, there will be an estimated 3.5 million manufacturing jobs available over the next decade, 2 million of which will go unfilled.
Further to that, an Albion Growth Report found the biggest barrier to growth for SME’s was finding skilled staff.
Rather than ‘dumbing down’ workers, these Industry 4.0 technologies have had quite the opposite effect. The demands from businesses and consumers consumers, from same day deliveries to highly personalised services, has driven the requirement of high-wage, high-productivity jobs. If we don’t act fast to train and educate people to qualify to take on these exciting new opportunities, these demands won’t be met.
The shortage of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills in the UK is alarming and there is the additional concern that businesses might not be able to freely access European skills post Brexit, as net migration is already declining.
The number of physicists currently graduating each year is around 3000, massively short of what is required in industries like automotive and aerospace.
Education and apprenticeships can grow the home pool of talent needed, but the results could take 10 to 15 years to make an impact, so technology needs to step in to fast track people to become super workers to remain competitive.
This will require investment in training and skills at a corporate and government level, to make up for the shortfall, as an investment for the future. The good news is the UK government has put Industry 4.0 technologies at the core of its Industrial Strategy White Paper.
Highlights of the white paper include a target of raising R&D investment to 2.4 % of GDP by 2027 and the raise of R&D tax credit to 12%, which is a great initiative for SMEs.
An investment of £725M has been set aside for an Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and an additional £406m will be invested into STEM education. £176m has also been committed for 5G rollout.
More specifically to XR, the Audience of the Future fund is a pot of £33m that supports companies, businesses, researchers and technologists to develop new immersive experiences.
What is the solution?
XR will allow workers to better access, understand and utilise the data generated by AI,
analytics and smart connected devices, by merging the physical and digital worlds through more natural interfaces.
Just like fictional super heroes, workers will be able to accurately absorb information, make decisions, and execute required tasks quickly and efficiently.
Augmented reality is set to fundamentally change industrial jobs in the next 5 years according to IDC 2017 and research firm Forrester predict that by2025, 8% of all US workers (2.6 million) will use smart glasses in their jobs. The firm also identified 14 skills and 264 job roles in which smart glasses hold the promise of assisting workers.
The good news is that XR can add enhanced capabilities to existing business processes, provide new and innovative ways for businesses to serve their customers, perform certain processes at a lower cost, and greatly increase worker safety.
XR can be introduced even before a worker has started their career, right at the recruitment process.
According to an analysis from Oxford Economics, on average the cost to employers of replacing a single member of staff is more than £30,000.
Some surveys show that one-third of new staff quit within six months of starting, so more intelligent recruitment and onboarding could provide large cost savings for a company.
At the pre-selection process, XR can immerse candidates in realistic workplace scenarios to better gage how they would react in the real world. Contented Brothers worked with L’Oreal as part of their graduate recruitment process to identify candidates who were closely aligned with the company’s values, through a series of multiple choice 360 degree scenes.
The British Army created four VR experiences based on combat training, adventure training, tank training and parachute training, which were then posted on YouTube 360 and resulted in a 65% increase in applications. Other companies such as Deutsche Bahn and Jet have had similar successes.
Once hired, XR can also make onboarding more fun, with guided virtual tours from the CEO, who can reassure the new recruit that their skills, abilities and potential will be fully leveraged.
According to a 2014 report from the Association for Talent Development (ADP), businesses with at least 100 employees spent roughly $1,200 on training per employee.
Again, XR can massively increase the effectiveness of training. In fact one source states 97% of learning and development professionals see XR as a way to enhance training
One example is Walmart who partnered with STRIVR to train more than 140,000 employees in XR, putting them in a virtual Walmart store where they were tasked to handle demanding
shoppers and emergency situations. United Rentals instructed their sales reps how to rent construction equipment by placing them in virtual construction sites. STRIVR claimed United Rentals “increased in effectiveness while reducing time spent in that training by 40 percent.”
XR can provide quality training at significantly lower cost than traditional methods allowing employees to be trained to perform dangerous tasks without exposure to risks enabling companies to train large numbers of employees in different locations simultaneously.
Gaming elements can be integrated too, to make training fun and accessible, increasing memory recall, either powered by adaptive instruction (through AI) or a remote instructor.
Data collected by day to day use of XR provides very powerful insight and can be used to personalise further training.
The learning outcomes of XR training will be increasingly compliant with xAPI - a new specification for learning technology that makes it possible to collect data about the wide range of experiences a person has, so learning and development professionals can integrate the wealth of data (such as time to complete an action, or how their gaze illustrates their awareness of hazards) into their existing LMS platforms.
I spoke about the issue of poor productivity earlier, and XR is starting to have positive effects here too. Augmented reality can provide step-by-step real time repair instructions and visual
guidance hovering over a machine part, guiding a worker through the job, directly in workers’ line of sight, while leaving workers’ hands free so they can work without interruption, improving their performance at work. This information can be delivered via IoT or even live remote experts.
For example, Newport News Shipbuilding is using AR as an aid to inspect their ships. Rather than engineers having to constantly compare the actual ship with complex 2-D blueprints, using AR they can now see the final design superimposed on the ship, marking for removal steel construction structures that are not part of the finished carrier. Inspection time has been reduced by a massive 96%—from 36 hours to just 90 minutes.
Factories are using smart equipment to generate diagnostics and status reports. This information can be fed to the views of technicians to detect and predict defects, prompting proactive maintenance that may prevent costly downtime.
The super worker will effectively have a powerful computer brain, aided by IoT and 5G cloud services, which will make real time AR and VR cloud processing possible. The super fast connections will allow us to call upon and make sense of real time visual data as
and when needed.
Big data is expected to grow exponentially and companies like Kineviz specialise in converting large datasets into XR formats that can be visualised and manipulated in ways that make it easy to understand. Kineviz claim these methods increase efficiency by ten times compared to traditional solutions.
Artificial intelligence and deep learning (which mirrors the functioning of our brains) will further add to the intelligence of training. Feature extraction (image recognition) will eventually do away with markers, and provide contextual information via wearables.
Virtual environments will serve as the backdrops for AI testing, for things like smart cities and autonomous cars, as FiveAI are doing by creating virtual environments as testing grounds for their autonomous vehicles.
Bio-sensor technology, which incorporates technologies including ECG, EEG, EMG, fMRI, GSR and eye tracking, will further gather data from workers, allowing for personalised training and feedback, creating highly human centered work environments.
The “emotion detection and recognition” market size is estimated to grow from USD 6.72 Billion in 2016 to USD 36.07 Billion by 2021.
This may all sound a bit dystopian and Big Brother, but with regulations such as GDPR able to provide frameworks for authorised data collection, the benefit for workers such as remote flexible working, faster skills development and promotion, higher job satisfaction, and safer environments, can outweigh any concerns and be a win win for both the employer and the business.
These technologies could provide many (but not all) the solutions to the current issues businesses face, building up a team of super workers to remain competitive and efficient in the changing environment.