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Industry 4.0: Unlocking XR’s Potential with 5G, Big Data & More

Monica Neel | Technology Blogger & Consultant | Freelance

03 Jan 2020 | 4 min read

We’re in the midst of a significant transformation regarding the way we produce products – and not just in relation to XR. We are now on the cusp of digitising an entirely new age of industry, the confluence of disruptive technologies has ushered in the fourth industrial revolution, otherwise known as Industry 4.0.

Its predecessor, Industry 3.0, was shaped by computer technology, which allowed a level of independent work and automation. Industry 4.0, meanwhile, is being driven by a combination of cyber-physical systems, Internet of Things (IoT) connections, and extended reality (XR)

XR is already making workplaces more immersive.  Harvard Business Review’s survey on enterprise executives found that 68% of management consider augmented reality as “important to achieving their companies’ strategic goals in the next 18 months.”

There are numerous advantages to VR in the workplace. These include training staff, modelling and designing directly in VR. 

Making Decisions with Big Data

Viewing a 3D model of data in XR, possible in industry 4.0

Perhaps the most influential component of the industrial revolution is the rise of big data. As machine learning and AI methods improve, this data is becoming increasingly valuable for firms to make better decisions

Big Data is still very complex, and analysing it into palpable decisions is even more complex, but often these decisions are made by executives and not the data scientists themselves. Therefore, much of data scientists time is spent transforming the data into something that is easily understandable by executives and decision makers.

Traditional bar graphs and pie charts on 2D screens no longer cut it when it comes to processing large complex data sets. Perhaps then, VR can provide an alternative method of viewing data; an immersive experience where the data models surround you.

Global brand Accenture conducted a similar survey. They found that 27% of executives want to adopt XR solutions. Reason being is that XR “has been transforming the way we connect with people” along with the way we view data and user experience (UX). Additionally this convergence of AR, VR, and MR enables collaboration in the workplace.

Overcoming Hurdles with 5G

Together XR and 5G will change our conceptions of work, as these technologies “will fundamentally change how, where, when, and in what ways we work.” In other words, XR and 5G will make a true virtual home workplace possible. For example, doctors will be able to assist with surgeries “using immersive 3D holograms beamed right into their homes or offices.” This immersive technology will be applied across all industries evolving with Industry 4.0, with many of the biggest leaps likely coming from engineering and manufacturing.

5G networks are the next generation of mobile internet connectivity, offering another quantum leap in speed and more reliable connections than we have ever experienced before. This is a potential solution to several age old problems in immersive technologies.

Minimising latency is one of VR and AR’s biggest challenges. The human brain can detect even very small amounts of latency, and will cause your brain to reject the legitimacy of the virtual world and cause you to disconnect the virtual experience. In the worst cases, latency can cause simulator sickness. ABI Research believes that 5G could bring us much as a 10X decrease in latency, creating a far more immersive experience for the brain.

Another barrier to mass adoption of VR is the powerful PC that has been required to run them. An already expensive HMD is made far more expensive when you need a capable PC, and it limits the technology to a certain location. The arrival of 5G has the potential to take the power away from the PC and into the edge cloud.

Expanding Industries

Jobs in XR founder Toby Allen told Forbes that a lack of talent is holding XR back. “There simply aren’t enough qualified applicants for 85% of the jobs we list”, he said. There are, however, “hundreds of well-funded XR businesses across every major tech hub.” There is demand for tech talent, but a shortage of it. Allen, though, is hopeful that a new breed of tech talent will emerge along with XR’s continued growth.

As Industry 4.0 advances in the coming years there will be a new generation of workers who will have studied extended reality and how it can be applied to different industries. Allen also wrote about this XR skill gap for us, and this is what he said: “Immersive technology is still very much in its infancy, and has yet to see the widespread uptake that would help attract talent and quell the skills shortage.”

Things are changing for the better though, as the demand for top talent keeps rising. This demand is going to fuel interest in the industry, and entice greater participation among upcoming tech professionals. Already industries that are both directly and indirectly linked to extended reality are growing. Predictions featured on Maryville University about the software development industry dig into how mobile technology, such as VR, is now the new norm across the world. The university details how this has meant that there is an expected job growth of 17% by 2024 in software development. Events like the XRDC also showcase the growth of the AR-VR-MR space, as well as the exciting possibilities that come with its continued expansion.

There is no denying that XR is transformative. Already it is changing the way we work and opening up avenues for seamless collaboration. It is also changing manufacturing processes and making them more efficient. It has even created a robust market for skilled, tech talent all around the world. Given the technology’s relative infancy that is quite a good start. It is, therefore, interesting to see what the future holds for XR as Industry 4.0 evolves in the coming years.

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