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As baby boomers exit, AR and VR tools help to capture their expertise

Demand for virtual and augmented reality tools is soaring, and the need to capture expertise from retiring baby boomers may be why.

The retirement of the baby boomer generation may be propelling explosive market growth in augmented and virtual reality tools. As baby boomers exit the workplace, they take with them a lot of expertise. Augmented reality and virtual reality tools help to capture their knowledge, which can be used to train less experienced employees.

Augmented reality (AR) tools tend to be lightweight and are often as accessible as an app on a smartphone. Virtual reality (VR) tools include headsets, which companies can buy off the shelf. The ease of investment and the fast learning curve for AR and VR tools help with adoption. Together, vendors and users create learning content for the VR systems.

Tom Mainelli, an analyst at IDC who studies the AR and VR tools market, said the need to transfer knowledge is "almost a crisis level." Organizations "are trying to figure out how to capture this knowledge before that person retires and takes it with them," he said.

The demand for AR and VR tools can be seen in their sales. The worldwide market for AR and VR tools is expected to reach $20.4 billion this year -- a 69% increase from 2018 spending of about $12 billion, according to IDC. The projection includes consumer spending, but a large majority of the total is by industries and services.

Responsibility for managing the adoption of AR tools, which overlay virtualized information onto the physical world, and VR tools, which simulate a virtual world, may rest with HR or a line of business.

VR for employee training

Current uses for the technology include how to demonstrate products in sales or servicing equipment. Walmart, for example, has been using VR to train its employees.

But the AR and VR tools market will likely expand to include knowledge workers, especially for better collaboration, Mainelli said.

"We will go from these awkward conference calls, where people are talking over each other, to a more virtualized experience," Mainelli said, adding he believes VR tools will be adopted to interact with data in new ways.

Among the users is Environmental Education Associates Inc. (EEA), a firm that provides environmental certification. People who are involved in environmental cleanups are certified through EEA.

It is using VR tools to train New York City workers on mold abatement.

Andrew McLellanAndrew McLellan

Most trainees have never used a headset, said Andrew McLellan, EEA's president and founder. They "are a little worried and skeptical about what might happen," he said.

The environmental certification firm is using a tool from NextWave Safety Solutions Inc., which worked with EEA to create the three-dimensional content. The EEA system creates a 360-degree view of a room, and  the trainees learn how to test and remediate mold through it.

Quizzes are also virtual. Trainees use a wand-type device to select the answer.

"It's a solo experience," McLellan said. "That's important, because we want to make sure that everyone walks out of that class with the knowledge and capability to do the work," he said. "They can't rely on their classmates -- they've got to go through this experience themselves."

He described the VR tool experience as immersive. "You get everything but the smell," he said.

Estimated portion of the population age 65 and older by country in 2030

AR for knowledge transfer

You get everything but the smell.
Andrew McLellanPresident, Environmental Education Associates Inc.

A major use case for AR and VR tools is in manufacturing. PTC, an IoT platform vendor, recently released Vuforia Expert Capture, which can be used to create training guides for employees.

Expert workers can use PTC's technology to record voice and video as they work on a machine. They have the option of placing bookmarks or reference points to add more content.

Mike Campbell, executive vice president of augmented reality products at PTC, based in Boston, said users pick up the technology in minutes with simple steps: "Start, capture, next step, take picture, add a bookmark, finish, capture, done." he said.

The material is processed in a web-based tool to put it in final form, according to Campbell. Less experienced workers can use the material, which uses AR to put overall digital content onto the real world, as a guide while they work on the same machine.

"The intention was to make it very easy for experienced technicians to capture their knowledge," he said.

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