Even if the metaverse doesn’t yet match the hype behind the headlines for the average person, some industries have merged the physical and digital worlds to keep critical industries running no matter the circumstance—and your office could be next.
These so-called “future-verses” go beyond shared digital workspaces facilitated by VR headsets or digital overlays seen through augmented reality glasses. We’re talking real-time feeds from massive data clouds; digital twins enabling the simulation of industrial applications; haptic-based, gesture-driven actions; and more.
To get an idea of how future-oriented workplaces will work, we spoke to Geoffrey Bund(Opens in a new window)CEO of Headwall(Opens in a new window)a virtual command center technology company, which provided us with information about the skills that will be in demand and which industries are already in use.
Bund joined Headwall(Opens in a new window) after a stint with Finland’s augmented reality (XR) headset maker Varjo Technologies Oy(Opens in a new window), where he forged US-based deals with auto and aerospace manufacturers, as well as the military for aviator training programs. This proved the business case for XR, but the migration from the pandemic to a work-from-home status really drove it forward, he says.
“Headwall was originally conceived as a pandemic mitigation tool,” says Bund. “Our inventor, Adam Weiner, had been building military command centers for years, including for naval underwater surveillance, and the US Army base in Korea at Camp Humphreys. He felt that our AR/VR technology could be reconfigured to give people access to every pixel space and the situational awareness of a bell floor while maintaining social distancing or quarantine. It was a natural fit and the scope of Headwall has grown significantly since then.”
Command center video walls are used in many industries today, including security firms, emergency services and financial trading floors – some of the earliest adopters of virtualisation.
“One of our clients is a large financial holding company,” says Bund. “As soon as the covid lockdowns hit, the traders went home. But they still needed access to all trading desk tools and large amounts of real-time data. It would have been impossible to buy, supply and set up large equipment and multiple screens in each trader’s home, so we quickly mirrored each trader’s desktop configurations in an AR/VR environment.”
To enable traders to review and manipulate data at home, Headwall used SSL-encrypted IP streaming video and control data over a Wide Area Network (WAN). Video sources were routed to virtual screens, effectively creating a digital twin of the financial giant’s internal systems.
“Each morning, traders start up Headwall on their Windows computers, with an Nvidia enterprise graphics card, and then put on the connected HMDs,” explains Bund. “Instantly, they can view live financial information, change dashboard configurations and perform all their daily tasks from the headset. They do this using an Ultraleap hand tracking sensor(Opens in a new window) to toggle and pinch (analogous to a mouse click), to activate, deactivate, pan and scale, all video-based and 3D information. Crestron hardware(Opens in a new window) enables routing and control of keyboard and mouse.”
As for which HMDs customers use in these real-world scenarios, Headwall recommends the Varjo, but Bund is also positive about other military-grade gear and even Meta-made devices.
“HTC Vive Pro Secure(Opens in a new window) is great, and has also taken strong steps to support the military and classified environments. It is the only headset with a broad authority to operate in classified areas, he says. “We also like the HP Reverb G2 for a fast, easy-to-deploy prize fighter with surprisingly high visual acuity, and the Quest Pro, which we just tried, is very strong.”
Firefighters as network nodes
In future-oriented workplaces, when wearables are part of the uniform, the human worker can become a node on the network, appearing inside the system as another variable with more data points. As Bund explains, this is particularly important in extreme environments.
“During an emergency, fire and incident managers must make sense of large amounts of data. These can include multiple surveillance cameras, overhead drone POVs, incoming weather [and] satellite feeds, and also footage captured by fire helmet and body cameras at the scene, says Bund.
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For one of its clients, Headwall built real-time 3D maps, viewable via an HMD, with a biometric data overlay from each firefighter that captured and shared oxygen saturation, body temperature and heart rate data. “This allowed those in charge of the emergency to know not only where each firefighter was, but whether they were in danger and needed support,” Bund points out.
Game developers wanted
The future-verse is going to require some good…game developers?
“At Headwall, we’re starting to solve the problem of ingesting massive amounts of mapping and building data to render via an HMD. There are tons of problems here, all of which require new and in-demand skills,” says Bund. “As a result, Headwall has been focused on hiring people with strong technical game development expertise who also have a very strong eye for user design.”
Imagination and creativity will also be required. If most people are engaged in hybrid work, or stay aloof, these new future-oriented work environments will not have the dreaded cubicle layouts of the past.
“Is a typical Silicon Valley conference room the best possible space and way for people to collaborate? I don’t think so,” says Bund. “This is why I want to hire people who are completely focused on designing new spaces and tools that take advantage of the limitlessness of the virtual world and the technology that is now emerging.”
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