The application of AR and VR in business

A new project from IBM explores how AR and VR can have a real impact in industries beyond gaming

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies offers us tremendous possibilities. Consider a classroom in which a teacher gives a history lesson surrounded by actual historical artifacts or settings, like ancient pottery and jewelry in the pyramids of Ancient Egypt. Students don’t have the opportunity to get distracted or fall asleep at their desks as they are totally engaged in the classroom experience. Better yet, consider a child in an underprivileged region being able to get the same classroom lessons and teaching aid as their peers in a large city. Instead of having to travel a far distance, as many children do, to have access to these resources, they are able to use them at home thanks to the power of Augmented and Virtual Reality.

AR and VR are emerging technologies that have been gaining traction and attention in the last few years. The use of these technologies have so far been explored by the gaming industry, bringing exciting virtual fantasy worlds and immersive experiences to video game fans. However, AR/VR has possibilities reaching far past this use, many of which are yet to be explored. The application of virtual or augmented realities in fields like education, medicine, science, or business can add a whole new dimension and expand horizons for professionals in these fields.

One example we are seeing of an enterprise application of AR/VR is with data science and analytics. IBM Immersive Insights, one of the latest projects from IBM, explores the use of AR/VR in the field of data science, and how AR/VR technology can have a real impact on how data scientists work and accomplish their goals.

Other than the technology, AR and VR is an interesting space for designers as we are still tapping into the potential, as well as the nuances of how to design for meaningful experiences. As AR technology and its uses are continually evolving, designers must keep up with their applied learning as they work to create outcome driven user experience. As IBM Immersive Insights is moving into largely uncharted territory by exploring AR for business enterprise uses, the designers on this project are certainly faced with exciting new opportunities.

Augmented Reality will open space barriers and will transform the way we analyze information. We are empowering the user to visualize complex information in a simple way. — David Townsend, Design Director, IBM Analytics

What is IBM Immersive Insights?

IBM Immersive Insights is a data exploration tool that applies AR technology to data exploration and communication, pushing these areas of data science to new levels. Users are able to view their data in 3D using an AR headset, and within this view are able to work with and manipulate their data. This creates opportunities for users to make findings and correlations that they would not necessarily have had with 2D visuals or traditional tools. Additionally, it also allows users to identify patterns, relationships, and outliers in a much shorter amount of time. Multiple users are able to use this tool at once, allowing for more collaboration between data scientists.

Introduction to IBM Immersive Insights

The project was initially designed with data scientists in mind, however it has all kinds of potential for business uses, and can benefit business leaders and executives, analysts, and many other types of users. Overall, IBM Immersive Insights enhances the workflow of data scientists and creates a more interactive way to communicate data.

The AR/VR design space

The IBM Immersive Insights project is among the first to explore the space of UX design for AR or VR in the enterprise. Augmented Reality is a unique challenge as this young technology is fast evolving, and there are very few well-established UX patterns for AR scenarios. So how do we bring data and insights to life?

One of the most interesting and novel aspects about designing for AR/VR is that designers need to take into consideration multidimensionality as part of their design. Designing for data visualization is not a walk in the park, but when designing 3D objects instead of 2D, designers have a much larger range of physical attributes to consider. Just the shift from designing for screens to designing an actual 3D environment is a journey and challenge for the designers to overcome.

A user working with data points in IBM Immersive Insights

The challenge comes in figuring out how to humanize a world that is a blend of physical and virtual reality in order to create a truly engaging user experience. To do this, designers need to learn about the physical objects, 3D environments, sound and audio applications, haptic feedback, interactions and user goals involved in the product, and how to realistically render that in the technology.

View within IBM Immersive Insights featuring multi dimensional rendering
As someone with experience in Industrial Design, I believe that designing for AR/VR is blending UX with Industrial Design. We are not just taking into consideration the interaction and animations, we also need to take into consideration materials and how our designs will blend in an organic way with our environment. — Alfredo Ruiz, IBM Immersive Insights Design Lead

Another thing to take into consideration is that these technologies are relatively new, and there is not much precedent for designing in this space. Immersive Insight designers had to work from scratch and create their own guidelines, which involved a diligent process of user research and exploring design options. The stakes are high to create a compelling piece of design work as this technology is sure to generate a big change in many industries.

Concept design for IBM Immersive Insights

Where is AR/VR going?

As we see AR/VR technologies evolving and more vendors contributing to this space, we expect to see the applications of this technology shifting from entertainment to the types of enterprise solutions demonstrated by IBM Immersive Insights. These applications will have enormous impact on the workflows and business operations of all kinds of industries. AR/VR will build upon and enhance current industry tools and practices, and open up new possibilities in the way we work.

Point of View of IBM Immersive Insights in Apple ARKit

IBM Immersive Insights gives us a peek into how technology like this can have an impact on different industries. Looking at data science as an example, the power of AR in IBM Immersive Insights could transform how data scientists process information and perform complex data analysis operations.

“When making recommendations to the Major League Baseball, I need to consider many factors including whether pitchers are left handed or right, if there’s a prior injury, innings played, salary expectations, and predicted performance. By comparing across all of these dimensions in a single visualization, I can make better, faster judgments.” — Ari Kaplan, sports data analyst and user of IBM Immersive Insights
IBM Immersive Insights demo at the IBM THINK 2018 Conference

We at IBM Design are excited to be sharing this sneak peak into the potential future of AR and seeing where this technology can take us. It’s exciting to see how the field of UX will evolve with this technology, and how designers will handle and adapt to this multi-dimensional landscape. Our global IBM Cloud design team has taken up this challenge, and we hope to bring in many more innovations that solve real business problems through effective application of AR and VR technologies.

Thank you to Alfredo Ruiz and David Townsend for leading the mission and sharing insights from the IBM Immersive Insights design team.

Arin Bhowmick (@arinbhowmick) is Vice President, Design at IBM based in San Francisco, California. The above article is personal and does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.