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The Reality-Virtuality Continuum offers users a wide range of experiences.

Relevance to the Future of Logistics

Workflow Guidance

Making operational processes more efficient and less prone to human error as well as quickly onboarding new employees are crucial to success in the logistics industry. The use of AR or MR headsets with dedicated software enables companies to provide hands-free step-by-step instructions to employees while they are performing operational tasks. Here at DHL, we were a first mover in using smart glasses for workflow guidance in the picking process, with pilot projects already completed in 2014. These smart-glass picking process solutions offer hands-free operation and have increased productivity while reducing error rates; these represent substantial benefits for DHL customers.

Today, so-called vision picking is an inherent part of DHL’s service portfolio. What has worked for the picking process is easily replicated in other processes – for example, upskilling labor so workers can provide more complex value-added services to customers and accelerating new employee onboarding time. With the increasingly availability of quick-to-build no-code applications, it is now very easy to digitalize workflows and run them on smartphones, tablets, and smart glasses.

For more complex tasks, it sometimes makes sense to use MR as this allows contextualized 3D digital content to be projected onto real objects for more detailed guidance. The user in this case would need to wear a headset such as the Microsoft HoloLens or the Magic Leap for visualization. While some first examples of MR exist in logistics – for example, maintenance of complex machinery – other suitable use cases are yet to be explored.

Remote Support & Collaboration

AR technology enables a remotely located expert to be connected to an on-site operator wearing smart glasses via a live video call; this allows both people see the same things at the same time, and it keeps the operator’s hands free. With dedicated software, the expert can provide instructions, sketches, and annotations to guide the operator.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, when travel restrictions and social distancing meant experts could not physically visit and stand alongside operators, this application area gained a lot of traction for audits, project go-lives, and site inspections. Beyond the pandemic, remote support is a great alternative to in-person support, eliminating the time and cost of travel with the added benefit of sustainability.

The combination of workflow guidance and remote support promises significant gains for maintenance, service, and any other process requiring expert knowledge which is not always available locally. In addition to providing immediate access to expert knowledge, these solutions typically allow for automated report generation for documentation purposes.

If higher levels of collaboration are required, it is interesting to consider using VR and MR headsets. With an MR solution, people in multiple locations can meet in a single virtual collaboration space and use 3D holograms to design products, solutions, and processes, for example. There are also examples of conferences and events being held in a fully virtual way, using VR headsets to meet as avatars in a virtual space.

Training & Simulation

While AR and MR are adding virtual content to reality, VR can be used to create immersive training experiences, simulating realistic scenarios in a fully virtual environment. Among industry experts, VR is often referred to as the future of training. Participants in VR training sessions learn 4x faster than in classroom training. This could be explained by the fact that participants show significantly higher emotional connection to virtual content and are far less distracted during fully immersive VR training.4

Considering the training time that can be saved and the fact that content creation is now easier (and more no-code editors are available), it is becoming increasingly attractive to invest in VR for training. DHL Express is already using VR as a training and engagement tool for employees and external audiences. In a gamified approach, people can learn how to load pallets and containers with shipments. They are awarded more points if they use space optimally and pay attention to special-handling labels.

Using VR for training is ideal to simulate a real-world situation, allowing people to learn and take decisions in a safe environment, and it can also ensure a fun experience.

Challenges

Most XR use cases require specific hardware to display information; this necessitates investment and onboarding for employees who are not yet familiar with using these devices.
Many applications need live connectivity – with sufficient bandwidth to pull data from a system via live video call connectivity and with actual streaming of fully immersive 3D content – but mobile networks do not yet offer the required coverage or bandwidth.
It takes time and effort to create fully immersive content and workflow content but, with more and more platforms providing no-code editor applications, this barrier is already decreasing.

This trend should be CLOSELY monitored, with implementations available for many use cases today.

Outlook

Early headsets traded off computing power and battery life with size and weight but technology advances are now changing this. A start-up called Mojo Vision has even developed a first prototype of a smart contact lens. Responding to metaverse developments, AR glasses are likely to conquer the consumer market soon; Apple may launch an Apple Glass, and Google – although cautious about privacy concerns – may publicly test new smart glass prototypes. Seeing these hardware developments and the growth of 5G coverage, we here at DHL consider it the right time to prepare for mass adoption of data-heavy VR and MR applications.

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