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Adding a new dimension to collaboration and problem solving

Image credit: Dreamstime

In the post-pandemic world, real-time immersive 3D technology will revolutionise remote teamworking.

Just one hour of unplanned downtime can cost an organisation hundreds of thousands of pounds. But during the current Covid-19 pandemic, fixing infrastructure or application failures is no longer as simple as flying in an expert to sort things out on the spot.

Trying to untangle complex problems remotely from thousands of miles away is fraught with difficulties – even when using products like Microsoft's Remote Assist. The expert often has to resort to waving their hands around on a screen to communicate to the technician which part of a machine they should be fixing, and which parts should be left alone.

For many of us, even day-to-day remote teamworking is fraught with difficulties. Two-dimensional conferencing simply doesn't cut it when you have hundreds of experts in different countries collaborating on complex 3D data to create the latest jet engine or robot. It doesn't even work particularly well for things like design reviews, when you want to share a 3D model of a new medical device with colleagues scattered around the country.

Three-dimensional data sets are cumbersome – and this, together with security concerns, makes it difficult to use such data across remote locations. Existing virtual-reality (VR) or augmented-reality (AR) solutions lack a 'one-click' integrated experience – data usually needs to be exported and converted from one platform into a separate immersive experience. The time and effort involved tends to kill the whole cost/benefit aspect of adopting VR or AR. And by exporting and converting data, you often lose metadata and the full details of the original model.

Now, for the first time, seamless real-time immersive 3D collaboration is possible – with one click transforming your whole remote team's working environment from 2D to 3D. Users can share live, complex 3D files such as CAD data, interact with them and reveal 'hidden' parts deep within a machine that may be causing an issue. Design reviews can be brought to life, with participants 'walking through' a model, no matter where they are in the world – saving time and money.

An easy way to appreciate the step change is to think back to all those disaster films where pilots are taken ill and a novice is forced to try to land the aircraft. It's the difference between being talked down by air traffic control and having a holographic pilot appear beside you to take the controls and land safely.

Any new data generated during collaboration is automatically captured and pushed back into the system for maximum efficiency – no more meeting notes distributed after the event. And current legacy software can still be accessed in real time for critical information, even while in immersive and collaborative mode – extending its use into virtual spaces.

Not everyone needs to wear a VR or AR headset to participate – the future is a mixed collaboration session with other team members joining via browsers on their desktop or mobile devices. As well as reducing the additional equipment required, this enables remote teams to participate without the risks of sharing complex and sensitive data.

But the immersive experience needs to be connected to the wider business processes – or ultimately it will wilt and die. With remote assistance, for example, if you have access to the real-time data of the machine being diagnosed, you have a more complete understanding of the machine itself – which should lead to faster resolution times. In addition, by integrating with the procurement system, the actual part can be identified and ordered during the same session.

In the post-pandemic remote world, conferencing is bringing people, video and documents together. Collaboration is now adding the fourth dimension of 3D immersive experience to complete the picture.

At the very least, this dramatic and unstable time has been a wake-up call to businesses that not all their processes need to be onsite. Pandemic or not, they will begin to see cost savings by reducing the travel of experts around the world to help train, assemble or maintain complex, expensive products. Talent can be hired globally and still be connected to the team. Designers can work concurrently on complex projects, minimising errors that are discovered at the expensive end of a product’s lifecycle.

These are just some of the ways in which the next generation of enterprise collaboration tools is set to transform the way we work. By combining cutting-edge immersive and collaborative technologies, companies can not only survive but thrive in this strange new world and beyond.

Karl Maddix is co-founder and CEO of Masters of Pie.

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