Augmented reality: Ready for training or in its infancy?

Courtesy of Google Glass, Vuzix and other new hardware, augmented reality (AR) has had its share of media attention in the last two years. Raj Raheja, CEO of training firm Heartwood, discusses the how AR technology could potentially for training engineers.

Many people confuse virtual reality and augmented reality (AR), so let’s start with a simple definition that covers most AR use: AR is technology that enables digital data to be overlaid on a live view of the real world.

When this data (be it text, graphics or sound) is displayed on a person’s real-time view, it can open up new ways to learn about one’s surroundings, from navigating a street we are walking down or practicing the best way to work on a piece of equipment we are using. This video shows AR for machine maintenance in action:

Looks promising, doesn’t it? But does it really help one learn easier or faster? Yes!

The good folks at Colombia University concluded, after a series of tests, that users completed the same task in 53 per cent of the time, and more accurately than previous forms of instruction. They also found it to be a more natural and intutive way of learning.


So, if you’re in charge of a training in your organisation, you’re probably thinking you should invest in Augmented Reality technology – but you shouldn’t.


AR is not at the cutting edge of technology right now – it’s at the “bleeding edge”. And I’m not thrilled to say so, because from a business standpoint, I look forward to offering interactive AR solutions. But at Heartwood we have had the oppurtunity to analyse training initiatives at countless organisations – and here is what we’ve found:

The problem with AR today

Risk mitigation is a huge worry for business leaders – and for good reason. It’s crucial to know that technology that works in ideal test conditions will also work in the field, on-site, without internet, or at 3am! Unfortuantely, AR does not pass this test. The recognition software is not robust enough to handle all light conditions, with extremely dark, light or reflective backgrounds sometimes resulting in potentially catastrophic errors. (Imagine an arrow pointing to the wrong screw!)

Requring additional hardware, like a head-mounted set of glasses just means lugging around more stuff that runs out of batteries – and more cables and chargers to carry around. Not only is this cumbersome, technicians do not want another hi-tech device, so user adoption will be an issue.

Most training happens at a slower pace than live performance, and certainly not just on one specific day. Technicians want – and need - access to that knowledge at all times, not just when they are in front of the equipment.

My professional recommendation is to stick with virtual interactive training, and here’s why.

Technicians and trainees already have access to mobile devices, tablets and laptops, so it makes sense to deploy virtual training apps that use 3D interactivity and allow them to “learn-by-doing” on those same devices. Although it doesn’t point to the actual real world screw (as it does in AR), it will train them on what to do on a virtually replicated 3D model of that screw. For most techs, that is already a huge step up from passive PowerPoint-style courses they are accustomed to. (See samples of 3D interactive virtual training here.)

Management can rest assured knowing that every time the virtual training app runs, it will display the same accurate information, regardless of conditions – day or night, inside or outside.

Since the 3D interactive content will already be developed, it can then be repurposed into AR applications when the technology is more stable and, more importantly, when enough users have the hardware needed. I predict this will happen in five to seven years.


So when it comes to training for mission critical systems, and presented with a set of features that work every time and a promising new technology that works only of the time– the choice is clear.

Have you had any experience with AR? Raj Raheja is happy to answer questions about either training technology. Contact him at:

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