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Mixed Reality: The Next Frontier of Learning and Development?

Mixed Reality (MR) looks set to be the way forward in learning and development as the marine industry undergoes digital transformation. The multifunctional abilities of MR technology, from safety to remote assistance, proves its versatility in the real world. 

What is Mixed Reality (MR)?

Mixed Reality (MR) is a type of immersive technology that overlays virtual digital objects (2D or 3D) over the real environment. Users visualize these digital objects through MR glasses or goggles, which are sometimes referred to as Head Mounted Display (HMDs), and can interact with these objects.

Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), where the goggles obscure the real environment from the user for a closed and completely digital view space, MR goggles are actually see-through, letting users see their environment with the overlaid digital elements.

Mixed Reality technology has provided a way of seeing the maritime industry, figuratively and literally. (Image credit: Fostech AS)

MR augments your perspective of a real-time environment and digitally enhances it with additional information or visuals. MR enables precise collaboration and project coordination by providing precise alignment of holographic data that allows workers to see their models accurately overlaid in the physical environment.

The promise of MR in the maritime industry

In the maritime industry, MR helps increase quality, safety and security of ship function and equipment installation. By being spatially referenced into an environment, work instructions can be more clearly conveyed, thereby preventing errors in the installation of marine equipment. Installing marine equipment improperly causes significant damage and downtime. MR work instructions help to decrease error rates, and optimise both training and ship work. 

MR’s biggest advantage is its intuitiveness. It simply requires the crew’s adjustment to an augmented visual environment. This familiarity is easily achievable. 

An example of a MR solution for maritime learning and development is Serl.io. Serl.io is a MR company that develops MR solutions for training, learning and other corporate engagements. The Serl.io MRx platform lets you easily create and deploy your own collaborative MR simulations and sessions to your ship crew and other members of your company. 

The challenges of MR in the maritime industry

While MR holds great promise, there are challenges of implementing MR in the maritime industry. The foremost challenge is cost. The cost of implementation and content creation require substantial investment. In order to fully adopt MR, each ship crew member must have access to a HMD (that costs $200 and above) to enable them to receive remote assistance. However, MR is expected to become more affordable as the technology develops, most likely in just a few years – just like how the smartphone has become an everyday technology used by the masses. 

Yet, another challenge is the inaccessibility of MR on ships in the open seas as the technology may not be robust enough to handle a more dynamic environment. 

MR adoption in other industries

The above challenges have not stopped MR technology from being widely used in various industries – from aerospace to manufacturing, from oil and gas to construction. Major companies in these industries are already adopting MR technology in training, design and manufacturing. Examples of these companies include Lockheed Martin, Toyota, and Airbus.

Microsoft Hololens 2 allows the augmentation of 3D models in real-time space. 
(Image Credit: Microsoft)

In the oil and gas industry, Chevron started using Microsoft’s Hololens as a way to ensure the quality of remote assistance by experts to workers in remote fields. By using the holographic computer as a headset attached to the worker’s hard hat, the remote expert can guide a resolution step by step as well as receive a wide range of data shared by the worker.

MR technology in the near future

HMDs will continue to improve, in form factor/weight, field of view, and price. Current devices are more suited for industrial use, so the challenge is to develop HMDs that are more suited for mass consumer use. Research has already gone into making augmented reality part of contact lenses. Similar to the development of smartphones, HMDs will continue to improve their tracking and environment understanding abilities as well as come with more power chipsets for increased processing, better rendering and connectivity.  

MR will expand in industry use cases given the deeper convergence of technologies like AI, IoT, Advanced Robotics and Cloud – supported by infrastructure upgrades such as 5G and wider connectivity accessibility. From the scaling up of the augmented worker to a wider movement toward digital twinning, MR has functions beyond training purposes. We also see MR as part of the future classroom for maritime studies, teleconsultation with vessels and remote survey. 

The convergence of technologies like AI, IoT, Advanced Robotics and Cloud sets the stage for the use of Mixed Reality to rise. (Image Credit: a.listdaily)

There is also a push into the creation of AR clouds – these would provide a real-time 3D spatial map of the world over the physical layer. The envisioning is for digital information and experiences to be augmented and shared across devices based on a person’s specific location. This means that our physical experience will be augmented and tied more deeply to the digital world, making digitalisation a more important focus for the maritime industry.