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Sep 02, 2022

The Easiest Way to Operationalize Enterprise Augmented Reality

Chris Ragsdale

Chris Ragsdale and Wyatt Gassaway

The Easiest Way to Operationalize Enterprise Augmented Reality

Enterprise augmented reality (AR) headsets have been used for many years now and are already making a significant impact on the innovative companies that have successfully implemented them at scale. You may have determined your company will benefit from AR, but given how young the technology is, it’s hard to know where to start. Embracing any technology at enterprise scale is challenging, let alone a technology as new and innovative as AR.

Questions quickly pile up, and the answers you find sound hard to implement: game engines, 3D artists, graphics pipelines, and the list goes on. As issues stack up, you may begin to wonder if the barrier to entry is simply too high—maybe AR isn’t worth the investment after all.

Luckily there is an easier option that can enable your business to quicky benefit from AR: the HoloLens 2 paired with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Guides.

What Are Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and Guides?

Dynamics 365 is a group of SaaS applications offered by Microsoft. Under this platform, Microsoft offers two AR applications purpose-built to fit a broad range of use cases: Remote Assist and Guides.

Remote Assist

Remote Assist is Microsoft’s take on an AR video calling app. Think video calls upgraded with a suite of AR tools that enable computer and mobile-based Teams users to video call with a HoloLens user and provide assistance through holographic annotations in the HoloLens user’s environment. In addition to standard video calling features (chat, file sharing, and video feed), users are given AR annotation tools to allow PDF annotation-like augmentations to a HoloLens user’s environment.

Annotation Tools:

  • Arrow - Place and orient arrows in 3D space.

  • Draw - Draw shapes, text, or scribbles in 3D space.

HoloLens users place annotations through intuitive hand-tracked gestures such as pointing to a location and pressing their thumb and index fingers together.

Draw Annotation – HoloLens User:

Draw Annotation – HoloLens User

Computer and mobile users use the same tools by clicking or tapping areas in the live video feed broadcast from the HoloLens.

Draw Annotation – Computer User:

Draw Annotation – Computer User

This tool is targeted toward workflows where workers routinely require expert assistance. This empowers your business to put experts in the shoes of HoloLens users remotely, circling points of interest and giving verbal guidance in real time.

Guides

Guides is a training app that allows operators to learn hands-on processes through interactive holographic instructional guides.

Guides are first storyboarded through a PC application—tasks are broken down into configurable steps with a list of prebuilt and/or custom-built holograms. Once a guide has been scaffolded, it is authored through the HoloLens device. The author first places an anchor as a central reference point, then places the available holograms around their environment to correspond with each step.

Guide Authoring:

Guide Authoring

When the authoring step has been completed, the guide is ready to use. The end user sees a floating screen that displays their current step, and their environment is augmented by the holograms previously placed in the authoring phase. As the user completes each step, they can progress hands-free by gazing at the “next” button on the guide screen or by interacting with triggerable objects.

Guide Operation:

Guide Operation

This tool simultaneously improves the quality of training efforts over traditional methods while reducing training costs. This empowers your business to create reusable interactive guides once and deploy them at scale.

What Makes Dynamics 365 the Easiest Option?

Full Integration With the Microsoft Ecosystem

The Remote Assist and Guides tools under Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 platform are fully integrated into the Microsoft ecosystem. Due to this integration, excellent documentation is available through Microsoft Learn for both system administrators and new users of HoloLens. Both programs also have free trials, which allows you to begin using their tools and creating AR experiences without paying for full access. The apps have easy log in, provided through Microsoft Graph and Active Directory and can directly interface with any existing corporate Microsoft accounts.

In fact, the hardest part about getting started with Remote Assist, if your company is already involved in the Microsoft ecosystem, is the first log in to your Microsoft account on the HoloLens using the AR keyboard. After that log in, Remote Assist already has access to all your Teams contacts, and you can immediately call them to join a call. To match this functionality with a custom AR solution, significant effort would have to be put in to integrate with enterprise-level login systems.

Remote Assist and Guides Are User-Friendly

Both Remote Assist and Guides are well thought out and intuitive AR apps. Both apps fit in well with the existing patterns established throughout the AR windows of the HoloLens, with their user interface (UI) elements and tools following similar design patterns to the entirety of the HoloLens UI experience. Since the Remote Assist and Guides tools match the patterns of the AR Windows operating system, if you can use the HoloLens, you can utilize these apps.

There is some learning necessary in getting used to using a 3D interface and moving windows and digital objects around in three dimensions, but the tools work similarly, and there are games and tutorials available to make that learning easier. Microsoft has put in a lot of time and effort to prepare highly polished and reliable tools in Guides and Remote Assist. To match these tools with a custom solution would require similar dedication and expertise in preparing enterprise-grade solutions and integrations with existing systems.

Remote Assist and Guides Are Widely Adaptable

Remote Assist and Guides were both designed as one-size-fits-most solutions. If any aspect of your business involves hands-on work, these apps are set up to provide immediate value to your workflows. This is primarily due to their emphasis on two of the most fundamental strengths of AR: point-of-view (POV) communication for Remote Assist and hands-free availability of information for Guides.

POV communication is an incredibly natural solution to the age-old problem of struggling to ask the right questions. Pointing to something in your own field of view is orders of magnitude quicker than trying to use your words to give context to your situation and explain what you are struggling with.

No need to fumble through the right words to describe a tool or piece of hardware. Thirty seconds of wracking your brain to describe your question turns into “where do I put this?” The intuitiveness of this type of interaction significantly shortens the gap between issue and resolution. Remote Assist perfectly distills this benefit of AR.

Hands-free availability of information allows you to stay immersed in the task at hand. When you use a smartphone, you are sacrificing the availability of one of your hands and awareness of your physical surroundings. AR gives you all the benefits of a smartphone with neither of these tradeoffs. Guides enables users to stay fully immersed in their training. Did you get lost somewhere? No big deal, the instructions are still right there in front of you.

Additionally, the focus on foundational AR features ends up lowering the barrier to entry for these apps. Very little interaction is required to operate them at full capacity, so even the least technically minded users should have very little trouble getting started.

No Developers Needed

Remote Assist and Guides are fully contained apps available directly from your HoloLens device through the Microsoft store. Remote Assist requires no configuration whatsoever. Do you have Teams? Sign in and you’re good to go. While Guides requires some administrative configuration to set up a workspace, guide creation and operation is done entirely through purpose-built tools with an intuitive UI. No form of coding knowledge is required to create, author, or operate guides.

Custom solutions to these same problems would require developers with specialized backgrounds. AR development requires knowledge of game engines, physics systems, and 3D interactions, a skillset almost entirely unique to game developers. Developers employed at most businesses today specialize in web or backend development, neither of which overlap much with AR. In other words, a custom approach would require hiring new specialized developers or training your existing developers into a brand-new skillset—either way, a lot of time and money would need to be spent to reach the level of polish and general-purpose benefit provided by these immediately accessible apps.

Challenges

Despite being an easier approach than alternatives, operationalizing the HoloLens 2 isn’t without its challenges. Implementing any new technology at scale requires a well thought out change management strategy.

Training is one primary area to plan for. Hands-free AR is a new technology that most people aren’t accustomed to yet. The HoloLens 2’s hand tracking and gaze detection input methods are completely different forms of interaction compared to using a mouse on a computer or tapping the screen of a smartphone. Another consideration is the price of the device. A base HoloLens 2 costs $3,500 and industrial versions max out at $5,200. While this isn’t prohibitively expensive for large companies, this is pricey enough that you will probably need to demonstrate value with the device before management agrees to buy in.

Moving Forward With Augmented Reality at Scale

With Remote Assist and Guides, Microsoft Dynamics 365 provides well thought out and intuitive tools to allow users to interact with the augmented environment. Between the ubiquity of Microsoft services in the enterprise space, and the ease at which the HoloLens interfaces with Microsoft accounts, it is relatively simple to get started using Remote Assist and Guides, particularly when compared with the effort of creating custom AR apps. While enterprise-level development and adoption of new technology still represent challenges, Guides and Remote Assist represent the smoothest and simplest methods to get established with enterprise AR experiences.

To find out more about implementing AR experiences for HoloLens and other platforms, please reach out to findoutmore@credera.com.

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