Goeppingen One stone in a switch is enough to stop traffic on a railway line. This is always a problem, but above all: Deutsche Bahn has never been so punctual. A small army of 11,000 maintenance workers has to remedy the situation, they solve the problems on the track.
More staff would be needed, but the shortage of skilled workers also affects the railways. In addition, many mechanics will retire in the coming years, reports Franziska Kost, specialist qualifications officer at DB Netz. It’s a challenge for them. How can you retain and pass on the knowledge of experienced employees? And how do you train as many new ones as efficiently as possible?
Kost has been using ‘mixed reality’ for several years: new employees are trained with software from Teamviewer and data glasses from Microsoft HoloLens. The technology allows them to create and edit a virtual version of the switch, extract individual parts or practice repairs. “This results in better illustration, deeper understanding and helps to better connect theory and practice,” says the manager.
A study by PwC consultants in the US last year showed that training with VR glasses can be very effective. What has been learned is remembered better than, for example, after conventional lessons. There are fewer distractions just because the smartphone is not available.
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The Metaverse made headlines last October when Mark Zuckerberg declared the blending of reality and virtuality to be the basic concept and a hope for growth and promptly renamed Facebook Meta. Since then, “there has been an incredible surge of client interest,” reports BCG management consultant Tibor Merey.
However, many companies are still in the early stages. According to a survey commissioned by Teamviewer by the Handelsblatt Research Institute of 4,500 decision-makers in Europe, only a quarter already see the Metaverse as part of the corporate world.
Teamviewer already sells Metaverse applications
Most companies are just discovering the Metaverse, but some have been interested in it for years, including Teamviewer. Product manager Hendrik Witt is sure: “The Metaverse will revolutionize the industry.”
The German software house has been following the trend it calls the “industrial metaverse” for four years now. It took over numerous start-ups in the field, such as Ubimax or Viscopic, invested and developed “Frontline”. Companies can use the software to make an inventory, assemble or maintain machines. DHL, Audi and Coca-Cola are already using it and Siemens joined it a few days ago. Witt speaks of “a few hundred customers”.
However: the hype is great and the Metaverse is technically demanding. VR glasses are bulky, expensive and make you feel sick. Due to rising costs, Meta is now raising the price of its latest Quest 2 goggles for the most powerful version by $100 to about $500.
Many metaverses are nothing but elaborate online games like Fortnite. It is no longer just played there, but concerts are held there or users can buy sneakers there. But for many people, that’s not a reason to buy VR goggles. “I think the big adoption will come through the office and business world,” says BCG’s Merey.
The digital expert draws a parallel with other innovations. “It’s very similar to cell phones — the big bones or the car phone were first used by business people.” Like the smartphone, VR glasses are not only becoming lighter and cheaper, but also more portable. At the end of the year, Meta will release its highly anticipated “Project Cambria” goggles. Patent applications show that Apple is also working on it. Microsoft has been on the market for some time with its Holo-Lens and focuses mainly on business customers.
As with the train, the new glasses no longer completely shield the user from the outside world. “Augmented Reality” or AR, the “adapted reality”, is making its appearance. “VR and AR are growing closer together, soon you won’t know the difference anymore,” says Merey.
>> Read here: What Apple patents reveal about new VR glasses
The new glasses are getting lighter, more attractive – and over time more indispensable. Just as the Metaverse brings people together through gaming or shopping, “we believe the same will happen to the way companies do business,” said Yaad Oren, head of the SAP Innovation Center Network.
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The metaverse is referred to in the industry as a “digital twin”, meaning the virtual representation of an object or system. Whether a company is designing a machine or a production line, the project is simulated, planned and improved in real time with the twin before and during implementation. According to the industry service Markets & Markets, sales of the technology worldwide this year are still around $6.9 billion, but are forecast to rise sharply to $73.5 billion over the next five years.
Companies such as Siemens are collaborating with providers such as Teamviewer to develop building kits that allow companies to create digital twins. With their help, engineers can design countless versions of machines or urban planners can simulate in real time the effect of new buildings on the airflow in a neighborhood – all with almost no programming knowledge.
Applications without programming knowledge
When Teamviewer product manager Witt talks to potential customers, he has good arguments. Reduce costs, increase efficiency. For example, Audi trains its employees in quality assurance with Teamviewer in the Brussels factory for the e-tron model that was taken into use a few years ago. Instead of reading a 150-page manual, the employees quickly and intuitively learn what is important for the final inspection of the vehicles: they have to check 150 quality features in five minutes.
“Until now, digitization has taken place in the office,” says Witt. “Now it’s finally reaching the skilled workers.” According to Teamviewer, 80 percent of the world’s workers are away from the office, a total of 2.7 billion people. Their skills, qualifications and exams are increasingly associated with software and the collection and transmission of data.
Employee concerns need to be addressed
Training courses such as those at Deutsche Bahn are an important application. According to consultancy firm PwC, ‘soft skills’, or social competence, are particularly well taught with VR. A difficult conversation with employees can be practiced and behavioral instructions can be internalized. According to the analysis, they are “more emotionally connected” than they are in class. What is learned there in two hours is learned via VR in 29 minutes.
The investment in the VR glasses is necessary, they cost around 1000 euros including the screen and other hardware. But according to PwC, VR training pays off with 375 or more participants, as the VR version is just as expensive as traditional training. From 3000 users it should be more than half the price.
However, not every employee immediately accepts the new technology. In general, the feedback is “very positive”, reports Kost from DB Netz. Younger and technically savvy employees in particular are enthusiastic, but sometimes they also hear other comments: “I haven’t needed that for 20 years.” Still, the road to virtual reality in the professional world should be unstoppable.
More: Billion dollar market or billion dollar grave? What the Metaverse is really capable of