Microsoft Adds New HoloLens Tools, Walmart Doubles Down on VR Training

Microsoft Adds New HoloLens Tools, Walmart Doubles Down on VR Training

Microsoft has added a series of new AI and mixed reality services to its enterprise software product line Dynamics 365, VentureBeat reported last week, including tools based on its HoloLens augmented reality headset:

Mixed reality services from Microsoft for the workplace were first made available in preview in May and will become generally available in the coming weeks, a Microsoft spokesperson told VentureBeat. Remote Assist allows technicians and experts within companies to see what frontline workers can see, then help them solve problems using HoloLens while they work with their hands. It’s a scenario as old as the corporate VR/AR craze itself.

Layout, another mixed reality tool, helps people visualize the placing of items in commercial or industrial settings, working with 3D models to resize, move, and quickly edit layouts with real-world scale. Companies like Chevron currently use Remote Assist today for facility inspections.

The new AI services include a program to help sales managers analyze and improve their associates’ performance, as well as new customer service and market research tools. Microsoft first began presenting the HoloLens as an enterprise tool last year, when it unveiled a second-generation design incorporating a powerful AI coprocessor. That announcement came within a week of Google unveiling the enterprise version of its own AR headset, Google Glass.

The applications for these mixed-reality devices are wide-ranging, with some companies already using them in manufacturing, shipping, and health care. One of the clearest use cases for VR and AR in the workplace is in learning, where it offers a way to immerse new employees in real-life work scenarios with drastically lower risk and expense than real-life immersion training. Walmart has been among the vanguard of large employers experimenting in this area; last year, the retailer announced plans to expand VR training to all 200 of its training centers after a successful pilot project. Now, it’s taking its commitment to VR training one step further and planning to deploy Oculus Go headsets at each of its 5,000 stores to allow for more frequent training, TechCrunch reported last week:

The big box giant will begin sending four headsets to each Walmart supercenter and two headsets to each Neighborhood Market in the country. That may not necessarily seem like a ton to train a store full of employees, but at Walmart’s scale that amounts to about 17,000 headsets being shipped by year’s end.

The move is the evolution of an announcement that the company made last year that it was working with STRIVR Labs to bring virtual reality training to its 200 “Walmart Academy” training centers. Those training sessions were done on PC-tethered Oculus Rifts, the move to Oculus Go headsets really showcases how much more simple standalone headset hardware is to setup and operate. Just being able to send a few of these to each store and expect that people will be able to navigate them easily is a win for Oculus and Facebook as most early VR hardware has taken a healthy bit of troubleshooting in order to engage with anything.

Another enterprise application of virtual reality can be found in recruiting, where employers are using it to give candidates truly immersive views of what the job would be like. Some companies are also offering VR tools that support mental health and wellbeing.