German companies discover the virtual world

Goeppingen A stone in a switch is enough to stop traffic on a railway track. It’s always a problem, but above all: Deutsche Bahn has never been so unpunctual. A small army of 11,000 maintainers is supposed to remedy the situation, they take care of the problems on the tracks.

More staff are needed, but the shortage of skilled workers is also impacting the railways. In addition, many fitters will retire in the next few years, reports Franziska Kost, Head of Specialist Qualification at DB Netz. It is a challenge for them. How to preserve and transmit the knowledge of experienced employees? And how do you train as many new people as efficiently as possible?

Kost has been using “mixed reality” for several years: new employees are trained using Teamviewer software and Microsoft HoloLens data glasses. Using this technology, they can create and modify a virtual version of the switch, extract individual parts or practice repairs. “This results in better illustration, deeper understanding, and helps to tie theory and practice more closely together,” the official says.

A study conducted by PwC consultants in the US last year showed that training with VR glasses can be very effective. What has been learned is better remembered than, for example, after conventional lessons. There are fewer distractions simply 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 core concept and a hope for growth and soon renamed Facebook Meta. Since then, there has been “an incredible surge of client interest”, reports management consultant Tibor Merey of consultancy BCG.

However, many companies are still in their infancy. According to a survey commissioned by Teamviewer by the Handelsblatt Research Institute of 4,500 decision makers in Europe, only a quarter say they already see the Metaverse as part of the corporate world.

Teamviewer already sells Metaverse apps

Most companies are new to the Metaverse, but some have been interested in it for years, including Teamviewer. Product Manager Hendrik Witt is certain: “The Metaverse is going to revolutionize the industry.”

The German software publisher has been following the trend it calls the “industrial metaverse” for four years. It has bought many start-ups in the field such as Ubimax or Viscopic, invested and developed “Frontline”. Companies can use the software to take inventories, assemble or maintain machinery. DHL, Audi and Coca-Cola are already using them, and Siemens joined them a few days ago. Witt speaks of “a few hundred customers”.

However: The hype is high and the Metaverse is technically demanding. VR glasses are bulky, expensive, and make you nauseous. Due to rising costs, Meta is now increasing the price of its latest Quest 2 goggles for the most powerful version from $100 to around $500.

VR glasses in use

More and more companies recognize the advantages of the virtual world, for example for training.

(Photo: imagoimages/Xinhua)

Many metaverses are nothing more than extended online games such as Fortnite. It is no longer just played there, but concerts are held or users can buy sneakers. But for many people, that’s not a reason to buy VR glasses. “I think the big adoption will come through the office and business worlds,” says BCG’s Merey.

The digital expert draws parallels with other innovations. “It’s very similar to cell phones – thick bones or the car phone was first used by business people.” Similar to the smartphone, VR glasses are not only becoming lighter and cheaper, but also more endurable. At the end of the year, Meta will release its long-awaited “Project Cambria” glasses. Patent applications show that Apple is also working on one. Microsoft has been in the market with its Holo-Lens for quite some time and primarily targets business customers.

As with the train, the new glasses no longer fully shield the user from the outside world. “Augmented reality” or AR, “adapted reality”, is gaining ground. “Virtual reality and augmented reality are growing together, soon you won’t know the difference,” says Merey.

>> Read here: What Apple’s Patents Reveal About New VR Glasses

New glasses become lighter, more attractive – and over time more indispensable. Just as the Metaverse brings people together through play or shopping, “we believe the same will happen in the way companies do business,” says Yaad Oren, head of the SAP Innovation Center Network.

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The metaverse is called a “digital twin” in the industry, which means 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. Technology sales are still around $6.9 billion worldwide this year, according to industry service Markets & Markets, but are forecast to rise sharply to $73.5 billion over the course of the year. of the next five years.

Companies like Siemens are working with vendors like Teamviewer to develop construction kits that businesses can use to create digital twins. With their help, engineers can design countless versions of machines or city 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 a good point. Reduce costs, increase efficiency. For example, Audi trains its employees in quality assurance with Teamviewer at the Brussels plant for the e-tron model which entered service a few years ago. Instead of reading a 150-page user manual, employees learn quickly and intuitively what is important for the final vehicle inspection: they must check 150 quality characteristics in five minutes.

“So far, scanning has taken place in the office,” says Witt. “Now it is finally reaching the skilled workers.” According to Teamviewer, 80% of workers worldwide do not sit in a desk, a total of 2.7 billion people. Their skills, qualifications but also examinations are increasingly accompanied by software and data collection and transmission.

Employee concerns need to be addressed

Training courses like those of Deutsche Bahn are an important application. According to the consulting firm PwC, “soft skills” in particular, i.e. social competence, are learned well with VR. Difficult conversation with employees can be practiced and behavioral instructions can be internalized. According to the analysis, they are “more emotionally connected” than in the classroom. What is taught in two hours is learned in 29 minutes via VR.

The investment in VR glasses is necessary, they cost around 1000 euros, screen and other materials included. But according to PwC, VR training pays off for 375 or more participants because the VR version is just as expensive as traditional training. From 3000 users it should be more than half the price.

However, not all employees immediately accept the new technology. Overall, the feedback is “very positive,” reports DB Netz’s Kost. Younger, tech-savvy employees in particular are enthusiastic, but sometimes they also hear other comments: “I haven’t needed that in 20 years either. Nevertheless, taking the virtual reality path in the professional world should be unstoppable.

After: Billions of markets or billions of graves? What The Metaverse Is Really Capable Of

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