One of our cover stories this month highlights how augmented reality (AR) is being used in industrial settings to enhance plant safety (Enhancing Plant Safety via Virtual ‘On-Site’ Visits, pp. 30–34). While AR was already gaining momentum before the pandemic in industrial applications like maintenance and training, the need for distancing imposed by the coronavirus has accelerated the use of many digital technologies, including immersive technologies like AR.
AR, VR, MR and XR
Augmented reality places digital images onto real-world images, so you can, for example, see information about a pump superimposed on top of the actual pump using an AR headset. Virtual reality (VR) on the other hand, takes the user to a completely computer-generated simulation. A combination of these two technologies, AR and VR, is referred to as mixed reality (MR). Collectively, AR, VR and MR are referred to as XR, or extended reality.
In a recent article, Deloitte  predicts that unit sales in 2021 of VR, AR and MR headsets will double over 2019 levels, and sales of related software and services will follow. And, most of that growth is expected to be due to purchases by corporations and educational institutions. According to the International Data Corp. (IDC) , worldwide spending on AR and VR is forecast to grow from just over $12 billion in 2020 to $72.8 billion in 2024. The largest commercial-use investments in 2024 are expected to be training ($4.1 billion) and industrial maintenance ($4.1 billion).
In addition to enhancing safety and for training applications, industry may find XR technologies a useful addition to enhance a changing corporate culture that encompasses both remote and on-site workers. In a recent poll of chief human resources officers by PwC , investing in immersive technologies, such as VR headsets, was identified as an area of potential improvement for a hybrid work situation to better engage employees in meetings and conferences.
Advances in immersive technologies are continuing to evolve. One area, for example, is “haptics.” Simply stated, haptic feedback, or “haptics,” is a simulated sense of touch. The vibration setting on our mobile phones, and the subtle sensation of clicking a button on a touchscreen are examples. Recent technological advances are enabling the development of more sophisticated haptics that can be used in a variety of ways, such as in wearable devices.
In this issue
In addition to AR, our cover stories this month also discuss the role that data analytics can play in improving process safety (Advanced Analytics for Process Safety, pp. 35–38). Our two features on valves focus on severe service and corrosion considerations (Keeping Valves Corrosion Free, and Specifying Severe-Service Valves for Urea Applications, pp. 39–46). And, some of the latest challenges and opportunities facing petroleum refineries are the topic of our Newsfront (Renewable Feed, New Technology and C2C Strategies Offer Opportunities for Refiners. pp. 12–16). We hope you enjoy reading.
Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director
1. From virtual to reality: Digital reality headsets in enterprise and education. www2.deloitte.com, December 2020.
2. Worldwide Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide, www.idc.com, November 17 2020.
3. PwC US Pulse Survey, www.pwc.com/us/en/library/chro.html, March 2021.