Football Fields to Battlefields: Mixed Reality is Training’s Next Frontier

Whether you’re a superfan or a linebacker, mixed reality (MR) offers a way to completely immerse yourself in the game. Imagine being an NFL coach thinking about how to stay one step ahead of your opponents. The path to victory starts on the training field, so there’s always a push to make training more realistic, safer, and more effective.

Why Mixed Reality? MR’s Top Benefits Over In-Person Training

MAVRIC, September 2019

MR is emerging as a valuable tool for the NFL because it checks all three of those boxes. It allows players to run through plays with artificial intelligence (AI)-driven players that look, sound, and act like their real counterparts. This immersive experience has several unique benefits that, when used in conjunction with on-field training, are helping teams step up their game.  

Football isn’t the only industry that can benefit from virtual training, however. Imagine how helpful this capability could be for professionals in dangerous environments where success is critical—like the military and first responders. Below are three of the biggest benefits these professionals gain from adding off-field training to their regimen, and how you can make it work for your organization too.

Virtual training creates low-risk environments for high-risk fields

When training can mean the difference between victory and defeat, safety and injury or death, it is imperative that it be as realistic and effective as possible. With MR platforms, individuals and teams can share holographic experiences—visualizing complex mission and play scenarios to collaborate and train together before ever setting foot on the field. At U.Group we work with professional sports teams like the Baltimore Ravens to explore how MR training can combine with connected sensors to track spatial data that enables us to more accurately capture player performance and recreate plays from actual games. We’re also working to leverage several applications that would help optimize military training at several stages of a soldier’s journey. There are seemingly limitless opportunities in both the private and public sectors to gain competitive advantage, measurably improve material retention and performance, and accelerate time to mission and job readiness using MR.

Virtual training engages our brains better

Training and simulation methods have long sought to recreate the challenges these groups face as realistically and accurately as possible, but they’re often very expensive to create, difficult to set up and move, and limited in their ability to measure data that can improve performance and outcomes. Our approach overcomes these challenges to create realistic training scenarios that actually work.

NFL players wear special sensors to generate a wealth of data that can be translated into player behaviors and characteristics. This information enables simulations that look and feel more like the actual players do. While this isn’t an uncommon experience when playing traditional sports video games, it takes on another level entirely when experienced at true scale, with you at the center of the action.

For professional athletes, this means better preparation for game day. When our brains experience things at scale, it promotes better retention and memory formation by experiencing the simulation more like we experience the real world. When we incorporate audio—especially spatial audio that realistically replicates aural details in the environment—it enhances the feeling of being in the middle of the field. This engages our brains even more than visuals alone.

The benefits of multisensory learning have long been demonstrated and used to validate the cost, time, and expense of high-fidelity physical training simulators, but for immersive technology we’re now seeing the ability to realize more of that potential in more affordable, easier to use, and highly portable platforms.

Virtual training has become available in several formats and price points

Walgreens pilots HoloLens2 to train employees on new store layouts before they’re even built

The barriers that previously limited immersive training are rapidly being eliminated. Low-cost but highly capable devices like the Oculus Quest and Go make deploying training across an enterprise much more cost-effective than previous generations of virtual reality platforms. Devices like the HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap offer a completely standalone, wearable spatial computing platform for the cost of a mid- to high-end workstation laptop. Organizations of any size can now cost effectively train their employees using highly affordable and highly portable immersive training wherever and whenever they need it.

Content creation is still a challenge that requires skill and expertise across multiple domains. Even this is steadily improving, however. Content creation tools are becoming more user friendly, enabling training professionals and content creators to tailor training to their organization’s needs. Platforms like Microsoft’s Dynamic 365 Guides combine easy-to-configure platforms that enable workers to learn complex tasks in a physical space with detailed analytics about performance, allowing trainers to identify training gaps quicker while monitoring individual compliance and readiness.

Ways to incorporate immersive training in your organization

Are you looking to introduce a more exciting and immersive training experience to your team? There are several different types of immersive technology to choose from:

  • 360 videos: the next step in training videos. Much like traditional video training production, but at real-life scale. These are best for a simple “choose your own adventure” interaction that can quiz and assess knowledge.
  • Immersive VR: training in a completely virtual digital environment. Most effective for training that benefits from more advanced interactions with digital representations of objects in the environment.
  • Mobile AR: uses the capabilities of mainstream mobile devices like smartphones and tablets to interact with digital 3D content in the environment.
  • MR: as discussed throughout this article, spatial computing devices like the HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap One offer the unique ability to blend physical and digital content together in the real world in true 3D. Especially good for training applications that benefit from people who need to keep their hands free for work and can benefit from voice-driven user interfaces.

If you’re interested in introducing one or more of these options to your organization’s training regimen, contact us today to get the conversation started. We regularly offer discovery workshops where you can get a hands-on demonstration of immersive training technology and learn about opportunities to measurably improve training for your team.

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