Future of Work Podcast, Episode 21.

Joel Ward, Technology Strategist and AR Product Manager for Booz Allen Hamilton, discusses the current and future impact of XR on workplace training and how the XR Access initiative is working to make virtual, mixed, and augmented realities accessible.

This podcast is developed in partnership with Workology.com as part of PEAT’s Future of Work series, which works to start conversations around how emerging workplace technology trends are impacting people with disabilities.​

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Intro: [00:00:00.21] Welcome to the Workology Podcast, a podcast for the disruptive workplace leader. Join host Jessica Miller-Merrell, Founder of Workology.com as she sits down and gets to the bottom of trends, tools and case studies for the business leader, H.R. and recruiting professional who is tired of the status quo. Now here’s Jessica with this episode of Workology.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:00:25.74] The Future of Business and the Workplace as virtual. I’m talking about XR. The XR industry is booming, especially on the consumer side of the house. It’s only a matter of time before XR really makes its way into the workplace. I’m interested in talking about how XR is being applied right now, maybe at work. Most importantly, how do we leverage this technology to make the workplace and the employee experience more accessible and inclusive for everyone? This episode of the Workology podcast is part of our Future of Work series powered by PEAT. They’re the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology.  In honor of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July, we’re investigating what the next 30 years will look like for people with disabilities at work and the potential of emerging technologies to make the workplace more inclusive and accessible. Today, I’m joined by technology strategist Joel Ward. Joel is a technology strategist and AR product manager for management consulting company, Booz Allen Hamilton.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:01:27.24] His work is focused in the area of mixed and augmented reality, the Microsoft Hololens 2, computer vision, biosensors and sensor fusion. Joel, welcome to the Workology podcast.

Joel Ward: Thank you, Jessica.

Jessica Miller Merrell: Tell us a little bit more about your background. Some of it I’m familiar with and some of it not, but how did you end up in this space?

Joel Ward: [00:01:48.89] So I started school many years ago and then when I went to college, I wanted to be an architect of buildings. [00:01:55.66]  I built Lego when I was a kid and I thought I wanted to actually build buildings. After going to school for a couple of years at Penn State, I decided I didn’t want to be an architect and got into web development. So I kind of put my own degree together, it didn’t exist at the time. And then I went into building websites for many years. Built websites, content management systems, things like SharePoint, if you’ve heard of that. And I did it for a long time and it’s good work, it’s consistent work. There’s a lot of web development out there. But when our new innovation center was being developed and then released in 2016, I got pulled in to help run some of the technology there. And so through that project, and I was there for a couple of years. I got involved with a lot of other things outside of our standard software development, including augmented reality, virtual reality. And it really piqued my interest, especially demonstrating to people and seeing what was possible. So as I moved out of that role. I actually started working on a couple of different projects, including the projects in XR, extended reality for augmented reality and virtual reality, and in devices like the HoloLens. And so that’s where I’ve sort of focused the past couple of years as this is an evolving, slow evolving space. It’s starting to mature, but it’s still evolving. And there’s a lot of exciting things we can do. And that’s what I’m hoping we’ll talk about today.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:03:21.67] Awesome. So for those of us who aren’t aware, walk us through what virtual reality, extended reality and augmented reality are.

Joel Ward: [00:03:30.07] Sure. So over the years, there have been quite a few different terms used for these types of technologies. Currently, XR is what most of the industry is using for a blanket term for what most people may know as VR and AR. Virtual reality is VR and AR is augmented reality. There’s also another term called mixed reality and they all kind of blend together. And I think for most people they may be interchangeable, but they’re really not. We use XR just to cover all of that because the goal, where we see everything going, is they will be blended together ultimately. But currently they are sort of very distinct different things. So starting with virtual reality, which most people probably know because this is, this has been around for decades at this point and in different forms. This is where you put on a pair of goggles and you may have seen this actually in arcades, places like the Microsoft Store have had this, and Best Buy. You may have heard of companies like Oculus. You put on a pair of goggles. You have these lenses that show you somewhere else, take you somewhere completely different. You don’t see any of the real world.

Joel Ward: [00:04:42.28] You see a virtual world. So that’s virtual reality. It’s also, as the technology’s gotten better, it makes you feel, really feel like spatially, like you actually are somewhere else, not just like a flat screen, but you actually get a three dimensional experience. So you actually feel like you’re somewhere else. So that’s VR. Probably most people, whenever they think of any of these terms, they may assume it’s VR because that’s what we’ve mostly seen over the years. Augmented reality has actually also been around for a while in different forms. That is where you might have either a pair of glasses and then, walking around in the world you may have heard of Google Glass. This is one of the first commercial products that came out in the modern era, where you’re overlaying information on top of what you’re seeing. So you might have glasses and you can say, it might give you instruction or navigate you around. You also may, everybody actually has this on their phones nowadays, where you can hold your phone up. It uses the phone camera and then it shows you a live view of the camera overlaying information. And you may have played a game like Pokemon GO.

Joel Ward: [00:05:45.34] That’s sort of a version of augmented reality or use the IKEA app and put furniture in your living room to make it look, see what it looks like with that new sofa. And so AR, people actually may have used it, but not even realized it’s called augmented reality. That’s existed for a while as well. Our hope though is that this moves us more into glasses, so you don’t have to hold your phone or your tablet up and then it becomes more of a seamless experience. The last one that’s part of XR is mixed reality. And depending how you ask, this one has a slightly different definition. It sort of morphs between augmented reality and virtual reality. But think of mixed reality is for some of the companies that use this term, primarily Microsoft, they’re thinking of a world where, again, you might have eventually have one pair of glasses that can do both a virtual world and a real world.

Joel Ward: [00:06:37.09] For now, this means more likely that you have a pair of glasses where you can still see the real world. But instead of just having two dimensional information in front of you, like a navigation or a video screen, you have three dimensional holograms in your world, kind of like virtual reality. But then they’re overlaid onto your real world and they actually can then map to your real world. So you say you could put a model of something on a table that actually knows where the table is and full floats on the table, and then you can interact with that thing, even using your hands nowadays, where you can pick up this virtual object, like almost like it’s really there and move it around. So you still see the real world. But you can interact with it like it is a virtual world. And that’s, that’s kind of the idea and the dream of all of this, XR, AR, VR and MR, where it can blend together between both worlds, depending on what you need to do.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:07:25.72] I was one of the early adopters of Google Glass, so I’m definitely, I definitely see the value in this technology. And it was in its infancy. But I loved that I was able to tweet or share things or read things or get directions and all it was, it came directly from my glasses. And then I told it what I needed to do through a series of head nods, which was really cool.

Joel Ward: [00:07:53.53] Yeah. And that was the grade. Culturally, though, it was awkward because we hadn’t really seen that. And you know, nowadays we look at what that was. And you tried it and unfortunately, I didn’t get to try it that way back when. But I would have. If it came out now I would’ve tried it. It blazed the trail for what we have now. Even cell phones, like back in the days back then, people were kind of awkward around people holding cell phones at the dinner table.

Joel Ward: [00:08:19.96] Right. And nowadays, we use them all over the place. It’s the same thing with these glasses. It was this kind of ahead of its time. It also blazed a trail at the same time.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:08:29.45] Yeah I never felt unsafe, but I have had friends who, when they had their Google Glass on, were yelled at or approached or asked to leave a restaurant simply because they were wearing them. So they were really obvious. You kind of look like a cyborg.

Joel Ward: [00:08:46.47] Yeah. Well that goes to the sort of the form factor too, which is also evolving. It needs to look more natural and then people then will accept it more. So it’s a good point.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:08:55.78] Joel, give us an example of how XR is being used in the workplace right now.

Joel Ward: [00:09:00.03] There are quite a few areas that it’s currently being used or we see it going in the workplace. For what we’ve been doing in my company and kind of where we’ve seen the industry going over the past few years, it’s been used a lot for applications like training and maintenance. And so we’ve built a lot of custom applications in VR training for things like learning how to use equipments, learning how to repair equipments. Actually, companies like Wal-Mart and KFC have had examples out there where they’re using VR headsets for training, training their employees either in the kitchen or in the stores. And so this is a great way, this kind of goes to the fact that VR is great for going somewhere where you are not. And so if you need to train in a certain location, but you don’t have ready access to that, virtual reality specifically is really great for that. And so that’s what we’ve done a lot of over the past few years. And we see that continuing obviously. There’s some newer space in the training area that is coming out right now. Therapy and empathy training actually is, can be really powerful. And this has been around for a little while as well.

Joel Ward: [00:10:14.75] But as the graphics get better and sort of the, this actually ties into artificial intelligence as sort of the more natural feel of these applications gets better. Then these kinds of things can be useful for not only being somewhere else. So different locations, but also being somewhere, someone else. So something like empathy training, we’re actually piloting this internally with our learning and development team, where we’re looking at having people put on a VR headset to be somebody else, go through a certain HR situation as somebody else. And so even though there’s no way you can actually be somebody else, it is much closer than any other method we’ve had before of essentially seeing what someone else sees, and getting a much better feel for how certain comments or looks are addressed to that person. And that actually is very powerful. And so you kind of go off on that tangent for not just empathy training, but other kinds of therapy, training for relaxation, going to different locations. We actually a couple years ago built an application for doing physical therapy called Coastal Paradise, where it takes you onto a kayak in a tropical location. And then you have to take the two controllers like they’re paddles and you paddle.

Joel Ward: [00:11:35.01] And so it’s sort of relaxing and you’re going along this river right over this bay, but you’re also moving your arms with these controllers. And that’s actually the exercise you’re supposed to be doing. So you can think, well, that’s much more interesting than doing physical therapy in a hospital where I’m looking at a gray wall. And I just have to kind of go back and forth, back and forth. We can now use virtual reality to make it more interesting and then if it’s more interesting then I might actually complete it on a regular basis. So this is the kind of thing that we’ve actually already seen. And this is, I think, one big growth area, especially in the health space that we’ll see in the next couple of years. And so on the training, right, by the way, there’s a bunch of other kind of training, orientation and then, kind of related to training and health, being able to go somewhere else. And I keep mentioning this, the VR is great for this where it can take you somewhere else. But the idea of going into even Google Maps, with the Google Street view, we can go somewhere else. There are applications that you can put on a headset, go anywhere in the world. That can be interesting for some people.

Joel Ward: [00:12:39.39] Actually, my son, by the way, he loves to do this. He loves to put on the headset and go to places he’s been and kind of click around, essentially Google Street View. But from a therapeutic standpoint, thinking back into that hospital or if you’re stuck at home or stuck somewhere else, if you can go anywhere in the world and and feel like you’re there, that can be very powerful. And so this is all kind of, I put this in the training realm, but if you start there, there’s a lot of possibility, just in training and I’m talking about VR. So flipping on the AR side, augmented reality and mixed reality, starting with training and VR, if you go to the maintenance side and the job aide side and augmented reality, if you can put on a headset like a like a Microsoft HoloLens, which is a holographic augmented reality headset, put it on, it can actually sense what you’re looking at. And then if you need to fix something, it can actually step you through that process. And the technology’s getting better where it can not only align its direction to what you’re looking at, so it knows you’re looking at like a car engine, for example, and it could say, you know, open this, twist this off and put the fluid in here, something like that. As the technology is getting better, it actually can analyze what you’re doing As you’re doing it and tell you you did it wrong. Right.

Joel Ward: [00:13:55.23] So we’re not quite there yet with all these applications, but that’s where it’s going, where it can sort of tell you, help you along automatically as you’re doing it. And this is what augmented reality is really great for, because it’s blending the real world along with this virtual world. Also along with augmented reality, gratification, actually. Something I’m building for a prototype is augmented reality, mixed reality headset combined together with analytics and sensors like cameras and biometrics. And so imagine you’re wearing this headset. You’re also wearing other sensors that are looking at what you’re doing or monitoring your health or looking for other objects or people. And this is, can be really powerful where the user can be much more aware of their surroundings and their self. For example, nearby threats, navigation, so it may know where you are and then be able to direct you. Again, your health, how you’re feeling, and then also communication. So sort of combining all these things together and then being able to see that in one view instead of having to look down at a phone or a computer or something else. That’s another great use of AR. I think AR is going to grow a lot in the next couple of years, especially as we see new devices and headsets that are more affordable and also more powerful. And so these kinds of things, it could be for security and monitoring, it could be for the military, it could be for even home use and personal use is really going to grow. The last thing I’ll mention that kind of covers both augmented reality, virtual reality is the idea of using these platforms for teamwork, for communication, for collaboration, replacing phone calls, video calls and even travel, which is what we’ve been trying to do for decades is eliminate or reduce unnecessary travel.

Joel Ward: [00:15:55.26] If you can have a virtual meeting that feels much more like a physical meeting that can be really powerful. Right, where you can have people in the same room all collaborating around virtual content and then people remotely being beamed in as holograms, as avatars, that may even look like themselves and interacting with the same virtual content. And eventually we’ll be able to then combine that with sensors that bring in real physical content into that. So you may be looking at an actual physical model, for example, that’s in one room and you’re doing a design review. Instead of the remote people seeing just a video feed of that, they eventually should be able to see a virtual three dimensional representation of that model because of special cameras that can now then translate physical into a virtual model live, and stream it to somebody else. And so this is still evolving. Actually, the pieces are there. And I think in the next few years, as some of these applications and some of these sensor technologies improve and become more affordable, we will see this and it will start with more specialized use cases like design review, like I’m mentioning. But we may start to see that as replacing regular meetings and even travel and training, orientations and all kinds of things, because we can do it much more readily. And people also tend to focus at the same time, too, with these kinds of environments.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:17:25.77] We talked about on a previous Workology podcast as part of the PEAT Future of Work series, and we dove into virtual reality and inclusion. And I’ll link to the interview on the transcript of this podcast. But I wanted to get a little bit more up to speed because it’s been about a year since we had this interview. If you could tell me, Joel, why accessibility is important in XR and VR and augmented reality industries.

Joel Ward: [00:17:52.66] Sure. So as we move into more of these types of applications being available in XR or VR, there’s two things that are important. So first we need to make sure that these applications and devices are accessible, just like other kinds of things: software, computers, buildings, etc. We need to make sure they are usable by people of all abilities. For example, people are mobile mobility restricted, how can someone who’s mobility restricted use a VR system that requires you to walk around or maybe use your arms or legs, hands to control something?

Joel Ward: [00:18:34.68] There needs to be another way for them to interact with it. And so we’ve done this for other kinds of systems. We need to make sure we’re doing it for XR systems and that is still a work in progress, but it’s definitely moving forward. The second thing is, XR can be used to enhance participation for people with disabilities. And actually for everybody. So we talked about accessibility, thinking about people with disabilities, but really it’s to make things accessible for everybody. And so finding ways of engaging with people in different ways, because everybody has a kind of different way that they work. And so XR can be another one of those tools. Again, maybe it doesn’t work for everybody, but there’s certain things like, for example, both in-person or remote access for meetings and things like that, which we always struggle with, like how do you make these kinds of things engaging? XR can provide new ways for both people in person, where it can augment how they engage with even other people in the room, giving them more information, augmenting what they’re seeing. Think of augmented reality.  Or remote people, where they might not be in the same room, but they can see a lot of the same content, engage with people, similar to the way they would be if they were physically in the room. But maybe they can’t be, or for whatever reason that they’re not there, they can still feel like they’re being engaged. So this is where things like XR can do this kind of experience where there’s really not been nothing like it before. I mean, we have phone calls and video calls, but it’s not quite the same as what you can do in more of a spatial, three dimensional environment.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:20:08.73] I encourage anyone who hasn’t tried on virtual reality glasses to give it a shot. I mean, it does really feel like you’re in the room. And it’s interesting to see it being used in the HR and recruiting space in different ways. Several years ago, I went through a kind of day-in-the-life, virtual reality experience with Gap. And so I went through Fashion Week and I visited the San Francisco offices and I really felt like I was in the office. It was a great thing. I think there’s a lot of possibility, but I like that we’re thinking about accessibility and inclusion with these new technologies.

Joel Ward: [00:20:48.15] Definitely. Yeah.

Break: [00:20:49.26] Let’s take a reset. This is Jessica Miller Merrill. And you were listening to the Workology podcast. We are talking with Joel Ward about XR accessibility and the workplace. This podcast is sponsored by Workology and is part of our Future of Work podcast series in partnership with the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology or PEAT. The Workology Podcast Future of Work series is supported by PEAT, the Partnership on Employment and Accessible Technology.

Break: [00:21:16.59] PEAT’s initiative is to foster collaboration and action around accessible technology in the workplace. PEAT is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, ODEP. Learn more about PEAT at PEATWorks.org.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:21:37.29] Now I want to get back to accessibility and XR. Can you tell us more about maybe some ways to make XR more accessible for everyone?
Joel Ward: [00:21:48.15] Sure. So there’s already work being done in this space. And so because XR has been around for a while, and some of these devices that could release commercially available devices have matured over the past five years. There has been some work done, and actually many of them are being built on top of things like Windows and Apple’s products, which already have accessibility built in. So, good point there is there’s already underlying infrastructure that has accessibility. And so we don’t have to start from scratch, which is great. That said, as we add new features and have new sorts of hardware types and software applications, not everything necessarily has been designed from the ground up to include all those hooks like we have for the Web and for other applications. So that’s what we need to think about, what can we build into  these platforms to make it easier for developers as they’re building these things to make sure that they exist, instead of having to manually put in accessibility hooks. For example, Okami Labs, the vacation and job simulator, they put a lot of accessibility features into their applications, but they had to think through it and then add them manually versus having sort of those hooks built in.

Joel Ward: [00:23:01.89] And that’s kind of where we want to go with this kind of thing. So again, for traditional laptops or computers there are things like screen readers and alternate input methods. And so we can actually build off of those things for XR, VR and AR.  But we need to make sure that makes sense and that all the new kinds of features in XR applications can be used by these other traditional devices. And then on top of that, think of maybe there’s new kinds of input methods, new kinds of assistive technology needs to be created, or can be made more easily made available to allow people to engage with these kinds of things.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:23:43.53] So is a lot of your work focused in kind of awareness and conversations with the developers and the companies who are making these new technologies to say like, hey, you need to think about accessibility and screen readers and this other technology as you’re in development instead of later on in the process.

Joel Ward: [00:24:03.39] Yeah, that’s and that’s why I’m actually part of the XR Access initiative, is one of the things that I want to make sure is that we get the word out. And I did this back in the day. I mentioned I did web development. And so the web development back when the web was new, we went through the same thing with the World Wide Web Consortium rules and then Section 508 as part of the government regulations for making websites accessible. That doesn’t exist now. And so that’s one thing that we want to do with the XR access initiative, is help provide those kinds of guidelines. But at the same time, even before that’s all complete, yes, one of my goals is internally in my company, and then externally and in the public realm, I want to let people know they need to think about it. We need to at least think about it. And ultimately, everybody should just be doing this automatically. And that’s easier said than done. But the first step is education and getting the word out. And so that’s what I’m doing. That’s what we’re doing right now.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:25:05.22] Well, talk to us a little bit more about the XR Access Initiative. How does this work and then how can folks, if they’re interested, get involved?

Joel Ward: [00:25:14.16] Sure. So we kicked off the XR Access initiative last year, July 2019 in New York City. We had about 140 or so people come in from around academia and industry, and it was hosted by Cornell Tech and Verizon media at their Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island there in New York. We had a bunch of presentations. And so it was an interesting mix of a lot of people that are already in the accessibility realm, people that are in the XR realm. And I think the thing that was really interesting to see is on both sides, they didn’t necessarily know about the other side. And so part of it was sort of cross training people so they understand from an accessibility perspective, the XR folks learned about that. And then from an XR perspective, the folks that have worked in accessibility learned about XR. And so that was the first step, get everybody together. We had some workshops, talked through some ideas. And then after that, we came up with six groups that were formed to create some of these guidelines and engage with the community around, first as guidelines or policies, which is the ultimate goal, creating some structure around what you can do. Awareness and outreach, as I mentioned, that’s going to be very important. Education, which is also not just teaching people, but also engaging with the education space, and then on the specific application platform side, we have application accessibility, so the software side building applications that are accessible. And then I’m actually the lead for hardware devices working with some of the companies that create hardware and also thinking through what else can we recommend or collect that provides for the space?

Joel Ward: [00:27:00.87] And the last but not least, content and authoring, which is also related to the application accessibility. How can people as they’re creating content, make sure that they’re creating content in an accessible way. And so the whole goal of all this is to have these working groups. We meet regularly. We’re pulling people in from across industry and academia to create a set of guidelines. And again, some already exist. And so we’re not necessarily starting from scratch, but we want to pull in what’s already been created and then see where the gaps are and then come up, and the goal being a place where people can go and learn what they need to do or what they should be doing to create accessible XR applications and hardware and environments. And so the goal is actually by the summer to have something to report out when we have our next symposium and then keep building on that and see where it goes. To be honest, you know, we’re all kind of curious to see where it goes. I’m excited just to get the word out. But as long as we can move it forward and have something to build on, then I think we’re doing our jobs. And that’s all I can hope for at this point

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:28:09.63] So if people are looking for more information, XRaccess.org is the place to go.

Joel Ward:Yes.

Jessica Miller Merrell: Awesome. Well we’ll include a link in this also and in the transcript resources of the podcast. Let’s talk a little bit about H.R. and workplace leaders. We talked about what XR is, accessibility and maybe how it all works and how we’re working towards this. But why do you think this is an important topic for human resources in the workplace?

Joel Ward: [00:28:41.94] So first off, we’re going to have XR in the workplace no matter what. So we need to be prepared for it. We already see it showing up in certain applications like training and maintenance and communication. So folks at H.R. need to think about that ahead of time because otherwise they’re not going to be prepared. Secondly, as I mentioned before, we can use XR to make the workplace more accessible. So it’s actually a great tool in that, and that tool belt of technology for making the workplace better for everybody. So as I mentioned before, training can be enhanced using stuff like XR as an alternative or replacement for sort of more traditional computer-based training or even classroom training. And for some people, it may be more engaging or maybe more accessible, available. For example, things like maintenance aids and this is where we see a lot of this in augmented reality can be used to help people maybe with cognitive disabilities be able to step through a bunch of work tasks with some assistance. And so that and also stuff like navigation or just general sort of direction can be provided to people in different ways so they can have some aides during their day and then telepresence and there’s apps, what I like is called spatial, is a way for people to Joel Ward: [00:30:06.45] engage both in person and remote in a more holographic natural style setting and then we’ll see this evolve over the years. But I think eventually down the road, some think like a StarTrek holodeck where you might be able just to sort of be in a virtual space with different people, both in the same space and elsewhere, and have more of a natural kind of conversation versus a telephone call or a video call or email or more traditional way of talking or conversing. So those are the kinds of things that are coming in the general workplace. And we want to make sure they’re accessible. And again, they can be used to make the workplace more accessible. Would also say, is that I’ve been demonstrating AR and VR for a couple of years now, probably demoed to thousands of people at this point. And every time that I show somebody for the first time, they see what’s possible with this new technology. And so as that continues to happen, and more and more people see it, just like we have with a lot of technology, it will creep its way into the workplace. So even if these other things weren’t happening, people are beginning to try this out and they will start to bring it back into work.

Joel Ward: [00:31:20.46] And so we do need to make sure that this kind of technology is ready for the workplace.For those maybe that aren’t as familiar with XR as they should, I have a report which we’ll link to. It’s the XR  Industry Insights report. And just to give you an idea, because H.R. typically follows consumer trends in my mind. So as things come into the consumer market, then they start to move into the workplace. We just, it’s just an expectation that we have. And so in this survey, it says that there is a 25.7 percent growth just in the last twelve months for VR in the enterprise segment. So it’s growing and it’s coming. And I think that H.R. leaders and workplace leaders can get ahead of things by exposing themselves to the technology, getting involved in initiatives like you have, and thinking about how this is going to transform their workplace so they can kind of be at the forefront of this change in innovation.

Joel Ward: Definitely.

Jessica Miller Merrell: As we look forward to the next 30 years, what emerging workplace trends or technologies do you think are going to have the biggest impact on people with disabilities in the workplace?

Joel Ward: [00:32:38.01] I think XR will have an impact, big impact. But I honestly feel like technology, like XR, coupled with tech, like artificial intelligence and robotics, will probably have the biggest impact, at least from what we have seen now. These kinds of technologies, AI, the ability to have computers analyze things closer to how humans do and actually analyze a lot of data and be able to provide better insights than humans can and much more quickly, if used correctly, can really enhance human experience. And then the robotics side, there’s a lot of work being done to then combine that artificial intelligence with robots, devices that move. And then that also can be combined with XR, AR and VR. So for, say, remote access, you might be able to be remotely be a robot and still engage with your environment. But on the health side, for example, there’s a lot of work being done with AI and robotics for helping people with engagement. like people with autism, engaging with robots, and actually I just watched a documentary that talks about this, robots being used for helping people engage with the world in different ways. And I think this is also where XR can come in. If  people need either, they have trouble engaging with other people, it’s actually been shown that things like robotics, A.I. can help draw people out. Also, say dementia patients, they’ve been using these kinds of things to help them engage with people and then sort of draw out their memories and have them engage again and also work on their memory. This is, I think, where robotics can really kind of fit in, where we’re having trouble with enough people to be able to support everybody.

Joel Ward: [00:34:31.29] So there’s I think there’s certain places where these kinds of technologies can fill in where we might have used to have had enough people to support. But now we can have technology help with it. And I’m not saying replace it, but we need to kind of think about how we can help a lot of people in the right way. And again, this is using the technology in the right way. And so along with that artificial intelligence, with things like health, analyzing your health data, and we’re actually doing this in some projects in my company, collecting health information so you can tell if you’re going to have some sort of health episode, either immediately or as a trend over time and say, if you’re working in a group of people, and this is something where you see, for example in law enforcement or military, if you’re working in a group, you can have the group sort of keeping an eye on each other and prevent health issues more quickly with stuff like that. And that’s kind of really to the artificial intelligence being able to gather the data, but also analyze it to make sure that everything is okay. I think there’s a lot of other cases like that where again, used in the right way and used the right way, not only from a moderating standpoint, but from a privacy and security standpoint can actually really be powerful. And with increased computing power, we’ll see, probably things that we have never even imagined yet, that we’ll see in the next 30 years.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:35:54.01] Well, Joel, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today. Where can people go to learn more about you and the work that you’re doing?

Joel Ward: [00:36:02.02] Sure. Yes. So you can come to, I’m on Twitter. So @joelsef on Twitter. And my blog is Joelsef.com, joelsef.com and I’d love if people would come in and discuss ways we’re incorporating XR into the workplace, new ideas. My goal is to find new ways of using this technology for the right kinds of things and then also making sure it’s accessible. Along with that and mentioning accessibility, XRaccess.org is where we’re doing the work for creating these guidelines and documenting how we can make these things accessible. And if you want to see what my company is doing, last but not least, BoozAllen.com/immersive, you can see some of the products that we’re doing in the immersive space for our clients, customers.

Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:36:48.16] Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. I really appreciate it.

Joel Ward: [00:36:51.79] Thank you, Jessica.

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Jessica Miller Merrell: [00:37:17.77] I love the variety of different ways that XR can be applied to the workplace, especially the empathy simulations and trainings. Not to mention the ability to provide employees and team members with learning, development and these simulations providing them with experiences and tools to leverage, not just at work, but in everyday life. As an early adopter of Google Glass, I have always been excited about the possibilities of XR and I absolutely love the work that Joel is doing and appreciate his time getting us up to speed on important terms and applications in the workplace. Not to mention his work with developers and educators to help shape the future of XR, not only for consumers, but also for employees, and making it accessible and inclusive for everyone. If you’re interested in the reports and data I referenced in this podcast episode, you can check them out in the podcast resources, which is in the episode transcript here. This Future of Work series is in partnership with PEAT and they’re one of my favorites to work with. Thank you to PEAT as well as our podcast sponsor Workology.