5 Ways Virtual and Augmented Reality is Pushing Federal Innovation

Source: Image from    vrvisiongroup.com

Source: Image from vrvisiongroup.com

Virtual reality (VR) has already changed industries worldwide, innovating devices, such as smartphones, and even helping improve business processes. According to the General Services Administration (GSA), the next step is bringing the technology to the public sector and “opening  the door to an incredible diversity of new programs and services.” From changing the way data is collected and used, to improving employee performance, the capabilities of virtual reality will transform what the government can do. 

But how exactly is the federal government using VR technology?

  1. For Federal R&D

In 2017, the General Services Administration (GSA) launched the Federal Virtual/Augmented Reality Program. The Program, managed by the GSA’s Emerging Citizen Technology Office, fosters collaboration in the research and refinement of VR/AR applications, across a variety of federal agencies. The primary goal: to innovate their services

The Program has launched several pilot programs so far, including using virtual therapy to treat PTSD, educating farmers on the installation of solar panels, and developing tools for disaster preparedness and emergency response.

It also creates a collaborative hub where federal agencies can brainstorm on immediate VR/AR applications, and share ideas, both digitally and in-person at agency-hosted workshops. 

2. To overcome productivity and efficiency problems

AR/VR technology works by layering virtual images over a real-world environment. Users are immersed in a live, 3-D world. This allows users to interact with digital data by connecting with other users, finding information and seeing and interacting with the data as they perform tasks. 

According to Deloitte Insights, one example of this improved interaction is how digital reality can improve maintenance tasks. With virtual reality tools, manuals or product locations can be made immediately available in an employee’s field of vision.” 

A Siemens pilot is doing just this, helping maintenance staff to easily access instructional manuals. Employees can pull up drawings and instructions for specific issues, making documents that are sometimes thousands of pages long immediately accessible. This helps optimize both efficiency and speed. 

For the government, initial studies and use cases have shown that digital reality can help agencies do the same: build immersive experiences that increase productivity and their services. 

3. To Improve Training and Recruiting Procedures

AR/VR’s adaptability allows for use within new employee recruiting and training procedures. Like authoring a training app--one of the most popular cases for web-based VR use. New employees are first immersed virtually in their respective field location, before they step foot in an actual environment. It helps acclimate new hires much more easily--and saves money on full-blown training programs and staff. This is especially helpful for more safety-risk occupations, like firefighters or EMTs.

Or, using virtual reality as a recruitment tool, which the Navy has launched. By using a custom-built trailer called the NIMITZ, the Navy offers potential recruits a seemingly real-life look into what life would be like serving. 

4. To Address Mental Health Issues 

Using VR for therapy and clinical studies is gaining more and more popularity. The University of Houston was an early adopter, starting a program that helps patients in therapy overcome addictions by immersing them in virtual scenarios. People can immerse themselves in situations challenging their addiction recovery, allowing them to visualize their choices before faced with them in real-life. 

Other mental health applications include using to treat anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.  

5. To Enhance Cybersecurity Practices

Cybersecurity is one of the more critical uses for digital reality technology--with tech startup ProjectWise claiming that “cybersecurity is likely to become a field in which employees work in augmented environments for the majority of their jobs.” 

The National Security Agency (NSA) has already been working on an AR prototype that assists cybersecurity professionals. They envision an application that could help in task processing, to help employees, who monitor several applications at once, stay on top of the biggest threats. Dr. Josiah Dykstra, NSA’s Laboratory for Telecommunication Sciences team technical director says that, “this technology will help employees work more efficiently and better manage stress, improve focus and increase task processing.” 

“We’re going to continue to develop what a solution will look like, working with the rapid advances in hardware that keep coming,” he says. 

From mental health treatment, to systems optimization, virtual and augmented reality is already pushing the way the federal government operates. Its impact is already felt across agencies, and beyond--but will it be long-lasting?

Leave us your thoughts below.

Interested in learning more about innovation trends in the federal government? Visit us at www.corneralliance.com and sign up for Innovation Dive, Corner Alliance’s monthly newsletter on the latest government innovation trends, news and perspectives.

Why Drones are Replacing 4th of July Fireworks

2018 Travis Air Force Base Independence Day Drone Show.  Source:    Intel.com

2018 Travis Air Force Base Independence Day Drone Show. Source: Intel.com

It’s Independence Day, just nearing dusk. You, your family and friends make your way to the highest point in your neighborhood, to catch the local fireworks show. It’s a time-honored tradition you wouldn’t miss--except, this year, there are no fireworks in the display. You’re watching a drone show, instead.

Why would the town choose drones over fireworks, you wonder. Is this a technology change that is here to stay? 

A Public Safety Priority

The drone versus fireworks trend exploded (yes, pun intended) in 2018, following the season of wildfires that ravaged the Western United States. Communities in the West wanted to protect themselves against additional potential fires, but still give citizens their annual fireworks experience. So, cities in states like California, Arizona and Colorado planned drone shows instead.

Travis Air Force Base in California was one location leading the charge. Working with Intel, they assembled a display with 500 drones, choreographed in a routine to honor active military and veterans. Each drone, weighing under a pound, was equipped with its own LED light, programmed individually with a main computer on-the-ground. According to Intel, the drones created over 4 billion color combinations. 

Other communities including Carefree and Cave Creek Arizona, and Aspen, Colorado, joined the trend, citing similar public safety concerns.

Benefits of Continued Drone Use

Public Safety remains the major concern around fireworks use--in Western towns with potential wildfires, to Eastern cities with frequent fireworks-related accidents. In 2016 alone, there were 11,000 fireworks related injuries in the United States, and multiple deaths. Drone use drastically reduces the chance of injury, helping keep communities safer during displays.

Ancillary benefits include lack of smoke, which is beneficial for people with certain health concerns; and, quieter presentations, helping accommodate hearing sensitivities and people with PTSD, like veterans.

Additionally, drones light displays are typically cheaper, if not comparable in price to fireworks. In 2018, Americans spent more than $1 billion on fireworks, with a show with larger shells and music costing over $20,000. According to Great Lakes Drone Company, a similar show typically starts at $15,000

Drones can also create more complex patterns than fireworks. While they don’t move as fast as fireworks, they are more responsive, since they’re connected to a computer system. And they can create incredible sky displays--like at the opening ceremony at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The show boasted over 1,200 drones, projecting color figures of olympic athletes, each morphing into each other throughout the show. 

For 2019

For this year’s 4th, Aspen, Colorado, is planning a drone lights show, building on last year’s trend. Jennifer Albright Carney, VP of Event Marketing at the Aspen Chamber of Commerce, said that they “began looking into drones instead of fireworks for the Fourth of July last spring, knowing that dry conditions are likely to continue to be a fact of life in Aspen.”

Cited benefits include reducing wildfire risk and environmental pollution, and creating a general ease-of-experience for attendees.

Other communities are calling their shows off entirely. Frisco, Colorado, a town about 70 miles west of Denver, reported it will not hold its annual Independence Day fireworks display due to concerns around public safety and wildfire risks. Mayor Gary Wilkinson says the town council has opted to "start new traditions" respecting community and environmental health and safety.

Here to Stay?

While some communities in the Western United States continue to switch to drones, or cancel Independence Day fireworks shows entirely, there is certainly a question of drones’ continued use. Officials in Aspen have noted that they may switch back to fireworks, depending on current-year conditions.

But, as drone technology continues to advance and proliferate, it’s also possible drone light shows will become more affordable for cities--and easier to operate and dictate. Such advances could help protests around firework shows, like at Mount Rushmore, where a re-instated display is scheduled for 2020

Will drones replace fireworks, for good? The evolution of technology meets public need is sometimes a question mark. 

Thoughts? Leave your comments below to start a discussion.

Interested in learning more about innovation trends in the federal government? Visit us at www.corneralliance.com and sign up for Innovation Dive, Corner Alliance’s monthly newsletter on the latest government innovation trends, news and perspectives.