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?
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?
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