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iSchool Researcher Developing AR/VR Workforce Training in Manufacturing

A University of Maryland researcher is working to bring augmented and virtual reality training to manufacturing-industry workforces that now generally rely on low-tech employee training methods like videos and manuals, and face an increasing skills gap.

Niklas Elmqvist, professor in the College of Information Studies and director of UMD’s Human-Computer Interaction Lab, is an co-principal investigator for the project, Skill-XR, which is funded by a $5 million NSF Convergence Accelerator grant.

“In this generation, YouTube videos have become stand-in educators,” said Purdue University mechanical engineering Professor Karthik Ramani, who is leading the study. “People turn to YouTube to figure out how to tie a tie, change a tire, or cook a meal. We want to push that concept into the next dimension, so that it’s no longer just a 2D video on a screen, but it’s an augmented reality experience that actually responds to you and gives you feedback.”

For example, a newly hired factory worker could wear augmented-reality glasses while being trained to use equipment, and see graphics overlaid on the machine explaining its controls. Then, instant feedback upon performing the task could correctly ensure that workers are trained quickly, effectively, and safely. Beyond workforce training, applications could include immersive youth and college learning experiences and surgical practice for medical students and professionals.

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