Greenhouse Group sees AR glasses as freeing workers from office desks

Image Credit: Greenhouse Group

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Typewriters and computers have kept generations of office workers sitting at their desks, but augmented reality glasses could free them — and improve their health in the process. That’s the goal of a new AR productivity solution developed by two interns at Greenhouse Group in the Netherlands.

Using the Meta 2 AR headset, Anne Kok and Max Otten reimagined common office and computer interactions within an AR workspace, relying primarily on the headset to track hand and arm movements. While employees could optionally sit down at physical keyboards for precision typing, other tasks would be performed with nothing more than the headset.

Kok and Otten’s concept is to use gamification to actively challenge employees’ muscles, rather than reducing everything to finger taps or mouse clicks. In one example, logging into a computer becomes a golf-inspired game, using two hands to turn dials that unlock the machine. Writing an email requires an arm motion to grab a piece of virtual paper, and sending the email involves tossing the paper like a virtual basketball. Actual AR games would let employees compete against each other during breaks, as well.

As the video shows, the concept isn’t yet polished enough for prime time use in offices, but it’s food for thought as next-generation workplaces are under development — and a major counterpoint to the theory that technology should strive to make routine tasks as easy to perform as possible. To make their AR workplace fun, Kok and Otten picked a sports theme for the demonstration, but noted that other themes, such as Star Wars or a calming environment, could be used as office skins.

The idea of making employee health a greater consideration in office work is already gaining traction. Earlier this year, Apple reportedly bought standing desks for every employee at its new Apple Park campus, as CEO Tim Cook said that doctors now believe sitting for extended periods is “the new cancer.”

From Kok and Otten’s perspective, the key challenges left to confront for an AR workspace are hand tracking accuracy, headset portability, and form factor, none of which are where they need to be in the computer-tethered Meta 2 or in Microsoft’s competing HoloLens. A solution such as Magic Leap’s One Creator Edition seems to be closer to their vision, but that one has not yet been released or even fully demonstrated to the public.

Still, the interns are optimistic that the necessary technology to enable this workplace will be perfected. Like many futurists who believe in augmented reality, they predict that screens of all sorts will go away in favor of AR — in addition to desktop monitors, “phones, tablets and laptops will become a thing of the past.” And the changes won’t be limited to workspaces, either. “We’ve started at the office,” says Kok,  “but prepare for it to take over the world.”

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