Designing XR for Industry 4.0

How to Design for Industry 4.0 Connected Worker for XR Environments (Part 1)

In this XR blog series, you will learn how XR is the core interaction for the human connected worker role in Industry 4.0.

This blog post covers:

  • Preface (Including the Definition of XR)
  • Historical Context
  • Humans – An Introduction to Industrial Workers


This series of articles is to explore, understand and share knowledge to design for the Industry 4.0 Connected Worker. Industry 4.0 is the emergence of the smart factory — a significant technological evolution with Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, cobotics and extended reality (XR). For this series of articles, we are going to focus on XR as the core interaction for the human connected worker role in Industry 4.0. Our CEO Andy Lowery speaks about Industry 4.0 and our role a bit here in his recent interview with GeekWire.

XR is a recent concept that is being used to house the subset of technologies including virtual reality (VR), mixed reality (MR), augmented reality (AR) and assisted reality. There is some debate as to whether XR is the appropriate terminology. I prefer this term as it is a sufficient ‘catch-all’ for the delivery of information as an extension or addition to the real world.

I thought a long time, spoke to a lot of people, got a TON of feedback, debated terminology, argued about what is happening in the market, tossed and turned in bed and then thought some more before I started this series of articles. I have a lot to learn and there are only 24 hours in a day, so one has to be patient with oneself; after all, we are only human.

Historical Context

Our RealWear headquarters are located on a national historic site — Fort Vancouver. No, not that Vancouver; the other Vancouver. The one that sits just on the other side of the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon.

The Columbia River is a big deal. The Chinookan name is Wimahl — which very appropriately means Big River. There were some heavy hitters on this location many years ago — we are talking the MVPs of their time —  GrantLewis and ClarkSacagawea, the Chinook Tribe. Let’s just say some major events occurred at this location. Imagine generals, explorers, chiefs from completely different backgrounds, speaking different languages — all sitting down to talk about the land, trading, economies — their tribes.

This is an interesting place for humans to converge around Industry 4.0. We are at a moment of great historical significance. You may not see the significance — sometimes I don’t either (that whole forest/trees thing). I love trees.

In our forest, amongst our trees, are humans. In this post, I want to talk about these humans — the humans who are our target audience — the humans of Industry 4.0.

We have the chiefs, generals, and explorers.  What I am primarily concerned with are the braves, the privates, and the blacksmiths. I am not talking about the humans who have big budgets and sit in the offices at corporate HQ or in the innovation labs (these humans are also our audience but not the one I am talking about). I’m talking about the humans who will use the technology, the ones in the mines, in the factories, on the wind towers — the modern day centaurs, as Andy Lowery calls them. Let’s talk about these humans.


Volvo recently had an ad campaign here:

It’s a brilliant campaign that tells the tale of the people who manufacture Volvos. This focus on people now is critical because there is fear. Fear of automation, fear of robots…fear of change. There shouldn’t be fear. Imagine a society where robots do all the repetitive, boring jobs. How great will it be for humans? It will be amazing.

Humans – An Introduction to Industrial Workers

Elon Musk subscribes to a philosophy called first principles. It means to start with what you know. Seems fairly logical to me.

We know our target audience.

According to a recent Industry 4.0 study by Intel that gave me some insight into our humans, 76% are age 22–37 – they are millennials.

In order to simplify for my non-mathematical brain, let’s just say the majority of the audience we are trying to reach are millennials. We can debate this if you like sometime (so long as beer is involved).

We know there is a skills gap.

We know that the rest of the audience are not under 40. They are Generation X or possibly even Baby Boomers and they possess information — information that millennials need.

We don’t need to get too deep into this here as there have been numerous articles and studies about the skills gap. A Google search of Industry 4.0 Skills Gap will give you all you need to know. Also, Honeywell recently outlined the trend here.

All we really need to know for the purposes of this article is that it exists and some basic details. The skills gap means the 24% have knowledge that the 76% need. And we (designers of industrial technology) need to enable the transfer of knowledge from the humans who are over 40 to the humans who are under 40 in a way that makes sense to both.

Simple, right? Nope.

We know things have changed. 

Huge technological shifts have happened in the time period these humans have been alive creating disparate levels of comfort and familiarity with the technology needed to move this knowledge from Point A to Point B.

To put the vast difference into perspective, one audience grew up with Uno, Rand McNally, land lines, typewriters and cassette tapes and one grew up with Halo, Google Maps, Facebook, Twitter, Spotify, and SnapChat. We are talking an extreme shift.

Some of you may be familiar with Don Norman and his book The Design of Everyday Things. The author had to update the book with relevant examples because, in just the brief time from when it originally published in 1988 until today, things have changed. In the preface to the most recent version of the book Don says:

In the twenty-five years that have passed since the first edition of the book, technology has undergone massive change. Neither cell phones nor the Internet were in widespread usage when I wrote the book. Home networks were unheard of. Moore’s law proclaims that the power of computer processors doubles roughly every two years. This means that today’s computers are five thousand times more powerful than the ones available when the book was first written.

To summarize, we are at a point of great historical significance and technological change for humans and industry. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to design experiences that assist in adaptation of this change and pass knowledge from one generation to the next. Thank you for taking the time to read this article and for your participation in this historic time.

Next time we will dive into language and voice interfaces with some thoughts and influences from our CTO Dr Chris Parkinson’s recent post on the topic.

If you like this post, you might like my previous post as well.

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