How Augmented Reality (AR) Can Benefit Business
Augmented Reality (AR) applications have grown significantly in recent years, and if you are in business leadership, this emerging technology should definitely be on your radar. It has the potential to revolutionize the way many companies operate.
To understand how augmented reality works, it’s helpful to take a step back and think about how we understand “reality.” In many ways, your senses define your physical reality. What you see, what you hear, what you touch and smell and taste, all combine to create your perception of what is in your world. In the case of sight, you make sense of what is in front of you by comparing what you see with what you’ve seen before. You know what a tree is, what a person is. You can tell an adult from a child. You know that stores sell things. But is a certain store you’ve happened upon open right now? You don’t know, not without more information.
What if, while looking at that store from your car, your reality included their store hours? If you saw in clear text (or a clock face) the time they open or close, hovering over the building? It wouldn’t be real in the physical sense, but as part of your perception it would be real information you can act on. With that addition made, we could say that your reality has been augmented. You would have experienced AR.
Augmented Reality is technology that adds new information to what your senses perceive. While there is some audible AR tech, today’s augmented reality technology is mostly focused on the visual. It enhances or expands real life by superimposing computer images on top of your view of reality. It’s important to note that this is distinct from Virtual Reality (VR) which replaces your world with a computer generated one.
Before digging into some of the business opportunities for augmented reality, it may be helpful to orient with some existing, and likely familiar, examples. The most prominent example of AR is probably Pokémon Go, an iPhone game where players capture Pokémon creatures that are out and about nearby, in their physical world. As users walk around with their app open, Pokémon characters appear on a game map. When users come within a close enough range the Pokémon will appear on the device screen and users throw Poké Balls at them to capture them.
Social media apps are also launching with augmented reality features. We had the privilege of helping to build one of the very first, Aite, which allows users to share past experiences with others, right where they happened. Leveraging geocaching tech, the Aite app allows users to “pin” audio, videos, and photos to a location. When another person visits that location, the app uses AR technology to enable them to see those saved experiences in the current reality. It’s a unique way to more fully experience the meaning of a place to others who have gone there before.
While social apps are fun, there are exciting ways in which augmented reality can impact the workforce. Many jobs today depend on myriad forms of data and information. Some workers must often interrupt what they are doing to look up a critical specification. But if those specs, along with warnings, tips, diagrams, and other aids were superimposed on their field of view while they worked, productivity, safety, and quality would be greatly enhanced.
With AR, bolts can be torqued the right amount, every time, without slowing down. Wires can be identified instantly. The next troubleshooting step can be followed as soon the result from the last is known.
Many experienced workers can perform their work uninterrupted because they possess the knowledge they need in their heads. But attaining that proficiency requires focus on a limited set of tasks/machines/systems to the exclusion of others. With AR, they can confidently and efficiently address new situations because they can access the details as needed. Thus they, their employer, and their industry gain new opportunities and efficiencies.
Going even further, the most experienced workers can stay in their office while junior workers spend the time traveling in the field, to be guided by the experts as needed. Augmented reality can bring the situation in the field to the expert, and the expert can show, not just explain, what to do in real time. FieldBit offers this platform today.
An advantage that a software generated object has over a physical object is its malleability. Especially if you want to learn about something, being able to see all aspects and their relationships can greatly increase your understanding of it. Imagine actually seeing an electron’s orbit decay, how a chemical molecule fits into a larger protein, how the internal organs of the animal you are dissecting are laid out. By seeing and manipulating 3D objects in real space, you get a more intuitive sense of a thing that you do when viewed on a flat screen.
If you’re a figure skater trying to perfect that double-axel, imagine viewing a life-size olympic skater frozen at the start, middle, or end of the move, right in front of you, where you could walk around and inspect the position of every part of their body. Augmented reality is already having a big impact in how people learn and train. Established and new systems and platforms, such as Augment, are giving students of all types a competitive edge.
Visualizing products you don’t yet posses in the setting where they’ll be placed can streamline the shopping process. From furniture and wallpaper, to tattoos, to makeup and hair color, consumers are much more likely to click “Buy” if they can visualize a product in their own world. Some restaurants can show you what their plates look like before you order them, right on the table in front of you. You might even order the strawberry cheesecake if you saw how delicious it looked, before you’re full from your meal. This has always been true, but with augmented reality there’s no need to sacrifice a cart full of edible samples every night.
Because AR places real-looking 3D objects in the real world, people get a much fuller sense and understanding of that object than they can get from any flat picture in a catalog or menu. Making it real makes the sale.
The idea of augmented reality is not new, so why is it now an emerging technology for business? Much of the reason stems from the developer tools created by Apple and Google in 2017: ARKit for iOS and ARCore for Android. Because the technology is computationally heavy, both required the latest hardware (at the time) to run, but since then, the installed base of supported devices has grown and will continue to do so. App developers have gained experience with the tools, and businesses have stepped up with imaginative applications.
Additionally, Apple and Android manufacturers continue to ship better cameras, sensors, and CPUs. Coupled with advances in machine learning and image processing capabilities of the software, AR will get more realistic, easier to develop, and more ubiquitous. All of this will make it easier for businesses to leverage the benefits.
It’s worth noting that one thing holding back widespread adoption of AR is the challenge of using a handheld device to view the content. Holding your iPhone is fine when chasing a Pokémon, using an iPad is not a problem when it’s your job, but many of the more exciting and mundane applications really won’t work until AR works like magic, through something like lightweight glasses. There is a shared expectation that this hardware is coming, the only unknown is when. When the glasses finally ship, those with apps ready will gain the lion’s share of attention and customers.
If you’re intrigued by the possibility of using augmented reality in your business, please contact us. We’d love to ideate with you!
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