If your job involves sitting at a desk all day, you might not realize what goes into manufacturing jobs. They’re often portrayed as trivial jobs that robots can do. However, many are complex processes where one mistake can lead to huge productivity losses. AR provides a way for technicians and other employees to receive guidance on their work in a hands-free way. When your job involves working with your hands, this is a huge benefit.
But, augmented reality does not come as second nature for many of these industries. Atheer, a California-based enterprise AR company, is trying to change that by meeting companies where they are and providing an enterprise AR platform that can be used on a variety of devices.
Founded in 2012, the company has worked with clients such as Porsche USA, Epson, and Kohler. Last month, Atheer launched its first native iOS app. I talked with Geof Wheelright, Atheer’s director of marketing communications, about the challenges and benefits of AR in the manufacturing sector.
JENNA: What need is Atheer solving in the marketplace?
GEOF: People can have work instructions delivered directly into their field of vision, and employees can show a supervisor or colleague what they are working no matter where the other person is located. It eliminates the need to shuffle back and forth with emailed pictures or other delivery methods. We enable workers to perform tasks in the most natural way, whether it’s touch, voice, gesture, or head motion. There are other solutions on the market that get you halfway there, but not all the way there like our platform does.
JENNA: How do you convince companies that they can benefit from AR?
JENNA: Who are your customers and how are they using your platform?
GEOF: We conducted a survey last year and found that more than half of respondents use a mobile device first and then smartglasses. Only about 12% said they use smart glasses as a primary AR delivery method.
In terms of industries, about 30% of our customers come from the technology industry, followed by about 20% from manufacturing. The remaining half are split between construction, transportation, oil and gas, consulting, and education.
JENNA: What is the training process like for new clients? Is there a steep learning curve for people not familiar with AR?
GEOF: Atheer functions like any other app and we find most people become familiar with it pretty quickly. We do have training materials available and a customer care team which works with onboarding and troubleshooting. One thing we’re very conscious of is security. If you think about industrial sectors, many of these organizations are very locked down and we need to integrate with the existing infrastructure. It also has to be easy to use and easy to get going. Industrial workers are trying to get their jobs done. If you’re getting in the way of that or if you’re making the job more difficult, you’re less likely to get the adoption you want.
JENNA: We often hear that robots and AI are going to overtake manufacturing jobs. Does that factor into your work?
GEOF: We are trying to augment the capability of the existing workforce. Help is being provided to skilled workers of whom the employers cannot get enough. For example, there is a shortage of skilled service engineers in the aviation industry. We provide ways to allow those engineers to dial in expertise. Remote experts to be able to understand a few customers at a time. We are helping to solve the problem of a labor shortage, rather than the other way around.
It’s an exciting time for AR in enterprises. So many companies are beginning to realize the potential and are able to start measuring it to determine what the ROI really is.
JENNA: What does the future look like for Atheer?
GEOF: It’s an exciting time for AR in enterprises. So many companies are beginning to realize the potential and are able to start measuring it to determine what the ROI really is. We expect that picture will become clearer for many of our clients within the next year or two. We’re also working on our predictive capability to help in situations where someone is facing the same challenges over and over again. We would know when those problems occur and could serve up additional information or suggest people to bring into a video call or three-way group call — whatever it takes to help them meet the challenge a little bit better.