In the last five years, augmented reality technology has evolved far beyond its most widespread adoption ever – killing digital critters on Pokémon Go. Today, we can safely claim that its implications are more serious and mainstream, spanning industries such as healthcare, manufacturing, and education.
The reason for this is that companies have found new applications for AR such as customer education, onboarding and training of employees, security, product design and repair, travel and navigation, and even farming and surgery. No wonder research from Markets and Markets predicts that augmented reality is going to be a 72.7 billion-dollar market three short years from now.
In the post-pandemic world, advances in AR become more significant and practical. Augmented reality tools that allow you to work on data, visualize information, and collaborate from multiple locations are already here.
A wise man once said, “Your company may not be in the software business, but eventually, a software company will be in your business.” If you want to emulate the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook, or more correctly, avoid being kicked out of business by them, it is imperative you at least consider the use cases of AR that fit into and can improve your business model. Here’s how…
1. Know What Augmented Reality Can Do – And What You Can Do With It
AR works by superimposing images and data on the physical scene in front of the user via a screen. At its core, it helps us make sense of the situation at hand (humans process visual information faster) and take better decisions. Therefore, it’s no surprise that augmented reality has significant applications in consumer markets as well as industrial settings.
Below are some real-world examples of how AR enhances product features in different industries.
With the help of augmented reality, medical device company AccuVein developed an X-ray vision application that converts the heat signature of veins under the skin to an image on top of that body part. This way clinicians can locate patients’ veins quickly and easily for drawing blood and other purposes.
Manufacturing and quality control
Boeing uses AR to help trainees perfect the aircraft wing assembly process, involving more than 30 parts. They found the process took 30% less time compared to traditional assembly using drawings and manuals while the accuracy of first-timers improved a whole 90%.
The AI Foundation has blended augmented reality technology with VR headsets, holographic displays, and machine learning algorithms into “Digital Deepak” – an AI-trained simulacrum who delivers personalized meditation and self-improvement programs in the current environment of the user.
The benefits of augmented reality span multiple business functions, such as product development, logistics, marketing, HR, and after-sales service. In order to incorporate AR into the overall business strategy, the questions that CIOs and COOs need to ask themselves are:
- What opportunities has AR technology opened up in our industry? How do these impact our customers, our products, and our competition?
- How can we use AR-enabled features to differentiate our product?
- Can augmented reality technology help us reduce costs? In which functions?
- Do we have the development capabilities to make AR a core strength? Or should we outsource our requirements or partner with another brand?
2. Improve Your Data Management
There is a huge gap between the digital data and information available to us online and the physical situations in which we actually need to apply this data (such as troubleshooting a contraption or digging more into a product in front of us). Augmented reality closes this gap by displaying any relevant digital information you need about the object you’re seeing in real time, and giving a visual form to that data that is consistent with the scene and context.
Now, some applications (such as AR displays that replace GPS systems by overlaying navigational signs on the windshield directly over what the driver sees) generate a tremendous amount of data per user in real time. What’s more, business instruction applications like machine repair or quality control need highly detailed digital content in the form of product representations. These apps will also need to connect with and work on real-time data streams from the enterprise’s data center or central cloud storage.
It is a big ask for any company to digitize all of its data – that requires a digital transformation at speed and scale. For example, an e-commerce retailer would have an experienced photographer take pictures or videos of all their products, get them enhanced with Photoshop, upload them on their web servers, and display as requested by shoppers.
However, AR calls for photorealistic models that can be viewed from any angle, software can display the models fluidly, and more compute and memory hardware resources to ensure there are no glitches. As a result, the bars for storing, displaying, and sending this data over public networks are all raised. Further, AR-based applications such as Apple’s App Clips and Google Lens are providing increasingly immersive experiences to consumers, sparking demand for storing and using AR-specific data in the cloud.
The simplification and management of data on such a large scale requires a fast, secure, and flexible IT infrastructure with hybrid cloud storage capabilities.
Which brings us to…
3. Upgrade Your Tech Capabilities
As augmented reality experiences get more and more sophisticated, enterprises must ensure that the software, hardware, and cloud services they use must be able to sustain the relentless onslaught of digital content created by their applications.
Some AR experiences (such as those used by DIY stores selling home furniture) are relatively simple to develop – consumers download an app, point their smartphones at their living rooms, and start swiping. Others that require the use of head-mounted cameras or smart glasses, need to integrate with CAD/CAM software, or include voice or gesture recognition as part of the process are more challenging to build.
Then there are the questions of how the augmented reality device will recognize its immediate environment and what parameters it will act on. What information (such as QR codes or labels) will the device read? Which objects will the display anchor on? What 3D models are needed to recognize specific items by their shapes or colors?
So far, a smartphone in the hands of a consumer has been enough for brands to provide them personalized experiences. However, large-scale or complex applications in industries such as telecom, manufacturing, and healthcare might eventually require enterprises to develop their own devices. There is also the option of developing your own apps for currently available devices that provide a whole “mixed-reality” platform and ecosystem. Microsoft has taken the lead in this space with its HoloLens smart glasses, but Facebook isn’t far behind.
Creating high-res and immersive experiences is not for non-tech-savvy companies. Your in-house AR developers or cloud vendors need to use dependable software development methodologies and have processes in place that ensure continuous integration and delivery if you hope to merge the real and digital worlds with any consistency.
Over to You
When cutting-edge technology combines with human insights (and enterprise budgets) to fuel the decision-making process, business value is maximized more often than not. Augmented reality is a powerful way to bridge the increasingly smaller divide between the physical and digital worlds. While its consumer applications might remain somewhat predictable over the next couple of years, there is no doubt that it has the potential to profoundly change the way we learn, work, and do business. Enterprises must be fully prepared for the AR revolution when it hits, or risk shrinking into oblivion.Guest Post
About the Guest Author(s)
Dipti Parmar is a marketing and technology consultant, helping SMBs and tech startups establish thought leadership in their industry with innovative digital strategies. Dipti is also a columnist for leading business and tech publications such as IDG's CIO.com, Entrepreneur Mag, Adobe's CMO.com, and Inc. When she's not drinking her team's blood (figuratively), she is busy telling vampire stories to little girls who like Disney princesses.