The Potential for Meaningful Augmented Reality-Based Business Solutions
Augmented reality (“AR”) is a technology that in its most basic form many of us have interacted with for years, from head-up display systems (HUD) in vehicles to the Pokémon Go mobile app and Snapchat filters. Unlike virtual reality, which allows a user to completely immerse themselves in a digital world, AR technology superimposes a computer-generated image or real-time information over a user’s view of the real world. This technology has matured rapidly over the past year, thanks to Apple and Google releasing AR-specific developer toolkits (ARKit and ARCore, respectively) and cloud computing becoming ubiquitous (allowing for AR experiences to be shared across multiple users.)
AR is unique in that it aims to seamlessly coalesce the digital and physical worlds, and to date, we’ve just “scratched the surface” on AR business applications. The global AR industry is projected to increase from $4.0 billion in 2016 to $161.0 billion in 2022, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 85.4%. For reference, the global VR industry is projected to grow from $2.0 billion in 2016 to $17.8 billion in 2022, a CAGR of 44.5%.
Many industries have latched onto AR’s potential, including utilities, telecoms, and manufacturing, where enterprise organizations have a large, distributed workforce of highly skilled workers. For example, General Electric recently tested AR-enabled glasses across seven business units. These glasses overlaid manufacturing instructions and training videos onto a technician’s field of view while he/she completed complex tasks, both in a factory setting and in the field. During a short trial, technicians using AR technology realized an immediate benefit, increasing efficiency by nearly 20%, reducing defects, and rapidly improving the time it takes for new employees to become skilled. This not only positively impacts a company’s profitability, but it also allows organizations to rapidly scale expertise through remote support, which will be key in industries where highly skilled, veteran employees are reaching retirement age.
Additionally, many companies are using AR software to enhance computer-aided design and computer-aided modeling to prototype new products. For example, Ford uses Microsoft’s HoloLens technology to overlay full-scale 3D design updates onto existing production vehicles. The ability to rapidly make digital design “tangible” allows designers, engineers, and managers to make decisions quickly, augmenting existing processes and increasing a product’s speed to market.
As organizations seek to find solutions to the challenges of putting expert knowledge where they need it, when they need it, or generating meaningful opportunities for collaboration across varied departments, the answer increasingly points to AR-based business solutions – a trend that will likely only increase in years to come.