Google Glass may not be dead, but it hasn’t exactly taken off as a consumer product. In January, the company killed its social media presence, ramping up its focus on its Project Aura headset instead. This decision points to the future of augmented reality technology as an enterprise solution, and other companies have already entered the market.
Some companies are leveraging existing hardware such as iPads and smartphones, but others are developing innovative new products in the AR space. Magic Leap has raised almost $800 million for its “cinematic reality” device (which could be an AR contact lens, if the company’s patent applications are any indicator).
And at least one reviewer has deemed Microsoft’s HoloLens “the future of computing.”
Digitally improving the real world
Although consumers may view AR technology as a gimmick, it could actually revolutionize the workplace by streamlining bulky processes and improving safety and communication.
For example, AR technology is helping to transform employee onboarding. Instead of dispatching an employee to spend his or her entire workday training a new hire, AR allows each worker to access context-specific information at any moment. GetVu is one company leading this charge, using wearables and AR to increase efficiency and decrease packing errors in warehouses.
Some of the earliest users of AR technology came from the design and construction industries. DAQRI’s smart helmet captures information about a user’s surroundings and delivers instructions and safety guidelines. In highly specialized settings, Scope AR’s Remote AR can deliver 3D instructions to technicians in the field.
The possibilities aren’t limited to technical support and training, either; big data visualization has huge potential. Creating a virtual environment for data presentation may take a lot of creativity and computing power, but some early adopters have created handy tools for 3D visualization: An example is IBM and its Max Reality.
Enterprise startups can light the way.
AR technology is poised for a bright future, with engaged employees, knowledge-sharing and improved, automated data collection. Enterprise startups should follow these four steps to position themselves for leading the charge in this market:
Survey the stakeholders. Whether you work with universities or hospitals, architects or warehouse workers, you should find out where the technology will have the most impact. The best augmented reality must reflect actual reality: If a job site is too dark or employees must always wear thick gloves -- as Bentley Systems has suggested for utilizing AR in construction -- AR may be effective solution. No application is too small.
Think about hardware. Don’t take legacy systems for granted. Many of the enterprise applications of AR are in physical or dangerous environments, and Google Glass or Microsoft’s HoloLens might lack the necessary durability. DigiLens, on the other hand, is in the process of designing an AR helmet for motorcyclists, a scenario in which durability is paramount. An AR application will lose relevance quickly if the hardware cannot stand up to its intended operating environment.
Target motivated trailblazers. Find the industries facing big challenges at the intersection of the physical and digital. This could be manufacturers looking to drive efficiency and save money, or farmers needing data to optimize harvests. The companies with the biggest needs will be the ones most motivated to invest and push the limits of this new technology.
Consider data inputs. As evidenced by a recent presentation on using HoloLens apps for tracking airline flights, AR technology needs data to function effectively. Find the most valuable and contextual data to drive the desired output. Will static information be enough to optimize the solution, or will it require real-time sensors? A great interface is useless if it lacks the necessary data.
Companies looking to invest in AR technology must ensure that their approach is driven by ROI, but there are many reasons for optimism. Innovators are creating bold new products and leveraging the existing architectures of mobile devices to drive real progress across a range of applications. And that's creating multiple avenues for growth in the workplace. AR is no longer the future; it’s already here.