Decades ago, we were used to handling data on two-dimensional pages and screens even though our physical world is three-dimensional. This gap between the real and digital worlds limits us from completely using loads of information currently available to us.
Thankfully, augmented reality (AR) is closing this gap. AR is a collection of technologies that overlay digital images and other digital data on physical objects and environments.
Augmented reality allows us to absorb information and act on it a lot better. How? By putting information straight into the context in which we’ll implement AR.
Many people have experienced augmented reality through entertainment apps like Snapchat filters. But in business, AR is used in far more important ways.
In fact, pioneering organizations have already used augmented reality and have seen major gains in productivity and quality. Business applications of AR include implementations in manufacturing, product development, logistics, marketing, service, and training.
Further, augmented reality has a broader impact on how organizations compete.
In this post, we’ll walk through the questions organizations need to ask when integrating augmented reality into their operations and strategies.
What is Augmented Reality Technology and How Does it Work?
Augmented Reality According to a Harvard Business Review
Isolated applications of augmented reality (AR) have been around for decades. But the technologies required to exploit its potential have only been unleashed in the previous years.
At the core, augmented reality transforms volumes of information and analytics into digital animations that are superimposed on the real world.
Application of AR in wearable devices
In the past years, mobile devices were the ones that delivered many AR applications. But it didn’t take long before smart glasses, head-mounted displays, and other hands-free wearables were also used to deliver such technology.
Indeed, Pokemon Go and Snapchat filters are popular entertainment applications of augmented reality. But there are far more consequential AR applications in both business-to-business and consumer settings.
For instance, AR “heads up” displays are now available in some of today’s popular car models. This example of AR application puts data, such as those used in navigation and collision warning, directly in the driver’s line of sight.
Thousands of companies are experimenting with wearable AR devices for factory workers. Augmented reality technology is being used to superimpose service and product assembly instructions in workplaces.
Augmented reality is either replacing or supplementing traditional manuals and training methods at a faster rate.
AR improves our ability to absorb and manage data
Generally, augmented reality enables a new data-delivery model, which we believe will greatly impact how information is structured, managed, and delivered on the world wide web.
While the web transformed the way data is collected, transmitted, and accessed, its model for storing and delivering information has a few major limits.
In particular, using 2D information in the world of 3D requires mentally translating that data. This is often hard to do as those who did a manual fix on an office copier know very well.
Directly overlapping digital information on real environments or real objects allows us to process the digital and physical simultaneously. This way, we no longer need to mentally bridge these two types of data.
Accordingly, this will improve how fast and how accurate we absorb information and make decisions. Additionally, it improves how quickly and efficiently we perform required tasks.
AR can reduce the mental effort to apply data
Until now, using GPS navigation involved looking at a map on a flat screen and then finding ways to apply navigation data in the real world.
For instance, correcting an exit from a busy rotary would mean shifting your gaze between the screen and the road. And then, mentally connect the image on the map to the appropriate turnoff.
With an AR heads-up display, navigational images are overlaid directly on the windshield. This reduces the mental effort to apply information. Also, this application of AR in GPS navigation allows people to focus more on the road, prevents distraction, and minimizes driver error.
AR help reduce overall manufacturing time
Augmented reality is also making its advances in the consumer markets. However, it is in industrial settings where AR has a greater impact on human performance.
Let’s take this company that designs and builds U.S. Navy aircraft carriers as an example. Newport News Shipbuilding uses augmented reality to inspect a ship. The goal here is to identify and mark steel construction structures for removal as they are not part of the finished product.
Traditionally, engineers had to constantly compare complex 2D blueprints with the actual ship.
But with augmented reality, the final design overlaid on the ship reduces inspection time by 96% — that’s from 36 hours to just 90 minutes. Thus, AR helps reduce the typical overall manufacturing time to 25% or more.
Other notable uses of AR in various industries
AccuVein uses AR technology to locate a patient’s veins much easier. As infrared light shines on a patient’s skin, the oxygen-carrying protein (hemoglobin) within the patient’s blood absorbs that light. Data gathered is converted into digital images, which are then superimposed on the skin surface.
Boeing uses augmented technology to make aircraft wing assembly much easier to learn. AR has reduced the training time to assemble an aircraft wing by 35%.
Similarly, GE uses augmented reality to help factory workers perform complex wiring tasks. With the use of voice commands in AR experiences, the company achieved a considerable gain in efficiency.
In brief, augmented reality enhances the way we visualize information. It improves how we interact with products, or receive and follow instructions.
How does augmented reality work?
A fundamental disconnect exists between the wealth of currently available digital data and the physical world to which that information is applied. The real, physical world is three-dimensional. But the rich data we possess to inform our decisions and actions remains trapped on two-dimensional screens and pages.
This gap between the physical and digital worlds prevents us from taking advantage of the overflowing information and insights produced by the immeasurable numbers of existing smart, connected products (SCPs) across the globe.
As we step further into the digital revolution, applications of AR portrayed in sci-fi movies are becoming more like reality and less like fiction. That’s in part because software developers and hardware engineers continue to refine their AR technologies.
Undoubtedly, augmented reality is making the line between real and virtual worlds blurrier than ever.
How does augmented reality work, exactly?
Technologies involving augmented reality work by blending interactive digital elements with real-world environments. By digital elements, we mean buzzy haptic feedback, dazzling visual overlays, and other sensory projections.
You might have witnessed augmented reality in action if you experienced the hubbub of that once incredibly popular mobile game called Pokemon Go. Through AR, the mobile game allowed users to see the world around them using the cameras of their mobile phones.
AR in mobile games
AR in Pokemon GO allowed users to view in-game items, scores, and ever-elusive Pokemon creatures including onscreen icons as overlays, which made it look as if those virtual items were right in the vicinity.
This once extremely popular augmented reality game was so immersive that it sent millions of people walking through real-world locations in search of virtual prizes.
AR in astronomy
One of the most popular augmented reality applications is Google Sky. Formerly known as Google Sky Map, the app uses augmented reality to superimpose information about planets, constellations, and more as you point your mobile device’s camera toward the sky.
AR in location-based experiences
Wikitude provides information about objects and landmarks as you point your smartphone’s camera at them.
AR in e-commerce
The IKEA Place app allows users to visualize new furniture in their living room before the purchase to make sure that it fits. AR applications allow online shoppers to download product holograms.
IKEA and Wayfair have virtual libraries containing apps and 3D product images that can be viewed in an actual room. This enables customers to see how decor and furniture will look in their homes.
Augmented Reality: Beyond Fun and Entertainment
There’s more to augmented reality than fun and entertainment. In fact, it’s a modern technology that has many important uses in several sectors such as:
- and more
With the help of AR tools, the United States Army created digitally enhanced training missions for its combatants. The concept became so prevalent that it was officially named Synthetic Training Environment or STE.
Soldiers of the future might use wearable headsets and AR glasses that will help them process information overload at unbelievable speeds. This technology will help commanders make better on-the-spot decisions on the battlefield.
Augmented reality has many fascinating business benefits as well. For instance, the Gatwick Airport Official helps travelers navigate through insanely packed airports with this AR app.
AR technology certainly comes with unlimited possibilities. What’s uncertain is how quickly app developers incorporate augmented reality capabilities into mobile devices that we’ll use every day.
Augmenting the Real World
The basic idea of AR is to overlay or superimpose, in real time, digital audio, graphics, and other sensory augmentations over a real-world environment. But this concept is nothing new. TV networks have been doing this with graphics for decades.
That being said, today’s technology is far more advanced in comparison to those used in TV broadcasts many decades ago.
There are newer TV effects that come close. But these systems display graphics that are limited to a single point of view. The latest augmented reality systems can display digital graphics from each viewer’s point of view.
Historically, it was in February 2009 that the first augmented reality system was introduced to the public. Pranav Mistry and Pattie Maes presented the groundbreaking SixthSense project. Some of the basic components of this technology are found in today’s augmented reality systems such as:
- Small projectors, etc.
The Mobile AR Revolution
There’s no point in going on and on with examples of smartphone AR apps since these types of software come and go rather quickly. But what’s notable to point out is that manufacturers are too certain of the success that comes with AR.
These companies are building devices designed to highlight the AR experience. ASUS, in particular, introduced the Zenfone AR hoping to attract a lot of attention in the AR-specific market.
Apple and Google are two, powerful tech leaders that continue to tweak their smart devices to meet the demands of AR apps.
The faster processors of today’s Android and iOS devices make these pocket-sized computers more capable of running data-intensive apps of all kinds, which includes apps that feature augmented reality.
Social media networks are capitalizing on AR trends as well. Facebook, now Meta, has an AR studio that allows creators to develop AR apps specifically designed to work within Facebook’s architecture.
Moreover, the social media giant is also working on augmented reality devices such as augmented reality glasses.
Further, it’s worth noting to mention the start-stop-start history of Google Glass. It’s a project that might be an excellent way to conclude the nature of augmented reality these days.
In 2013, Google introduced its AR-powered Google Glass, which presented an AR-type heads-up display of the real world around the person wearing it. But Google’s AR device project ran out of steam and stalled in 2015.
Google glass was resurrected in 2017, which aimed to target businesses worldwide. And in 2018, Brain Power, a startup company began selling Google Glass as part of a program to address autism.
Combining Augmented Reality Technology with Virtual Reality
Virtual reality (VR), in relation to augmented reality, is a distinct but complementary technology. As previously mentioned, AR overlays digital information on the physical world. On the other hand, virtual reality offers a completely immersive experience by replacing physical reality with a computer-generated environment.
While virtual reality is commonly used for entertainment applications, this technology can replicate physical environments for training purposes as well. VR is extremely useful in situations where remote or hazardous settings are involved. Or, when required training machinery is unavailable.
For example, VR uses holograms of certain equipment to create an immersive virtual environment for technicians.
Thus, if necessary, VR can act as the 4th capability (stimulate) to the core capabilities of augmented reality, which is to visualize, instruct, and interact.
Key Capabilities of AR
AR applications provide us with some sort of X-ray vision. It reveals to us the internal features of a subject that would be difficult to view otherwise.
Take Bosch Rexroth as an example. This company is a global provider of power equipment used in manufacturing.
Bosch Rexroth uses an AR-powered visualization system to reveal the design features of its smart, connected unit. Here, AR is used to display 3D representations of the unit’s internal cooling and pump options to customers.
The displays are presented in various configurations. The presentation also includes how the subsystems fit together.
2. Instruct and guide
AR addresses the issues regarding instruction, training, and coaching. The solution is to provide step-by-step visual guidance in real-time on tasks such as:
- warehouse picking
- machine operation and
- product assembly
Traditionally, manual procedures are often complicated 2D schematic representations. With the help of AR, these manual procedures become 3D holograms that walk factory workers through the necessary processes. And so, little is left to the worker’s interpretation or imagination.
We have been accustomed to using buttons, knobs, and other physical controls. But currently, we are presented with built-in touch screens to interact with virtual and physical products.
The rise of SCPs gradually replaced physical controls and even allowed us to control certain products remotely. But AR takes the user interface of touch screens to a whole new level.
With an AR headset, along with voice commands, and hand gestures — a user can operate a product by interacting with a virtual control panel superimposed on that product.
With AR-powered smart glasses, users can point or gaze at a product to operate it or activate its virtual user interface. Smart glasses allow workers to walk through a line of factory machines and equipment, check each machine’s performance variables, or control the machines remotely.
AR’s “interact” capability is still in its infancy in commercial products but nevertheless, it is revolutionary. To illustrate, Fluid Interfaces’ Reality Editor AR app allows users to add an interactive AR experience to any smart, connected product (SCP) with ease.
With this AR-powered web browser, users can point their smartphones and tablets to any SCP. The digital interfaces and programmable capabilities of the target SCP will pop up on the smartphone screen for the end user to view.
Moreover, users can link those capabilities to voice commands and hand gestures. Additionally, they can even link them to another smart product or an AR device.
4. Enhance Human Decision Making
At its core, the power of AR emerges from how humans process information. We obtain information using each of our 5 senses.By far, it is our sense of sight that provides us information more than the other senses. In fact, it is through our vision that we access around 80 to 90 percent of the information.
However, our mental capacity limits us from absorbing and processing information. Cognitive load is the term used to refer to this demand for mental capacity. Each task that we tackle mentally decreases the available capacity for other, concurrent tasks.
To process a given type of data, the cognitive load will depend on the required mental state. To illustrate, reading and acting on the instructions from a computer screen develops a substantial cognitive load than receiving the same instructions by ear. Why?
That’s because the letters need to be translated into words. And then, those words will need to be interpreted before information can be processed.
Additionally, cognitive load rests on cognitive distance, which is the gap between the context in which information is applied and the form in which data is presented.
Let’s take referring to a smartphone or a display device for directions while driving as an example. While operating a vehicle you must:
- Absorb information presented on the screen
- Keep that data in working memory.
- Translate that information (or directions) into the physical environment around you.
- And then act according to the given directions.
Interestingly, considerable cognitive distance exists between the physical context where data is applied and the digital information being displayed on a screen. In short, cognitive load is created every time we deal with cognitive distance.
As we look at the physical world, we almost instantaneously consume a variety of substantial information. Besides, a picture or image that overlaps information on the physical world and places that data in context for us, shortens the cognitive distance and reduces that cognitive or mental load.
We can see how powerful AR can be in improving the way we make decisions. The physical world around us can be a better graphical user interface when it is enhanced by digital overlays of relevant information.
In conclusion, AR can put an end to our dependence on hard-to-process and out-of-context 2D information on pages and screens. At the same time, AR can significantly improve our ability to process information and apply it in the real world.
Deploying AR into the Real World
Augmented reality applications are already being tested and distributed in products across the value chain. Their number and range will only increase over time.
With this in mind, every enterprise needs an implementation road map that outlines how the organization will begin to seize the benefits of augmented reality in its business. And simultaneously developing the capabilities required to broaden its use.
When determining the succession and rate of adoption, companies must think about the organizational skills involved and the technical challenges, which may vary from context to context.
Specifically, organizations must address these key issues:
1. Which app development capabilities will be required?
AR experiences vary in their level of complexity. Experiences that let people visualize items in various settings or configurations are quite easy places for businesses to start.
The best examples of companies that created this type of experience are IKEA, Wayfair, and AZEK. Companies will have to encourage users to download and launch AR apps exclusively on a mobile device.
In comparison, instruction applications are more difficult to build and deploy. These apps require the capacity to build and sustain dynamic 3D digital content, which often benefits greatly from using smart glasses or head-mounted displays.
AR apps that create interactive experiences, which produce considerable value to both businesses and consumers are the most challenging to develop. Moreover, they involve technologies that are less mature such as gesture and voice recognition. They also have the need to merge with software that controls SCPs.
2. How should organizations create digital content?
Every augmented reality experience requires content, regardless of whether the experience is sophisticated or not. In many instances, repurposing digital content, such as product designs, is a practical thing to do.
But down the road, however, contextual experiences that are more complex and dynamic must be built from scratch. Of course, such a type of development often requires specialized expertise.
Basic apps, for instance, an AR-powered virtual furniture catalog, may require simple product presentations. On the flip side, sophisticated business instruction software such as those used for machine repair will need accurate and more elaborate digital product representations.
Organizations can create such presentations by adapting product development CAD models. Or, using 3D scanning and other digitization techniques.
Additionally, extremely sophisticated AR experiences may require tapping into real-time data streams that must be integrated into the content. These data streams should come from SCPs, enterprise business systems, or external data sources.
Let Us Help Your Business Reap the Benefits of Augmented Reality
The digital revolution, along with the explosion of data and SCPs, is unlocking value beyond the economy and unleashing productivity. The issue is not lack of data and knowledge, but rather how to grasp and act on them. Simply put, the interface with humans.Augmented reality stands out as the leading solution to this challenge.
Only AR can help businesses effectively tap into the digital revolution and everything it has to offer.Consider working with Dom & Tom to develop groundbreaking AR and VR applications for your organization. Contact us today. We can help you stay ahead of the competition by developing high-quality AR applications.