The opportunities for augmented reality in the enterprise

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Once confined to gaming and entertainment in terms of its application, augmented reality (AR) is now firmly established in the workplace.

It seems evident that AR has more use cases than virtual reality (VR) for business. Numbers vary, but the potential and coverage is massive. IDC Research has combined revenue for the AR and VR markets, which are predicted to reach $162 billion by 2020. That compares to just $5.2 billion in 2016. And while VR figures are expected to be greater than AR revenues in 2016 and 2017, after 2017, AR revenues will surge ahead in part due to use in the enterprise, according to IDC.

Research and Markets recently added AR to its portfolio, predicting that the market will go from 150,000 units in 2016 to 22.8 million in 2022. This will push revenue from a paltry $128.6 million to nearly $20 billion, generated by platforms ranging from simple reality assistance glasses to fully immersive smart helmets and holographic displays. At the same time, the technology will evolve past a simple consumer novelty to a wide range of enterprise, industrial, municipal and vertically oriented applications like health care. Juniper have also reported that AR will thrive in the app ecosystem – The primary enterprise use case will be cost and time savings, as opposed to being motivated by direct revenue for the end user. The research also outlines the primary market structure and players, from developers, to chipset manufacturers, to AR content platforms and SDKs, and head mounted displays (HMDs).

AR’s potential to remake the world of business intelligence should not be underestimated, according to Business Insider. For complex functions like supply chain management, AR can vastly improve the decision-making process, cut down on travel, and improve productivity by creating 3D visualizations of supply chains or immersive representations of factory floors and warehouses. In this way, the supply chain manager can become omnipresent, with the ability to view conditions across entire production and delivery environments – right down to the state of conveyor belts in overseas facilities and the traffic and weather patterns in customer regions.

Elsewhere, AR/VR has the potential to disaggregate the workforce to the point where even a central office becomes a thing of the past. As IT Pro Portal’s Chris Martin notes, properly equipped employees will be able to talk to each other from anywhere in the world, while at the same time gaining access to data sets and display capabilities that will make meetings and conversation more productive than ever. Meanwhile, repair and maintenance activities can be augmented with virtual overlays of exactly what a piece of equipment is supposed to look like and step-by-step virtual representations of the exact process to bring it back to working order.

Use cases are now commonplace. Lowe’s (a major US retailer) is introducing in-store navigation that uses augmented reality (AR) to help customers search for products in its retail stores. This month, shoppers in two Lowe’s stores will be able to use Google’s Tango AR app on Tango-enabled smartphones to access indoor mapping when the technology is piloted in Sunnyvale, CA and Lynwood, WA. Customers without a Tango-enabled smartphone will be able to demo the app with a Lowe’s sales associate during the pilot phase.

“Our past experiences have shown that customers are embracing AR/VR as part of their home improvement journey. By creating a more seamless shopping experience with augmented reality, our customers are able to find what they need to complete their DIY projects more quickly. Additionally, this frees up the time of our store associates, so that they can spend more time advising customers on home improvement project”,” said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs. If successful, the concept will be rolled out to other Lowe’s stores.

Already, the market is starting to generate specialised platforms for key use cases; aerospace manufacturer Boeing, who will be joining the conference programme at The WAVE Congress in June,  is launching a new venture arm of its company called HorizonX, and one of its first two investments is with an enterprise augmented reality software firm

Upskill, developer of the Skylight platform of which Boeing is also a customer. Skylight allows an enterprise to connect its applications to augmented reality headsets in a way that’s useful to frontline workers. Boeing is deploying Skylight and AR headsets across multiple locations for its manufacturing plants, maintenance and repair facilities, and distribution centres. One pilot project at a wiring harness assembly operations facility saw early results of a 25 per cent improvement in production time and better quality results.

To learn more about the opportunities that AR, VR and mixed reality present for business, come to the WAVE Congress to hear use cases from Jaguar, Boeing, BP and Airbus on the 22nd June 2017.