For a while it seemed as if virtual reality (VR) was going to be the next big thing in business, however augmented reality (AR) is quickly taking its place as the technology to watch in the enterprise space.
Unlike VR, which immerses users in a virtual environment and requires their full attention, AR overlays digital images onto the physical world, seamlessly integrating into real-world interactions1. AR is therefore seen as a complementary technology for humans, providing access to information that can enhance our ability to undertake tasks. It’s already being incorporated into business processes across a range of industries to enable everything from customer demonstrations and training to the maintenance of complex equipment and remote assistance.
By overlaying maps, real-time feedback, system information, instructions or the view of colleagues, AR helps businesses augment their workforces and streamline workflows2. This can yield significant efficiencies and, in turn, cost savings.
Businesses are starting to recognise this and have begun investing significant amounts in AR content. According to ARtillery Research, by 2022 the global market for enterprise AR applications is estimated to be more than $14.2 billion3.
Unsurprisingly gaming remains the sector that attracts the most investments in AR technology, but education and healthcare have now overtaken live events and movies and television to move into the top three4. By 2022, the healthcare, engineering, retail and real estate sectors are forecast to account for 41% of the distribution of the augmented and mixed reality market worldwide5.
AR companies are also increasingly focusing on enterprise applications rather than consumer products. For example, Google Glass recently released the second edition of its enterprise application, which has been designed to improve efficiencies in manufacturing, logistics and healthcare.
Google Glass was originally designed as a consumer product but was cancelled after less than two years and considered a commercial failure6. It was resurrected in 2017 for enterprise use and has found its place as a workplace tool.
Google Glass is a lightweight computer with a transparent display that looks like a pair of glasses. It’s voice-activated, enabling workers to access hands-free training videos, quality assurance checklists or images annotated with instructions. It also allows others to ‘see what you see’ via live video stream, enabling real-time collaboration and troubleshooting.
It has been designed to customise to different work environments and can clip onto industry-specific equipment such as safety goggles7.
More than 50 businesses have now adopted Google Glass, including DHL, manufacturer AGCO, GE and Sutter Health. Using Google Glass has led to 15% greater operation efficiency on average at DHL; a 25% reduction in production time on low volume, complex assemblies at AGCO; a 34% increase in efficiency in top box wiring at GE; and a saving of two hours of doctor’s time per day, on average, at Sutter Health8.
While Google Glass is currently only available to its business partners who build custom end-to-end solutions, its success has seen smart AR glasses for business use become increasingly common. As a growing number of companies move into the enterprise AR space, the technology becomes more affordable for small and medium sized businesses as well.
The rollout of 5G, which is currently taking place in Australia, is also expected to increase the viability of enterprise AR applications for small and medium sized businesses. The faster speeds, lower latency and greater capacity of 5G will mean that existing AR applications can offload a lot of the intensive processing to the cloud, enabling smaller, more energy-efficient and cheaper form factors9.
Already in Australia, AR has been used by businesses including Meat and Livestock Australia to facilitate faster, more precise and more consistent meat grading, Hyundai dealerships to show potential buyers in-built car safety features and Novartis Australia, in partnership with Sydney Neuroimaging Analysis Centre (SNAC), to pilot an educational tool that shows the evolution of multiple sclerosis in a patient over 10-years.
However, enterprise AR is definitely still a niche market in Australia and even more so among small businesses. Yet this doesn’t mean that it should be ignored.
AR offers a huge range of opportunities for businesses to bridge the digital and physical worlds, which is a defining feature of industry 4.0.
AR solutions can revolutionise product testing, staff training, remote collaboration, data visualisation, real-time analysis and 3D modelling10. The benefits of this can be the real-time delivery of relevant information to workers regardless of time and/or location, greater flexibility, a reduction in errors, increased operational mobility and improved efficiency11.
According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey, 5% of business leaders think AR will be the most disruptive technology to their industry in the next five years, while 6% say it will be the most disruptive technology to their business models in the next five years12. This is significant given that most commentators agree we’re still in the early days for AR and the market remains fragmented13.
It shows that early adopters have been able to prove that the value proposition of enterprise AR solutions is real and more than just a marketing gimmick.
Tech Trends Editor-in-Chief Alice Bonasio writes in Forbes that as immersive technology, such as AR, becomes more ubiquitous and businesses realise the efficiency savings, “very few companies will be able to retain a competitive edge without incorporating it in their processes to some extent”14.
Author: Adelle King