2016 was an interesting year in many ways with one topic of particular interest and that was the first signs of the convergence of IoT, cloud processing, speech interfaces and artificial intelligence to lay the foundation for new business applications. One of the most interesting among these is the field of augmented reality. Driven by this convergence and the reduction in hardware costs, 2017 is becoming the year where augmented reality starts to become the platform it has promised to be.
In recent years, if one spoke of augmented reality it has mainly represented a marketing tool, helping deliver enticing content or entertainment to reinforce a brand, help encourage the sale of a product or the simple enhancement of an experience. While these values still exist, and will continue to grow, the technology convergence is beginning to highlight the real value of augmented reality; the helping of users stay connected with and better understand the real world about them.
Where virtual reality applications build virtual worlds for you to explore, augmented reality applications blend virtual objects with the real world and when required ensure those objects adhere to the physical constraints of that world. While virtual reality has been the main conversation, especially with new ways to experience games and entertainment, it is augmented reality that will change the way we engage with the world and will have the biggest impact on businesses and individuals in the years to come. Where virtual reality is all about the content, augmented reality is all about context, improving the way you gather information and the way you deliver processes and business operations.
One of the very interesting augmented reality use cases is in the connected vehicles space. An application developer can base the creation of augmented reality content on the information collected from neighbouring vehicles or roadside infrastructures. This information is then mixed with the instrument panel and GPS information and displayed seamlessly on augmented reality eyewear or transparent active windshield. The whole idea is to create the next generation of advanced driver assistance systems that provide contextualised real-time dissemination of digital content with the minimum of disruption to the driver. Vehicle manufacturers have been looking at smart windscreens for a while displaying content and some exploring the use of digital eyewear although legislation becomes an important consideration and not just technology much of which already exists.
Logistic organisations will be among the first to benefit from the enhancements listed above along with the improvements augmented reality can make in package recognition and picking; speeding up delivery and improving productivity. Organisations such as DHL are already recognising these benefits as they deploy augmented reality in their operations.
Through integration with low cost video cameras strategically placed on vehicles, blind spots can be eradicated improving vehicle safety and manoeuvrability. When linked to vehicle and tyre sensors and with navigation systems augmented reality will reduce costs through constant, discreet guidance on efficient vehicle performance.
Smart factories driven with industrial IoT advancements also provide specific use cases where augmented reality can add to competitive advantage of an enterprise. Imagine the importance of machine up-time in a 24×7 manufacturing operation. An augmented reality enabled solution can enable monitoring of plant assets from a virtual control room with real-time sensor data that monitors heat, pressure, scrap and other key characteristics. The IoT data can be visually overlaid with machine data such as schematic drawings, service steps to increase efficiency and productivity of industrial facilities by enabling maintenance personnel to see the most pertinent sensor data in an augmented reality view. Not only will the augmented reality solution guide the user on what is wrong with equipment from the blended industrial IoT data, it could then guide that same user through the steps to implement a repair or connect them with a remote expert to collaborate in real time minimising downtime, maximising productivity and employee skills.
Security is another area of advancement using augmented reality. Using augmented reality eyewear, airport security could deploy visual drug and explosive residue sensors and integrated facial recognition to identify known persons of interest as they pass through security. Police could benefit from those same solutions along with the addition of ANPR capabilities for traffic police as well as replacing many systems fitted to police vehicles as well as existing body equipment such as body cameras for incident recording.
The medical field is another area that augmented reality applications have the potential to be significant and change the way medical professionals interact with each other during a diagnosis or a surgery. A remote team of surgeons can get the first-hand view of an ongoing surgery with all vital statistics overlaid along with medical records such as MRI on a heads-up display or through augmented reality eyewear.
Architecture and Construction
Another group showing interest in augmented reality are architects and smart city planners where solutions will allow them to create virtual 3D walkthroughs from existing 2D blueprints overlaid with construction equipment, people, interior decoration and other geolocation data to experience the building before a brick has been laid. Through networked augmented reality, visually collaboration with remote colleagues will be possible as if all were in the same room interacting with the common shared virtual objects. There are also less obvious uses of augmented reality such as a recent study showing how augmented reality allowed interior designers to view interiors the way many dementia suffers see their surroundings. By experiencing the building interiors as viewed by the dementia patient this helped the designers make colour and design decisions to meet the specific requirements of the target patients enhancing their experience of their new homes.
Augmented reality has the potential to enhance every experience of the real world we have today. This will create new business models and rewrite the way we interact with everything… although we are only at the beginning of the road the only question today is are you ready for it’s adoption.