This last week, I was at the Augmented World Expo, where they promised to give us all super powers. This kind of goes back to the beginning of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), and games where you suddenly can be super heroes. However, the game stuff still pretty much sucks, based on what I saw at the conference. What didn’t suck were the practical applications of the technology. The idea of being able to provide services remotely, in particular, struck me as incredibly useful even from a personal standpoint. It’s 90 percent of the benefit of teleportation, at least with regard to getting something done, and anything that keeps my butt off an airplane has my attention.
Qualcomm’s Vuforia group was at the heart of many of the demonstrations and they have been the most aggressive at showcasing a broad range of things that can be done with this technology.
Let me explain.
Remote Augmented Reality
The demo that really caught my eye was from Scope AR, called Remote AR. They put up a video that showcases a technician watching a large number of status screens; it is likely after hours and the firm, as firms often do, decided to save money by having someone poorly trained in this job, and there is a massive outage. He calls for help; using his tablet, a remote expert is not only able to see what he sees, he can use the screen on the tablet to diagram what the untrained technician has to do and watch to make sure it is done right.
I don’t know how many service calls you’ve done, but when I’m traveling, something always seems to break at home. Doing tech support with my wife is an exercise in frustration. If I could just see what she is seeing and get her to be my hands, it would be a ton less stressful, though I sometimes wonder if I don’t enjoy coming home and pointing out what she didn’t see a tad too much.
With something like this, you could have a few highly paid and trained technicians and then folks who were simply good at following instructions could be their remote eyes and hands. I expect both the expert technicians and your budget would appreciate the removal of the need to travel to fix point problems.
Seriously, it’s a game changer. Check out the video.
Augmented Reality vs. Virtual Reality
The constant argument about AR vs. VR is which is better. This was really the first time it looked like it didn’t matter. Folks seemed to get that each approach worked best in very different scenarios. VR is best when you want to emulate everything for entertainment or for training. It is a ton cheaper to fly a virtual 747 than to fire one up and put a pilot in it. But AR is better if you have to interact with the real world. Let’s say the 747 pilot gets into trouble and needs some expert help, or you get lost hiking and need to be guided to safety.
I could see scenarios where one would give way to the other. Back to that troubled 747: Let’s say it needed to be rerouted to an airport that was too short for it to land. While approaching the airport, the pilot could use VR to try different approaches and see the outcomes, picking the one with the least catastrophic result, then switch to AR and have it guide him down using the unique approach he or she had practiced and become comfortable with. Rather than getting one chance to get it right, the pilot would have as many as they had time to practice.
AR and VR Glasses
While a lot of showcases used phones and tablets, it is increasingly clear that this technology really needs some kind of head-mounted technology to work. You need both hands free so you can interact with virtual things in VR and with actual things with AR. Holding a tablet or a phone would simply get in your way. The glasses in their final form should be able to transition from AR to VR, from work to play, and accomplish the mission of AR/VR blended -- the best option. Think of them as just a better visual interface to your brain.
However, I’m fascinated that the glasses makers don’t seem to get one aspect they need to address. With glasses, you have to embrace what glasses do now -- effectively block out the sun and adjust for seeing deficiencies. They could also be a ton more attractive to wear. The best I saw were from ODG, or the OsterhoutDesignGroup. They were black with sharp lines and a well-defined screen and experience. These were about as close as I’ve seen to what I expect the final product will look like.
Wrapping Up: AR and VR Are Business First
What I think is funny is that most of us thought AR and VR were simply going to be all about games, but that is about as far from what is happening as we can get. This stuff is business first and it could not only keep your butt out of a plane but dramatically reduce both your travel budget and the number of mistakes people make in and around your firm resulting from miscommunications.
One final thought: Augmented World Expo was a developer event held at the same time as the Apple WWDC and you’d think it would have been a ghost town as a result. It wasn’t. The house was packed and that promises a rather impressive ramp-up to AR/VR as the products that surround it reach maturity.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+