Augmented reality took a blow in the consumer arena with the demise of Google Glass, but it is making a comeback in the enterprise, where it is turning out to be a useful tool for a wide range of applications.
Virtually anywhere that an employee needs free hands but access to data is an opportunity for AR and its cousins, mixed reality and virtual reality, and in fact the technologies are giving human employees a hand in the growing competition with automated systems and processes.
The market for AR is, in fact, being driven by the re-emergence of Google Glass Enterprise Edition, says Wired’s Steven Levy. The technology has been on the back burner in Alphabet’s secretive X Division ever since the initial release crashed and burned in 2014 due to a combination of poor operation, an unclear use case, and downright suspicion over privacy for users and everyone around them.
The new Enterprise Edition, however, is already in place at leading businesses like Boeing, GE and DHL, where reports are showing dramatic improvements in productivity and performance. The new version has better resolution, longer battery life, faster networking and processing, and even comes in a modular form that can be attached to normal glasses, safety goggles and other headgear. Functionally, it can provide everything from real-time video communication to visualization, data retrieval and alert monitoring.
AR is already changing the way large organizations operate, says Business Insider’s Matt Weinberger. Workers at Thyssenkrupp, a German elevator and escalator manufacturer, outfit repair crews with Microsoft’s HoloLens, allowing them to Skype back to technicians with live views of systems in the field and access pictographic overlays of what things are supposed to look like and how they should be assembled. And GE is using the technology to create “digital twins” of working utility and industrial machines for training and diagnostic purposes.
And just as with any other computing platform, AR is producing a vibrant development community that is pushing the technology in new and interesting directions. A company called Upskill has incorporated Glass EE into its Skylight platform to digitally interconnect tools used to build and repair aircraft. In this way, Google Glass can allow a Wi-Fi-enabled torque wrench to help technicians tighten bolts to the optimal degree to improve engine performance and safety. We are also seeing the beginnings of what could be a wave of M&A activity across the AR space with companies like Atheer acquiring SpaceView to bolster its 3D and virtual object capabilities for its industrial-facing AiR (Augmented interactive Reality) platform.
If AR does become the next big thing in the enterprise, it wouldn’t be the first technology to take hold in the workplace and then filter into consumer markets. In fact, before the cell phone came along, this was how it was usually done.
There will probably always be some unease over the idea of people having the ability to record and upload everything around them at all times – even though that capability already exists on our phones, albeit in a bit more obvious fashion. But as the comfort level with AR rises on the job, it is not out of the realm of possibility that eventually it will rise in the home as well.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.