There has been a lot of talk about augmented reality (AR) in the enterprise lately, but relatively little action. Some pilot programs have been launched and technology demos are a common facet of most of the leading trade shows, but as yet we have seen little in the way of a working, production-level AR environment.
But that may be about to change if the latest market analyses are any guide. ABI Research predicts that 2018 will be the inflection point for AR in the enterprise, with applications ranging from simple IT management to advanced collaboration and product development. The company is calling for compound annual growth of smart glasses and other AR tools to top 227 percent through the year 2021, producing a market value of $96 billion. Expect to see pilot programs continue throughout 2017 as organizations calculate the ROI of the technology before pushing it into production environments the following year.
One of the key industry verticals that could gain substantial benefits from AR is health care. Not only can it help craft new tools and infrastructure, but it has equally powerful applications in training, research and even live operating events. Doctors, for example, can better explain diagnoses and procedures to patients and students, literally walking them through the more complicated aspects of health care using visual, interactive tools. And in many ways, this can provide a more accurate depiction of key information than is possible with plastic models or even real tissue, particularly when discussing experimental or theoretical concepts.
Some might wonder why an organization would bother with augmented reality when full virtual reality is already making its way into consumer products. But as InfoWorld’s Simon Bisson explains, VR is not quite ready to deliver the kind of real-time immersive experience that would provide a significant benefit to enterprise-class data environments. But with AR hardware like Microsoft’s HoloLens, which relies on low-end Atom processors to layer 3D images onto a limited field of vision, users can supplement activities ranging from facilities management to advanced systems design. For workers who tend to move around a lot, this can be extremely beneficial because it provides a user interface wherever they happen to be.
Other AR vendors are producing equally intriguing applications, says Chris Wiltz of Pacific Design & Manufacturing. A company called Scope AR, for example, is working with Caterpillar to provide live dealer support for tasks like repair, troubleshooting and maintenance. Meanwhile, OPS Solutions is using AR to provide training, assembly and quality control directly on systems and devices rolling off the assembly line. For anyone who’s ever tried to assemble something as simple as a bookcase using a paper drawing, imagine how much easier it would be if there was a 3D image right before your eyes displaying exactly how the pieces should fit together.
Augmented reality is usually seen as the stop-gap measure to the more technically advanced virtual reality, but this view overlooks the fact that in the emerging digital ecosystem it’s the application that counts, not the technology. While it may be fun to allow technicians and designers to fully immerse themselves in a work environment modeled to resemble Middle Earth or a steampunk universe, this will rarely improve performance or outcomes.
But a real image overlaid with graphics and data has enormous potential to improve the efficiency and accuracy of a wide range of functions. And in the future, the organization that can get things done faster and better will hold a significant advantage over those still stuck in the real world.
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.