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Uses of Augmented Reality in Business

Augmented Reality uses smart phones, tablets, and will use devices still in development like Google Glass and Google Contact Lenses, to add layers of additional information and content to the real world. Some businesses have already started using this technology to great effect both in external promotion and to improve internal training, processes, client support and troubleshooting.

With 200 million users predicted over the next few years (rising from a current 60 million), and the interface being a free download, it’s time to start thinking about what Augmented Reality can do for you.

Ori Inbar, co-founder and chief executive of augmentedreality.org, a global not-for-profit organisation promoting awareness of the technology, says: “A lot of enterprises are realising that augmented reality is providing solutions for things that cannot be solved in any other way”.

There are a host of sectors well-placed to benefit from AR, with some of the earliest examples coming from the worlds of marketing and retail, as it is easier to measure ROI from direct customer sales than it can be from improvement to the efficacy of internal processes.

In engineering and industrial design, there are a whole host of applications where designers can create interactive models of machines and components, or provide the ability to recognise features and provide directions on operation and maintenance.

In architecture, construction and civil engineering, the technology can be used to provide large-scale visualisations, enabling workers in the field to give feedback to design teams, or show examples in situ to clients. Versions of this are already in use  in the energy and chemical industries.

Exploration has begun of using AR for locating goods within a warehouse – guiding workers through complex tasks using visual prompts to quickly find the items or parts that they need.

Extremely interesting uses in travel and education are being implemented, such as the Dinosaur Island application on the Isle of Wight. This allows users to walk a “dinosaur trail” with a number of typical information boards along the way, but that include AR elements that allow users to see the dinosaurs around them that would have lived in the landscape. Photos can be taken with the on device camera to capture the moment “as experienced”, including any friends and family in shot, which are then obviously perfect for social media sharing.

Instances of easy uploading to Facebook and Twitter are being built, so that users can post options for friends to comment on. This was recently seen on the Channel 4 show Double Your House for Half the Money, where an AR application on a tablet provided homeowners and prospective buyers with examples of how a living space can be changed by interior designers.

Tesco has begun to integrate AR applications with its other online properties and services as a trial in a few of its Metro stores. It has made it possible for users to point a smartphone at an item in the window display to obtain information about it and directly place an order through its ecommerce system.

An example of a more complex shop floor application has been developed by Wirth Research as a virtual service manual for cars. Founder Nick Wirth says the impetus came from manufacturing critical components for racing cars. As they’re fitted by hand, it’s a challenge to ensure this is done with the necessary precision every time, and the app was developed to recognise a car engine, show the parts and demonstrate how components should be fitted and wires routed. After a number of experiments they developed a sophisticated app that could respond to the three- dimensional environment of a car engine, understand shapes, connections and depths, and give users a more precise view and instructions than a 2D manual.

This same approach has much wider applications than the examples given. It has enabled the display of information that is impossible in any other way, and which makes it much easier to communicate with clients who may not have specialist knowledge, and make all processes much more transparent, building confidence and understanding.

Until recently Augmented Reality was seen by many as an interesting and engaging promotional gimmick, but that’s where it stopped. However, the growing use and acceptance of the technology by people in their day to lives is resulting in a surge of interest that promises to push Augmented Reality into many new business environments as the potential applications of the technology are explored and realised.

Augmented Reality entered public awareness through its successful use by a number of big brands for innovative, user-focused sales and marketing. This, along with intensive media interest around Google’s plans to launch its smart glasses and people encountering AR in games, as part of attractions and in transmedia content made people to go on to wonder about practical, business related application for the technology.

Augmented Reality is making the world more interactive. The overlay of graphics on the world means that potentially anything around you can become clickable, whether it’s an object, a person or a location. You can get information about anything, learn about it, play with it or engage with it in a variety of different ways. It’s a way of expanding the knowledge to which you have instant access.

Augmented Reality should be thought of as an enabling technology. Like any other platform or component it should be adopted “for the sake of it”. Without a solid reason for implementation and a strategy for use, an organisation will not see good ROI.

There are many questions to consider and each Augmented Reality system will have different usability needs, depending on the users and their objectives. It’s important to consider factors such as the purpose of the applications, the amount of data that needs to be transferred, frequency of content updating, connectivity and networking issues, interaction and interoperability with other systems or media whether in a virtual or a real environment.

The trick is to use augmented reality to provide solutions that are better than those you have already, not simply provide an alternative, the only benefit of which is novelty.

Call us on 01227 768808, or email SEA, to see how we can help with all Augmented Reality and discuss how it can work for you.