Interest in augmented reality is exploding as innovators explore its business relevance and the roles it can play in workforce enablement and customer experience and interaction. This emerging technology holds tremendous promise for changing the way businesses operate.
AR is projected to be an economic driver for the tech industry. Research shows that in 2020, the global augmented reality industry was valued at $17.67 billion. Forecasters project a compound annual growth rate of 43.8% through 2028. But which vertical markets will embrace this new technology? Industry experts such as Eric Abbruzzese, research analyst at ABI Research, say revenues will be split between a number of major verticals – education, gaming, healthcare, industrial and retail, to name a few.
"We expect revenues to primarily favor the healthcare and industrial verticals, owning approximately 54% of the market, thanks to more progressive technology adoption habits along with strong use case applicability," said Abbruzzese.
What is augmented reality?
Augmented reality (AR) is the use of technology to add artificial, digital qualities to real-life objects. In simpler terms, any time you use software or a device to add new sights, sounds or sensory stimuli to something you're seeing, that's AR. That's why AR is commonly thought of as comprising solely smartphone apps that ad new visual elements to what you’re looking at. However, AR is far broader than this one type of use.
A common example of AR is when shopping for glasses online. When you "try on" your glasses, you're not physically putting on new frames since you can't just reach into the screen and touch them. Instead, you're taking a photo of the frames and superimposing them over your face to best estimate how you'll actually look with the glasses on. You're augmenting the reality of your face – and once you order and start wearing your glasses, that augmented identity will become your real one.
How does augmented reality work?
Augmented reality may seem like the long-term future arriving perhaps a bit too soon, but the technology underpinning it is relatively familiar and straightforward. AR combines computer vision, mapping, localization and depth tracking technology in order to allow the platform you are using to obtain, analyze and send data. This data underlies your augmented sensory experience.
Depth tracking is among the most intriguing of these augmented reality features. Through depth tracking technology, an AR platform can tell how near or close you are to an object. Without this feature, AR use cases such as industrial field services and 3D online shopping would fail to work. Mapping, though, might be the most important AR feature, as it's why, for example, you can lay your glasses over your face.
What's the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality?
Augmented reality improves, enhances or expands real life by inserting virtual objects into the user's real-world environment. Virtual reality creates a completely virtual world that users interact with using devices that isolate them from the real world. VR grabs headlines, but researchers say AR will prove to be a bigger market over time.
How businesses are using augmented reality
Use cases for AR abound, but here are five that we consider the top ways businesses are already using AR to give you a taste of what's possible.
For retail businesses, AR offers a way for customers to try products before they buy. For example, Sephora has an app that lets customers see how their makeup products will look, and Wayfair uses AR to show customers how furniture will look in their home.
Any smartphone or tablet can be an AR platform to create a shopping environment for customers, whether that's within a traditional brick-and-mortar or being implemented into your e-commerce strategy. AR application company Marxent helped Harley-Davidson create an iPad app that provides a virtual shopping experience, giving customers the ability to try out different body types, seats, lights and other options for a truly custom bike design.
2. Industrial field services
Fieldbit, a leading developer of real-time AR collaboration solutions, streamlined field repair services for Israel's national water company by deploying AR smart glasses and a mobile app platform. The solution enables dispatched field engineers to access real-time remote help from experts or vendors located anywhere in the world.
AR allows the remote expert to superimpose markings, messages and diagrams directly onto the engineer's field of view, and the use of smart glasses keeps the engineer's hands free to simultaneously perform fixes.
The use of AR in the field can improve safety, reduce confusion, and take the pressure off engineers who can't possibly be experts in all technologies and infrastructures. AR can empower a mobile workforce, linking workers to experts around the globe.
3. Design and modeling
One way augmented reality is used in businesses is via 3D modeling. This is often used during the design process for items such as homes and cars. AR can also be used as an aid to early-stage product design and development, giving designers a precise view of product form and function.
Another example is how AR app company Augment is using AR. It implemented an end-to-end AR solution for Watermark Products, a leading supplier of inflight products for the airline industry. Using Augment's plugin, designers visualize product mockups at scale using tablets. Rather than creating costly prototypes, they can give clients an AR experience that depicts side-by-side comparisons of new and old products, allowing the clients to quickly understand the impact of the proposed new products.
4. Training and education
AR is gaining momentum in medical education. Through a partnership between the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve, health education students can take a 3D holographic anatomy program. The program allows a Microsoft HoloLens wearer to see virtual cadavers and take a deeper dive into the human body. This ability saves dozens of hours in the traditional cadaver lab, according to school officials. Case Western also sees applications across other educational fields of study.
Companies such as Walmart and Chipotle use AR to train employees. This gives them a hands-on training experience without the risk of costly real-world mistakes. Using AR to train employees or students at any level of education provides an immersive, multisensory experience that's often more effective than traditional methods such as lectures, flashcards and textbooks. The result is a greater depth of training and quicker mastery.
5. Repair and maintenance
In 2015, Hyundai became the first mainstream automaker to launch an AR owner's manual. Using a smartphone or tablet, consumers get how-to information for repairs, maintenance and vehicle features. The app contains how-to videos, 3D overlay images that appear when users scan various areas of their vehicle (like the engine bay) and dozens of informational guides. Hyundai expanded the AR owner's manual program in 2016.
AR makes it possible for even inexperienced people to identify problems and perform repairs by following step-by-step instructions using AR overlays, improving customer satisfaction by reducing downtime and the associated costs