Augmented reality (AR) ― a technology that can superimpose digital assets into real-world environments ― is set to transform how business is conducted. It will affect everything from selling and marketing products to helping companies better train their staff.
We’ll explain more about augmented reality, share how companies are using it today and look at what the future holds for this exciting technology.
AR is the use of technology to add artificial, digital qualities to real-life objects. Anytime you use software or a device to add new sights, sounds or sensory stimuli to something you see, that’s AR.
The Pokemon Go game is a famous example of AR in pop culture. Players try to find Pokemons in the wild using their smartphones. When they find one, the character appears on a smartphone screen overlaid in the nearby environment like this:
Finding a Pokemon in the AR+ mode of Pokemon Go. Source: Tumisu
Another AR example you may be familiar with is shopping for eyeglasses online. Many opticians, such as Vision Express in the United Kingdom and EyeBuyDirect in the United States, offer a selection of glasses for you to choose from on their websites. When you want to “try them on,” the site asks permission to use your webcam. If you grant it, the glasses are superimposed on your face so you can see what they look like on you.
Additionally, some app-based image filters are AR-based. One infamous ― and viral ― example of this AR usage occurred when attorney Rod Ponton participated in a Zoom hearing for the 394th Judicial District Court in Texas. He forgot to turn off his webcam filter, so other attendees interacted with a talking white kitten instead of his image.
Augmented reality may seem futuristic, but its underpinning technology is relatively familiar and straightforward. AR combines computer vision, mapping, localization and depth-tracking technology to allow a platform to obtain, analyze and send data. This data underlies your augmented sensory experience.
Depth tracking is among the most intriguing 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 like industrial field services and 3D online shopping wouldn’t work.
However, mapping might be the most critical AR feature. It’s the technology that allows you to do things like lay AR glasses over your face on opticians’ websites.
AR is already changing the face of online advertising and marketing and multiple use cases currently abound. Here are five top ways businesses employ AR today.
AR helps retailers provide a way for customers to try products before they buy. Any smartphone or tablet can become an AR platform that creates unique shopping environments for customers ― whether in-store or online. Here are a few examples of retail AR usage:
Help Lightning provides AR-enabled remote support to clients worldwide. Before using Help Lightning’s offering, one client, BUNN, had found providing field services to its customers prohibitively costly. However, it now turns a profit on these activities.
BUNN now uses AR to provide field technicians with real-time support on the job, including live video assistance, access to a comprehensive knowledge base and customer service history. Field technicians can video stream from a site and enter into three-way communication with other field technicians and engineers. Customer satisfaction has increased and engineers can now work on more daily jobs.
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.
Businesses often use AR for 3D modeling during the design process for items like homes and cars. AR can facilitate early-stage product creation and development, giving designers a precise view of product form and function. AR-powered product packaging is also growing in popularity, impressing customers with videos, 3D models, audio and linked text.
AR app company Augment uses an end-to-end AR solution for Watermark 1980 ― a leading supplier of inflight products for the airline industry.
Using Augment’s technology, Watermark 1980’s designers visualize product mockups at scale using tablets for their airline clients. Instead of creating costly prototypes, designers use AR to compare proposed new and existing products side-by-side. This model allows decision-makers to understand the impact of the proposed new products.
AR-based training initiatives provide an immersive, multisensory experience that’s often more effective than traditional lectures, flashcards and textbooks. The result is a greater depth of training, quicker mastery and an improved transfer of learning.
For example, AR is gaining momentum in medical education. At Case Western Reserve University, 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 technology saves dozens of hours compared to the traditional cadaver lab. Case Western envisions AR applications across a wide range of educational fields of study.
Additionally, companies like Walmart and Chipotle use AR to train employees. This technology helps them invest in employee training without the risk of costly real-world mistakes.
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. Other manufacturers have followed suit, most notably Kia.
AR enables inexperienced people to identify problems and perform repairs by following step-by-step instructions using AR overlays, improving customer satisfaction by reducing downtime and associated costs.
Augmented reality improves, enhances or expands real life by inserting virtual objects into the user’s real-world environment. In contrast, VR creates an entirely virtual world that users interact with using devices that isolate them from the real world. VR grabs headlines but researchers say AR will become a bigger market over time.
AR is projected to be an economic driver for the tech industry. Research shows that in 2023, the global augmented reality industry was valued at $56.3 billion. Forecasters project it could reach nearly $1.2 trillion by 2032.
But which vertical markets will embrace this new technology? Industry expert Eric Abbruzzese, a research analyst at ABI Research, says revenues will be split between several significant 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 percent of the market, thanks to more progressive technology adoption habits along with strong use case applicability,” Abbruzzese noted.
Max Freedman contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.