What Is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality (AR) is an enhanced version of the real physical world that is achieved through the use of digital visual elements, sound, or other sensory stimuli delivered via technology. It is a growing trend among companies involved in mobile computing and business applications in particular.
Amid the rise of data collection and analysis, one of augmented reality’s primary goals is to highlight specific features of the physical world, increase understanding of those features, and derive smart and accessible insight that can be applied to real-world applications. Such big data can help inform companies' decision-making and gain insight into consumer spending habits, among others.
How does Augmented Reality work?
Augmented reality starts with a camera-equipped device—such as a smartphone, a tablet, or smart glasses—loaded with AR software. When a user points the device and looks at an object, the software recognizes it through computer vision technology, which analyzes the video stream.
The device then downloads information about the object from the cloud, in much the same way that a web browser loads a page via a URL. A fundamental difference is that the AR information is presented in a 3-D “experience” superimposed on the object rather than in a 2-D page on a screen. What the user sees, then, is part real and part digital.
AR can provide a view of the real-time data flowing from products and allow users to control them by touchscreen, voice, or gesture. For example, a user might touch a stop button on the digital graphic overlay within an AR experience—or simply say the word “stop”—to send a command via the cloud to a product. An operator using an AR headset to interact with an industrial robot might see superimposed data about the robot’s performance and gain access to its controls.
How is Augmented Reality different from Virtual Reality?
Augmented reality uses the existing real-world environment and puts virtual information on top of it to enhance the experience. Whereas virtual reality takes these components to another level by producing an entirely computer-generated simulation of an alternate world. These immersive simulations can create almost any visual or place imaginable for the player using special equipment such as computers, sensors, headsets, and gloves.
The distinctions between VR and AR come down to the devices they require and the experience itself:
- AR uses a real-world setting while VR is completely virtual
- AR users can control their presence in the real world; VR users are controlled by the system
- VR requires a headset device, but AR can be accessed with a smartphone
- AR enhances both the virtual and real world while VR only enhances a fictional reality
What are the key capabilities of Augmented Reality?
AR allow users to monitor product operations and conditions in real time, control and customize product operations remotely, and optimize product performance using real-time data. And in some cases, intelligence and connectivity allow processes to be fully autonomous.
AR has the power to improve how users visualize and therefore access all the new monitoring data, how they receive and follow instructions and guidance on product operations, and even how they interact with and control the products themselves.
AR applications provide a sort of X-ray vision, revealing internal features that would be difficult to see otherwise. At the medical device company AccuVein, for instance, AR technology converts the heat signature of a patient’s veins into an image that is superimposed on the skin, making the veins easier for clinicians to locate. This dramatically improves the success rate of blood draws and other vascular procedures. AR more than triples the likelihood of a successful needle stick on the first try and reduces the need for “escalations” (calling for assistance, for example) by 45%.
2. Instructions and guidance
AR is already redefining instruction, training, and coaching. These critical functions, which improve workforce productivity, are inherently costly and labor-intensive and often deliver uneven results. Written instructions for assembly tasks, for instance, are frequently hard and time-consuming to follow. Standard instructional videos aren’t interactive and can’t adapt to individual learning needs. In-person training is expensive and requires students and teachers to meet at a common site, sometimes repeatedly.
How is Augmented Reality used in business?
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.
1. eCommerce and retails
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. 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.
3. Repairs and customer support
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