The Potential of Augmented Reality
Augmented reality (AR) is the technological advance that’s poised to change nearly every industry. Often mistakenly mentioned as interchangeable with virtual reality, augmented reality enhances the world we live in, rather than creating a whole new one. This makes its potential application quite different to VR, so we thought we would take a look at some of the ways it’s set to change the way we work and learn in the next few years.
What is augmented reality?
Augmented reality is the process of enhancing the real world by superimposing digital images and sounds onto the environment, via the medium of wearable transparent lenses or camera devices. AR blends the real and digital worlds together in a way that’s noticeably separate, rather than placing the viewer in the digital reality.
Differences between VR and AR
Virtual reality is a computer simulated reality in which a user can interact with the replicated real or imaginary environments. The experience is totally immersive by means of visual, auditive and haptic stimulation, so the constructed reality is almost indistinguishable from the real world.
Unlike VR, AR blends the virtual and real, so you remain aware of what has been simulated. But like VR, an AR experience typically involves engaging with technology to experience the physical reality with elements that are augmented. VR typically involves a head mount, such as the Oculus Rift goggles, whereas with AR, you generally just need a smartphone or tablet.
How’s AR being used?
AR is already being used as an effective tool for training employees across a variety of industries around the world by superimposing virtual tutorial videos on top of real objects. For example, if a piece of machinery breaks, AR can guide a worker through the process of fixing it in real time - encouraging an inexpensive deeper learning option.
Logistics firm, DHL is one such company that is experimenting with augmented reality. Their warehouse staff are equipped with AR headsets specifically designed to assist the item ‘picking process’. The system offers digital navigation to identify the optimum route to the correct item, minimising the initial training and orientation required, as well as reducing search times and the number of errors.
AR technology is also set to transform the medical training landscape, with the training of junior surgeons on delicate procedures prior to attempting them on humans, becoming more common. Students learn via a 3D holographic anatomy programme; which allows someone wearing smart glasses to not only see virtual cadavers, but also to explore deeper into the human body. This programme saves dozens of hours in the traditional cadaveric lab, according to school officials.
Another potentially life-saving use of AR is delivered by Fieldbit. The company has developed a solution that enables dispatched field engineers to access real-time remote help from experts located anywhere in the world. Using their AR smart glasses or mobile app, the remote expert can superimpose markings, messages and diagrams directly onto the engineer's field of view, enabling the working engineer to perform the fix. This use of AR has the potential to empower a mobile workforce, linking workers to experts around the globe, in any industry, in a practical and inexpensive way.
The future of AR
With interest building from tech industry giants like Apple, Google and Microsoft, Augmented reality is rapidly expanding in its applications. In a report earlier this year, BCC Research estimated the global market for both VR and AR will reach more than $105 billion by 2020, up from a mere $8 billion in 2016 - demonstrating the increasing trust in the technology.
The future affordability of using AR in training is a large part of the drive behind its development. It was reported that in 2016, companies in the U.S. spent nearly $1,000 in training per employee across industries, largely delivered in traditional formats like classroom-based seminars and classes. By offering a less expensive way to train new employees, AR could revolutionise this area for business and education.
AR heralds the prospect of real-time training delivered by experts who never need to be in the proximity of the person they are training or supporting. This, in combination with the technology having self-teaching capabilities, means that the AR devices will retain all the information delivered through it too, so businesses will not lose the learnt information either. With the ability to connect workers and experts across the globe with the latest and best information available, AR is set to take interactive, digital learning to the next level.