Enterprise Dominates AWE

Originally posted on Hammer and Tusk. You can find the article here.

In its seventh year, Augmented World Expo 2016 saw over 4,000 people attended, ranging from CEOs to investors to creative agencies. The convention’s demo floor was split in two, with augmented reality on one side and virtual reality on the other. Walking around the convention centre, I noticed something very different from other mixed reality conferences I’ve attended: there were many companies demonstrating the enterprise and business use cases of AR and VR. For many people, VR and AR are going to be the new way to experience games, films, and entertainment; but immersive technologies have much wider applications. Although VR gaming is the near-term opportunity, with consumer VR headsets already available and more coming this year, the AWE demo floors were overwhelmingly full of commercial and enterprise use cases for both VR and AR.

In the press, VR and AR are often mentioned separately, and this conference really unified the two types of mixed realities via enterprise use cases.

Below are some CB Insights data I pulled using their Trends feature on how often the two terms are mentioned in the press:

Now, look at CB Insights Trends on how VR and AR are mentioned in relation to gaming and enterprise:

When AR and VR are mentioned in tandem with gaming, VR dominates the conversation; however, when AR and VR are combined with the term enterprise, they are almost on par. This mirrored what I saw at AWE.

I saw representatives from various aerospace, defense, manufacturing, marketing, and logistics companies walking around the demo floor. At one of the talks, the CEO of APX Labs (makers of an enterprise smart glass platform) talked about the business impacts of smart glasses for work. The company’s survey shows that 93% of companies are exploring wearables (wearables include heads up displays, smart watches, smart glasses etc.), 83% use multiple wearable devices, and 79% of started using wearables in the last 18 months. A representative from Boeing discussed how using smart glasses with voice command reduces the amount of time between intent and action, thus speeding up its assembly of a wire harness. As a former engineer at an aerospace company, having spent time as both as a manufacturing engineer on the production floor and within a supply chain capacity, I could see AR’s potential impacts on a production line.

At AWE 2015, another Boeing presentation talked about the results of an internal study on how trainees performed when assembling a mock wing and found that a group using an AR enabled tablet assembled the wing 30% faster and 90% more accurately on their first try than the groups using traditional methods.

While many of the AR devices are considered “immature” for consumer adoption, manufacturers are already experimenting, and in Boeing’s case, already using AR devices in production hardware. Osterhout Design Group (ODG) had a large booth showcasing how companies are already using its smart glasses. I had seen a demo by EON Reality where using ODG’s glasses, I could see pipes and troubleshoot them by moving the gauges just by looking up or down left or right.

Marketing, sales, and commerce use cases were also shown at the conference. It was evident how mixed reality can be used as a new purchase path and how better visualization can reduce returns. Augment, an AR company focused on sales, e-commerce, and communication, demonstrated how sales teams can display products for customers in the store. It showed how Coca-Cola uses the platform and how it is linked to Salesforce’s CRM to help drive sales. Virtuality uses VR to create a shopping experience by essentially placing products in VR where users can interact with them. A virtual shopping experience could reduce costs by reducing the need for physical store space and increase sales by analyzing consumers’ interaction with virtual products. We’re already seeing brands considering this — a recent Wall Street Journal article reported how Cadillac is replacing a portion of its physical stores with virtual showrooms.

As the hardware devices and software for mixed reality get more advanced, enterprise applications will get better and companies will find more interesting and creative ways to incorporate mixed reality into their business operations. The applications I saw at AWE included marketing, entertainment, medical, manufacturing and more. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.

Written by Mark Linao. Find him on Twitter or LinkedIn.