Why every company has to have an Augmented Reality (AR) strategy by 2020? Part 1
“A picture is worth a thousand words” — Confucius.
There is a fundamental disconnect between the immense amount of digital data around us which is available to mine and the physical environment in which we can use it. Even if the reality is 3 dimensional, the data we capture and visualise to do our daily professional as well as personal functions is generally trapped on the 2 dimensional screens in the form of spreadsheets, presentations and in Indian context hardbound non environment friendly paper.
We can easily see the simple difference in productivity of an organisation working with phone calls or written memos vs a startup using video conferencing to get daily work done. Taking the same analogy ahead, this huge gap between the real and digital worlds limits the ability of highly creative and hardworking professionals to take advantage of the torrent of information and therefore insights produced by trillions of smart, connected and super-fast devices worldwide. While we are still primarily using mobiles for information gathering and communication, there are so many things these super-computers can do for us which we are not taking advantage of.
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Without being too cynical about all this, I would defend all of us by saying yes, we have only exposed ourselves to smartphones since last 10 years and like any cultural shift, this will take some time too. At the helm of it all rides Augmented Reality, which is a very misunderstood (Not understood) technology for many. Whenever someone even mentions AR, the conversations instantly jump to VR and therefore those nauseating Headsets created by Samsung. Even the most intelligent and veteran professionals argue the single thing that until the headsets become smaller, ARVR will not work. Duh!!! That’s the most obvious thing. That’s what most of the professionals must have been talking about when first sat phones came along in 90s.
So let me first clarify one thing, AR is different from VR. They are two different technologies.
VR is virtual reality, as the name suggests, it’s a reality which is completely virtual and not real. It is a completely new world inside a digital realm. One has to enter it using a wearable device or entering a VR console or a module. Remember, Neo and Trinity had to jack themselves and stab themselves with large pointy nail to enter Matrix, then they entered a completely digital world full of code and their bodies stayed dead in those spaceship like things heading towards Zion. No, obviously it is not that grotesque in the real world, we just have to wear a heavy (Not so heavy anymore, thanks to Mircosoft, Google and Samsung) headset on our tiny heads.
But enough about Matrix analogies, the point being, VR tech basically transports you into an environment which is separate from your current one. Even if it would look like the one which we already live in, it;s a virtual imaginary environment. Mainly it looks like our world because the creators of VR want to showcase their prowess in creating worlds which are as intricate as our real world. But in reality, VR can create any kinds of digital environments but most importantly the individual using VR will be mentally present in that environment and not in his/her current environment.
Now let us talk about AR. AR is augmented reality. It is basically superimposing (Augmenting) digital data and primarily images on the physical world. Currently most of AR is focused on image augmenting because even if Touch is the most sensitive of all human senses. Eyes and therefore Vision contributes to nearly 85% of useful sensory data which we end up using in our daily lives. This data accounts for nearly 36kilobytes every hour. Imagine, 36kbs of sensory data is created by our eyes only, every hour! So this much data which in scientific terms called as the “Visual Cognitive Load” is being absorbed every second by the brain but obviously our brains are not able to acknowledge, analyse and use that for doing things more efficiently for us. That’s where AR comes in, remember the first Iron Man movie? (Probably not, marvel has made sure you forget that one because the franchise had to launch one movie each year.) To help you, let me play that clip.
When our beloved Mr. Stark asks Jarvis to check the heads-up display, there are hundreds of data points being popped in front of Tony’s eyes. THAT IS AR!
If tomorrow morning, as you are waiting for your Uber in front of your house to head towards your office with your smart (hopefully super light) AR glasses, you see a car among hundreds of cars in the traffic flashing red beacon in the sky like the following image. Will you even consider calling the driver? (because sure I like to chat with any random stranger on a fine day, but while I am heading to work I would rather just sit in the cab and mind my business instead of having a stupid argument about where has the driver reached) and similarly, the driver does not have to call you, because you may have been bored of your job and would like to argue with him. For God’s sake spare the Uber drivers, guys, they are humans too.
Now you have understood the basic difference between AR and VR. Let me focus on why Augmented reality is such a big deal.
With the rise of AI, data sensing technologies and IoT, we have managed to extract terabytes of data around us and analyse it effectively. Now the only thing which remains is using that data effectively. What is the point if we know that there is an Uber somewhere in the 50 meter radius (Google maps’s present radius of inefficiency) but not able to find it? Just make it glow using some smart-spectacles.
Industry think-tanks have already projected AR tech to become a $60 billion tech by 2020. Post that, this technology will start going mainstream affecting every industry and various types of organisations from universities to social enterprises. It will also change how enterprises serve and interact with customers, train their employees, design and develop their products and manage their value chains; and therefore how they compete.
Isolated applications of AR have been around for decades one of which is most easy to relate to is a CAT Scan/X-ray machine, sensing organs from inside our skin and projecting images in real time to give us an enhanced (Augmented) image of our reality (reality). Factories have been using multiple sensing machines to see the specifics of the machine without really dismantling the whole thing. As the SCPs ( Smart connected products) grow, AR will grow exponentially. At the core it is just transforming volumes of Data and insights into images and animations into usable and sensible forms overlaid on the real world. Currently most of the AR applications are delivered through mobile devices but as the wearable industry expands, the AR will go hands-free and much more agile.
Most of us are familiar with AR based entertainment application like Snapchat filters and Pokemon GO game, AR has started to find much more impactful and consequential places in industrial, military and B2B settings. AR heads up displays are getting used by armies to provide much better understanding of battlefields for the foot-soldiers, AR wearables are used by the factory workers to manage the assembly flows and multiple training modules and traditional manuals are getting replaced by AR toolkits to teach and enhance the workforce across the world. AR is bound to revolutionise how maintenance and repair industry works, as all of us know maintenance and repair costs are one of the most unpredictable and volatile costs on the balance sheets, AR is going to change those numbers drastically making it easy for a semiskilled worker to do what an experienced vendor can do.
Quality control and inspection processes are going to become super fast making the operation teams’ jobs much easier in future. US Navy manufacturer, Newport News Shipbuilding, which has started using AR to inspect the final ship by superimposing the 2D blueprints onto a large scale 3D models of the aircraft carriers. Reportedly they have turned a 36 hr human task into a 90 minutes task reducing the efforts to bare minimum which can allow multiple inspections at much higher frequency.
So to sum it up, AR allows the people to process the physical and digital simultaneously eliminating the need to mentally bridge the two. That improves the ability to rapidly and accurately absorb information, make decisions and execute required tasks quickly and efficiently.