Introduction to Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality (AR) involves digital content superimposed onto your view of the real world through a device like a smartphone, tablet, or specially designed headsets such as the Microsoft HoloLens. Glasses similar to Google Glass are also currently being developed. It allows users to interact with the digital content in varying ways based on the device you’re using to display it.
On smartphones and tablets, you use your touch screen to manipulate moving images that appear as if they’re in the real world. The most well-known use of this is through the wildly popular game Pokémon Go, which has an Augmented Reality function that causes the little creatures you run across in-game to appear on your screen as if in the real world by utilising your phone’s camera. The Pokémon are animated, and you use your screen to throw “Pokéballs”, allowing you to catch them as they move around.
Augmented Reality equipped headsets are the most impressive way to access this technology, as cameras and sensors track the movements of your body and eyes to allow interaction with the images that appear. This is the way forward for Augmented Reality because although less common than Smartphones and Tablets, the hardware is much more specialised and sophisticated, allowing a huge variety of uses in every conceivable industry. Imagine medical students learning anatomy through an image that can be digitally dissected, architects taking you for a walk through their design which is superimposed onto its future site – the possibilities are truly endless.
Headsets, of course, are an investment – whereas Smartphones and Tablets are a device a large percentage of the population already use. Therefore, Augmented Reality is currently mainly being used through mobile applications.
Virtual Reality vs Augmented Reality
You may be more familiar with the idea of Virtual Reality (VR) than Augmented Reality (AR). The concept has been around since the 90s – put some goggles on and be transported to another world that you can interact with as if you were there. You could walk through the tomb of Tutankhamen without going to Egypt, explore the highest peaks of the Swiss Alps without learning how to climb mountains. It’s a very exciting idea with many applications, however, experts like Apple CEO Tim Cook feel that Augmented Reality will be a larger part of our world than Virtual. Speaking to Good Morning America recently, he said of VR: “Virtual Reality sort of encloses and immerses the person into an experience that can be really cool but probably has a lower commercial interest over time.” He went on to say that he feels that VR will be more of an entertainment-based experience, whereas AR will be “like eating three meals a day” as it has so many applications in so many areas.
Research has shown that Augmented Reality’s earning potential is higher than Virtual reality, and may eventually usurp the smartphone. A recent report from Citi Group’s research arm said “In the future, given that AR headsets allow for mobility versus VR headsets, we believe the pattern of use of AR will resemble that of smartphones, and we think AR will start to erode the smartphone market on both the hardware and the software sides.”
Further evidence for the higher potential of Augmented Reality comes from a report put together by Silicon Valley software and development strategy firm Yeti showing more optimism from developers working on Augmented and Virtual reality about the former as opposed to the latter.
Augmented Reality Technology
There are a few ways to access Augmented Reality. Smartphones are currently the hardware most commonly used in commercial applications, but we see a lot more potential in headsets and glasses moving forward. The Microsoft HoloLens is currently the most sophisticated piece of hardware available, however, glasses are very likely to be how the most common way we access AR as the technology becomes more ubiquitous. This is because they can be worn in everyday life, for longer periods of time. Headsets are predicted to be used for more sophisticated applications of Augmented Reality, like entertainment.
The Microsoft HoloLens has only been available for a short time in Australia and is perhaps the most exciting piece of Augmented Reality hardware on the market. This headset is massively powerful despite being wearable, containing an entire computer that reduces any lag to digital images so they blend seamlessly with your reality. Sensors track your gaze – something that AR hardware has struggled to do effectively in the past, and this allows you to use your eyes as a cursor. Cameras and sensors also track movements, to allow you to use gestures to open and interact with applications. The HoloLens is equipped with Google’s AI personal assistant Cortana, who responds to voice commands. All of this adds up to a piece of hardware that truly mixes digital and the real world – hence Microsoft preferring the term “mixed reality” to augmented reality.
Microsoft has released the developer tools for the HoloLens, so we can, at this moment, create applications with the sophistication you will see in the attached video. It works similarly to how developers can create mobile applications for Android or Apple mobile devices, which become available for download through their respective app stores.
Augmented Reality Glasses
We can use wearable technology to create Augmented Reality solutions for many industries, particularly those in which the user would be unable to hold a smartphone but find headsets like the Microsoft HoloLens too bulky or expensive to easily replace if broken.
You may be familiar with Google Glass, which garnered a lot of press during its beta testing phase. The wearable technology was lighter than a standard pair of sunglasses and contained a camera, display and various other functions comparable to that of a smartphone. They were widely considered to be a commercial failure, however for Google, the brief time they were available was more of a research project than a product launch, and it provided highly valuable data that is helping them move forward with their AR and wearable tech programs.
There are a variety of smart glasses on the market aimed at enterprise that would be an excellent choice of hardware for Augmented Reality in sectors like manufacturing or construction. The Vuzix glasses are already being used by many companies, including Airbus, who uses them during cabin installation of the A330 to ensure that furnishings are installed precisely, down to the millimetre.
Commercial Applications of Augmented Reality
The digital disruption or fourth industrial revolution is coming whether you’re ready or not. Just like the introduction of smartphones and the internet, some industries and businesses will resist the move towards new technological innovations – and they will suffer for it. There are a few industries already using AR to some degree, and these are also some of the areas that may benefit most from the technology – although by no means is this a full list!
Augmented Reality in Tourism
Augmented Reality has many potential uses in tourism, from Museums and Zoos to wineries, and historical sites.
One current application of AR technology in tourism is the Digital Binocular Station, created by MindSpace solutions and based on the idea of giving binoculars commonly placed at popular tourist sites a tech upgrade. They are installed to enrich the experience of visitors to the site by providing more in-depth information in a creative and exciting way. Visitors look through the binoculars, and see everything from a digital art show, to views of historic sites throughout the ages.
The potential exists for more portable Augmented Reality offerings, through either a headset or portable device like the Smartphone. A mobile application could be a very cost-effective way of giving many visitors to your facility an Augmented experience, as it would reduce any hardware costs and allow anyone with a Smartphone to engage. For example, visitors to an art gallery or museum could download an application that takes them on a virtual tour. Digital images could act as prompts, which when selected, offer information on various artefacts or artworks. What if Van Gogh could explain The Starry Night to visitors of the Museum of Modern Art? The piece is moving on its own, but with historically accurate information connecting the viewer to the artist – it takes on a whole new life.
The Microsoft HoloLens would be the perfect piece of hardware for creating an engaging experience in the tourism industry due to its incredible ability to mix the digital with the real. The cost involved in purchasing the headsets would certainly be recouped by the publicity generated by their adoption. Imagine visiting a historical battlefield that offered headset hire, following a digital soldier and experiencing everything from the trenches being dug in, to a mustard gas attack. The sophistication of this piece of technology would make it an incredibly real, immersive experience.
There is no doubt that Augmented Reality is “the next big thing” in technology, and will be common at tourist sites all over the world in years to come. By getting in now, you can capitalise on the publicity that will be available to first adopters. This will lead to increases in revenue through the potential for higher ticket prices or a separate cost to access the AR exhibits, as well as an increase in visitors through the door, and longer visit times. You will also be able to access Research & Development tax incentives that are awarded to projects which involve research or development that has not yet been undertaken. This could knock thousands of dollars off the price, which when combined with the publicity previously mentioned, makes being a first adopter a very attractive prospect in terms of lucrativeness.
Augmented Reality in Education
Education will greatly benefit from Augmented Reality technology, engaging students by providing a new, very visual and hands-on method of learning. It is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when this technology will become commonly found in Australian classrooms, from Primary to University.
One possibility that we at 2Excel are very excited about is the potential for science education to take on a whole new level of interactivity. Imagine learning about anatomy or cell components through an interactive hologram viewed through a headset! Students could digitally dissect animals and humans, seeing for themselves not only where things are but how they work inside the body, something cadavers cannot emulate. One currently available application from Daqri involves wooden blocks which have the symbols for elements on the periodic table that become interactive on the screen of a portable device such as a tablet. Students can see what the element looks like, and even place two blocks together to see what sort of reaction the two create when combined.
Australian students’ grasp on Mathematics could be greatly improved also. Many people are visual learners or learn by doing. Numbers on a page simply do not jump out at them and can be intimidating. With Augmented Reality, students could learn mathematical formulas and processes through engaging with practical activities made digital.
Another way Augmented Reality could engage students is through training in tech classes, and technical colleges, as well as trade or engineering courses at TAFE and University. Computer-aided Design (CAD) would take on a whole new life through AR – with students being able to interact with designs, take them apart, build them again, change them and see how they look in 3d right in front of them. Training to use potentially dangerous machines could be done through wearable technology, showing a student correct processes and shutting them down if they do something unsafe such as put a part of their body in the wrong area. These ideas would all attract students to STEM fields, keeping Australia at the forefront of technological innovation as the world continues to change, moving towards a digital future.
Augmented Reality would be very useful and engaging in Arts and Humanities too! For example, History could come to life with digital images used to show various aspects of life in a different era that students can engage with to find out more. One currently available AR mobile application allows students to record and attach a review of a novel they’ve read, which can be scanned through the app for anyone to access to find out more about the book. This type of interactivity and use of creativity helps students both grasp and retain information, while they have fun.
Augmented Reality in Engineering and Manufacturing
Augmented Reality (AR) has huge potential in the engineering industry and is already being successfully utilised in a very small number of manufacturing roles overseas. Everything from CAD to assembly can be made more efficient and effective using AR technology. As with all industries who choose to invest in AR, manufacturing/engineering companies will likely be eligible for Research & Development tax incentives, greatly reducing cost. There will also very likely be media opportunities and free publicity if you’re among the first, as the buzz around Augmented Reality is huge – particularly with the release of Pokémon Go bringing it to the mainstream.
Augmented Reality can be integrated into engineering and manufacturing using a variety of hardware. Smartphones and tablets can be used with CAD to augment designs already, but the real potential we at 2Excel see is through utilising glasses and headsets. Already, there are some glasses being used in these areas. As mentioned earlier, a company called Vuzix is partnered with Airbus in the final assembly of Airbus A330, whose staff wear the glasses to install cabin furniture. The Microsoft HoloLens is the sort of holographic experience you see in movies set in the future – the real and the digitally imposed blend seamlessly. As they contain the processing power of a desktop computer, you can see exactly what your design will look like, how it will move, how it will fit into real space and so on, without experiencing any lag.
CAD will benefit hugely from augmented reality – allowing everyone from the designer/engineer down to the client to be able to see how the design looks in the real world. 2d and 3d models in CAD can be hard to understand if you don’t have a technical background, and many clients do not – so seeing how the finished project will look improves communication and will be attractive to prospective clients, increasing business to account for the costs involved in adopting AR. Designs can even be animated – they move to show how different parts will work, and you can inspect them as they do so from all angles, like a virtual test. They can also be designed in the actual space they will fit once manufactured, allowing the engineer to design based on the real-life constraints presented by the environment. This allows quick changes to be made if some part of the design is not working as it should, reducing the potential for errors that have to be corrected past the design stage where it is much more difficult and potentially costly.
As a project moves from the initial concept and design stage to the manufacturing stage, Augmented Reality can help facilitate communication and understanding between the two. While those involved in manufacturing are experienced with designs in CAD, there is nothing like seeing the way the finished product looks, and how it works. This interactivity in design reduces risk, which is an attractive prospect that could save countless dollars in time spent tweaking designs or from errors in translating a design into a physical product. Time and money are also saved in assembly, as AR can deliver precise instructions to those working in these areas that make production lines flow smoothly and efficiently. Imagine those in manufacturing and production wearing glasses that tell them exactly what to do at what time. This would be especially useful when training staff, and we can even design a program such that it shuts down a machine if a trainee places part of their body in a dangerous place. This would save money and lost productivity that stems from injuries on production time.
Augmented Reality and Retail
According to research from Silicon Valley group Yeti, Retail will be one of the first industries to adopt Augmented Reality. Due to the needs of the retail sector, there are a few options that are relatively simple, and therefore cheaper to adopt. At this stage, AR headsets and glasses are not common enough for them to have much use in this area except in special events, or perhaps luxury stores. Smartphones are the way forward for now, as the vast majority of visitors to an AR-enabled store or mall will have one on hand.
Customers could download a mobile application, which when held up, shows the path to various facilities and stores in a mall, like a bathroom or food court. It could also display virtual signage showing any deals or sales on at various locations within a mall, saving money on physical signs, and improving aesthetics by reducing clutter. This allows customers to find their way around a shopping centre wherever they are within it, improving their shopping experience. It will also eventually remove the need for the interactive, digital store maps commonly found in malls today.
There are a few pioneering retailers who have tried out Augmented Reality in their stores. One example is American Apparel’s colour changer application, which allows a customer to hold their Smartphone over an item and change the colour. Another clever invention involves a large screen placed in a store, which acts as a virtual change room. These have been trialled in Top Shop and Timberland, and while the technology is not quite perfected, it has already proven to be very attractive to customers.
E-Commerce may be the specific area of retail with the most to gain from Augmented Reality technology. In China, an online grocer named Yihaodan has set up virtual stores, visible only through a mobile application, that allows customers to walk through aisles and select products to buy as if they were in a brick and mortar store. Converse has a mobile application that allows you to virtually try on a pair of shoes to see how they’d look, and De Beers, a US jewellery company, allows you to try on their range through your webcam. With an application allowing these sorts of engaging experiences, e-commerce stores will reduce returns and maximise profits by allowing customers to see what different styles and colours look like on them before they click to purchase.
In Australia, Augmented Reality has yet to be adopted by retail, and the potential to maximise on the publicity involved in being a first adopter is huge. The marketing opportunities related to media coverage may be even more relevant for this industry, as it is one that every Australian interacts with all the time. Research & Development tax incentives will also be available if the development is innovative, and offer returns up at 45cents in the dollar, greatly reducing initial cost.
Augmented Reality has an application for every industry we can think of, and in the not-too-distant future will be as normal to us as our smartphones. From government tax incentives to incredible PR boosts and more – the benefits for first adopters are numerous. We at 2Excel can do the things discussed in this article right now. We are on the forefront of the next revolution in technology, and we want you to join us! If you’re interested, but need more information pertaining to an industry that we haven’t covered – shoot us an email and we’ll send you an overview of our research!