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Augmented Reality for the Industrial Enterprise by Leah Hunter

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Chapter 4. Your Best Strategy for AR Growth

AR for Enterprise: What Else Is Happening

We’ve looked at why now is the right time for industrial enterprise AR. And, as we’ve discussed, many of the people building AR are using the technology for heavy industrial work, training, and manufacturing. However, there are other categories of business that represent the future of where enterprise AR is headed. This chapter explores how else it can be used, and what you should know about as you plan your strategy for AR development.

According to the investment bankers at Goldman Sachs, VR and AR technologies will generate $80 billion in revenue by 2025, $35 billion of that from software. We’ve already discussed the fact that VR and AR are separate categories—and are now ready to be separated in all ways, including financial projections. We’ve also looked at professional sectors like healthcare—projected at $5.1 billion—followed by engineering ($4.7 billion). But what about the other areas?

I dug deep to find great examples across industry. And what I found? There’s a lot of hype.

First, there are a lot of use cases out without a clear reason for being. In 2016, we saw:

This is a challenging space. And these companies are trying. What’s still missing is the use case that makes retail AR deeply valuable.

That said, if you look closely there are gems in the space. There are great examples of AR being used in ways that are useful, and even beautiful, while also making lives easier, such as these noteworthy cases from Christina Chang at French AR platform company Augment:

  • L’Oréal Professional gave its European sales team AR capabilities to show hair salon owners where and how their merchandising displays will fit, and how they’ll look in the space.

  • Coca-Cola Germany linked Augment’s system to Salesforce to allow sales reps to show customers 3D images of coolers, upload visuals of those configurations directly into Salesforce, and track the conversations and promised designs.

  • Augment worked with retail packaging and display company Dusobox to create AR models of displays to give a sense of scale in the store (the coolest parlor trick of headset-based AR is that you can show models that are life-sized).

In addition, the companies within the Augmented Reality for Enterprise alliance are also using and approaching the technology in valuable ways:

  • DAQRI is using AR to give 4D work instructions.

  • Atheer is helping utility engineers and the workers on power lines stay safer.

  • Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei (which had revenues of $61 billion last year—slightly more than what Apple makes in a quarter) is also thinking about AR and immersive storytelling in some very smart ways.

There are also some ideas that need more time to develop before they become truly useful. Goldman Sachs predicts that augmented reality in real estate will generate $2.6 billion. AR in retail will be at $1.6 billion, and education is projected at $700 million. But what do these three areas look like now?

Enterprise AR in Real Estate, Education, and Retail: What You Should Know (and Question)

Real Estate

Real estate is one example of the predictions being driven more by venture interests and investment banking projections than by actual industry demand, interest, or usage. It is the perfect use case on paper. And there are a few amazing examples of how it could be implemented.

Coeur d’Orly Arforia is a good example of AR being used for real estate—in this case a retail, office, and hotel space connected to an airport in France. They use AR to let you look through the complex and see entirely how it will look inside.

Global engineering design firm AECOM is using Microsoft HoloLens to display 3D engineering models as holograms and collectively do design reviews. But that’s more in the engineering space than real estate. In digging for actual examples of real estate AR applications, I found some. But mostly they’re examples of marketers or technologists trying to educate people about the value of the technology, or of AR app builders who are creating tools specifically for architecture. Some are very cool, and they are well versed and deeply immersed in the space.

Real estate AR is an area of potential—without much action to back it up yet. But in the future, that will change. And whatever quiet conversations are happening behind closed doors at global, mega–real estate developers like Dailan Wanda and Cushman & Wakefield will determine how this area grows.

Education

Education is a similar situation to real estate. There are higher learning institutions adopting and using AR technology as well as VR headsets. It is easy to imagine trade schools, art schools, and engineering-focused universities diving deep in the space.

However, right now there are few powerful, public examples of AR being used in higher education, and even fewer in primary and secondary school education. Some examples include:

These are good examples that show effort and potential. But they are few—which is emblematic of what is happening in the space. Great examples of AR in education are still few and far between. The Goldman financial projections predict massive growth. In order to get there, something has to shift.

Retail

Retail is one area where it looks like Goldman really got it right. In the consumer-facing realm of retail, companies are working on the ideal use cases for AR: testing, sampling, and decorating.

  • Since 2013 IKEA has been letting customers test-drive furniture with an app (that could probably use a refresher—it got panned on the Google Play store).

  • Taobao.com (the Chinese equivalent of Amazon.com) has AR cosmetics testing baked into their app.

  • Japanese beauty retailer Shiseido uses digital “cosmetic mirrors” in a similar way, to allow customers to sample makeup as well as receive beauty advice, product recommendations, and shopping lists.

  • Mothercare has an interesting AR app for envisioning what maternity and baby clothes actually look like on live bodies.

  • In the behind-the-scenes retail world, there are some good “non-gimmicky” examples from UK grocery chain Tesco and Chinese online grocer Yihaodian.

My assessment: there hasn’t been a compelling enough use case for consumer-facing AR in retail. But it is the perfect time for AR in the backend of retail—in enterprise, sales, and design.

How Can You Cash In Financially and Ethically from AR Over the Next Five Years?

When you are planning strategy, you should look at which types of AR categories will continue to grow. It is also important to focus on how advances, investments, and ideas will create winners in the space. Following are four ways I predict that enterprises playing in AR can succeed in the future.

Play with Different Interfaces

Phones and tablets work for AR. They are absolutely and without question the best solution for most use cases right now. Still, they are not ideal from a user interface standpoint. Walking around with a phone in front of your face can present a safety hazard. VR headsets are also still developing. The interface is too delicate for heavy construction sites. The systems make some people motion sick—and it particularly affects women, possibly because of differences in the way depth perception works.

This interface issue is one reason Magic Leap is poised to jump ahead of everyone in the consumer AR world. They are different because they’re playing with light and how it bends, as well as the best display systems that exist—biological ones.

Sure, there will be some sort of hardware interface, but it will not look like a mask. And, while Magic Leap’s development time may be far longer than race-to-market hardware companies, when they perfect what they are working on, they will win. Because while everyone else is playing in hardware, they’re playing with the fundamental building block of life: light.

Magic Leap is owned by Google. Under the name Verily Life Sciences, Google applied to patent a contact lens that embeds in the eye and acts as a heads-up display (Verily is the science company that emerged when Google restructured and divided last year, and was rolled under the umbrella company Alphabet).

Sony also applied for a patent for a smart contact lens that can record video. A recent Computerworld article describes it as “Google Glass Without Google Glass.”

If e-skin can already turn your hand into an electronic display, how long before it can turn skin into an electronic projector (i.e., point your arm at a wall and a virtual display appears)?

The people who will win are the ones who approach the idea of interfaces differently, or significantly improve the ones already available.

Capitalize On (and Create) the Best Inputs and Outputs

Inputs and output include a few different technologies, and both mean we need more accurate trackers and sensors. For visual registration—which means accurately aligning virtual objects in AR displays with those objects in the real world—your registration is only as accurate as your sensors. According to “A Survey of Augmented Reality,” an excellent journal article discussing teleoperators and virtual environments, “the AR system needs trackers that are accurate to around one millimeter and a tiny fraction of a degree, across the entire working range of the tracker.” Currently, very few trackers meet this standard, though people are looking at new ways to approach the problem.

Creating better inputs also means adding camera arrays; more cameras are great for AR. And that’s coming. Amazon’s Firephone, which had multiple cameras, was a flop. However, it showed that they are thinking in that direction. GoPro is currently building a 360-degree camera array with 16 cameras that work together as one—with features like multicamera control and camera syncing. And the iPhone 7 also has dual cameras. It’s only two, but that’s a big step toward enabling and advancing AR, in that it allows you to take images at different depths so they can be overlaid or separated in new ways (check out some possible special effects it creates, and you’ll understand more).

Finally, as Dieter Schmalstieg and Eino-Ville Aleksi Talvala (the author of a brilliant dissertation on computational photography) suggest, we would all benefit from the creation and spread of programmable cameras to improve all real-time computer vision. This is one of the core technologies that can help video-based AR systems analyze and correctly identify objects in the environment around them. They can help you understand and sense things like depth—how far an object is away from you. As Talvala says, they can “fuse together several images to create a more interesting one.”

Play at the Intersections Between Industries

The potential of AR in enterprise is to do things like see through walls to determine where repairs are needed, figure out where to lay pipes in roads, or work with sensors or infrared to find people trapped in a burning building.

Here AR has the potential to broadly and greatly improve the lives of service technicians, repair people, construction teams, mechanics, rescuers, and builders of all types—outside of factories. Independent and small businesses, regional manufacturers, companies with a single factory and $20 million can all benefit from AR as much as multinational, billion-dollar corporations.

So why is no enterprising startup currently in the business of taking CAD drawings of businesses and giving them to electricians? Why is no one turning IKEA instructions into AR? Why isn’t someone turning all fancy coffeemaker instructions into AR tutorials for baristas around the world?

It’s hard from a business model standpoint. You not only have to create hardware and software for AR, but also fold it in with other companies and industries. To accomplish this, you’d have to interface with real estate companies and construction companies and retail companies. You’d have to get difficult permissions. And then you have to work out the legalities for all of that. This is a moment where Thomas Edison’s quote applies: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

But someone can do this. The person who both takes on this challenge and nails it will win big.

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