4 Ways Augmented Reality Can Help Your Business
I live in the world of technology, awash in acronyms and cryptic references to new technologies. I have been doing this for 40 years, and I still love it! Techies often forget that our friends and family have no idea what we are talking about much of the time.
When I was asked to write this article, my first thought was, “Do most CxO/BoD executives—my audience–know what AR stands for?”
AR stands for Augmented Reality. ‘Reality’ is what we perceive with our senses. Augmented Reality superimposes data over what we see (mostly) and hear and touch (sometimes) to increase our knowledge or understanding of the sensory input we are receiving.
Unlike its flashier cousin ‘Virtual Reality’ (VR), AR is a terrific productivity enhancer that is used in a variety of real-world business applications today.
First, let me clear something up about AR. Most of us have seen pictures of people wearing bulky headsets over their eyes and ears, with long cords trailing behind them. Those are the state-of-the-art in VR headsets and serve to cut the wearer off from the real world to immerse them in the Virtual world. I am sure you said, “No way I’m wearing this thing all day to work!” While there are immersive AR applications that use VR headsets, most AR doesn’t need those contraptions.
Now, let’s look at some top uses for augmented reality:
Navigation and Directions
In this most common set of applications, the camera looks in front of you and sees what you are seeing. Maybe it’s the road in front of your car.
AR software can superimpose speed limits, directional arrows, and points of interest on top of the real-life image—on a dashboard display or right in front of you in a ‘Head-Up Display.’ This sort of presentation is easier—and safer–to process and act on than ‘turn north in 250 feet’ as text or spoken words.
A related AR use is to guide workers at a worksite—like a warehouse, factory, mine, construction project’ from place to place to transport materials or pick products. These directions can be based on fixed routes or in response to real-time alerts (pick up a new drill bit from stores and deliver to machine ‘x’).
Inspection and On-Job-Training
This class of applications involves more than guiding the user somewhere; it also guides the user in performing a task.
Let’s say you’ve got to inspect the machinery on an offshore oil platform. ‘Old hands’ with decades of experience might be able to bring just a clipboard and do the job. But they may not be inclined to take a helicopter ride, then clamber up slippery ladders—especially during a pandemic or other ‘disturbance.’ A younger, nimbler person might be happy to do the physical job, but they lack the experience.
Using AR, the on-site tech can point the camera on a tablet in the direction of the equipment. The live video feed then draws a highlight around a device needing inspection (this could be done using software that reads blueprints or by a remote expert interacting with the app from the comfort of their home office). The on-site tech then points the camera at a barcode on the device to be inspected, and the inspection procedure for that exact model is displayed.
If training is part of the objective—and it should be—the ‘old hand’ can participate, watching the video feed and listening to machine noises while instructing the on-site tech on the finer points of inspection, adjustment, and repair. And given the ongoing worker shortages, sharing the guidance of one senior tech across workers at different worksites multiplies productivity as it helps train more workers.
To take the prior application to the next level, imagine replacing the junior tech with a ‘dumb robot’: a set of sensors that transmit necessary data—visual and auditory feeds plus meter readings and other measurements—to a remote operator. Combine the sensors with appropriate actuators (‘arms and hands’) that allow the remote operator to act upon the device.
Teleoperation—‘action at a distance’—isn’t science fiction: it’s a regular part of working with dangerous nuclear materials and pathogens as well as space-borne maintenance and repairs.
As robots become more mobile, stronger, and get better sensors, such a combination of AR and robotics will increase productivity and worker safety. It is fun to imagine AI robots doing mundane, dirty, dangerous, or remote tasks—but until AI gets lots better at handling the ‘edge cases’ (i.e., situations the designers didn’t foresee), combining a human’s brains plus experience plus judgment with a robot’s special-purpose capabilities might prove far more cost-effective.
Take everything I said above about AR in industrial situations and then apply them in spades to healthcare. Medicine generates more data that needs to be correlated with ‘sense data’: sight, sound, and touch (and smell, if we can figure that out) than any other profession.
The Stat Trek Tricorder is an aspirational goal for healthcare AR: a device that ‘looks’ across the body and builds an integrated model of what is happening from the outside in. I am in the midst of a comprehensive cardiac workup (Ah! The joys of getting older): structural, functional, and electrical examinations of my circulatory system—generated by a series of separate machines that each output a stream of data plus a video or audio/video record.
As the patient, I’d love for my doctor to see an integrated ‘model’ showing all aspects of my circulatory system rather than having to integrate these overlapping data/audio/video data streams in their head!
Training, ‘arms and legs’ collaboration, and teleoperation (literally!) are all enhanced using AR to provide vital real-time and historical data right there in the clinician’s field of view. And based on my survey of the literature (as a non-medical person!) I am encouraged by the AR progress I see in healthcare.
Augmented reality enables us to better ‘see’ what we are looking at. It makes employees ‘smarter,’ safer, and faster while improving the customer and the employee experience as well as the cost of service delivery. AR should be a C-Suite level discussion from a strategic as well as a tactical perspective.
This content was originally published here.