Augmented Reality October 31, 2018

AR in the real world

Kenny Deriemaeker

AR/VR Competence Lead

Augmented Reality, the technology that enables us to add a layer of digital information on top of the real world, is here to stay. The research firm Gartner publishes its “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies” every year, tracking the way new technologies go from hype to disillusionment to eventual adoption and growth in the market. According to Gartner’s 2018 report, Augmented Reality has escaped from the Trough of Disillusionment this past year and is now riding up the Slope of Enlightenment towards the Plateau of Productivity. But what does this mean in the real world?

Sceptics of the technology will point out that AR hasn’t found its killer app yet, and so it has yet to prove itself useful. Others will argue that the tech itself has great potential but that we need killer hardware to fully realize it.

At In The Pocket we’ve spent the last year pushing the hype cycle, tech opinion columns and speculation aside, and have asked ourselves and our clients how we can use Augmented Reality today, in the real world, to create value. After all, we don’t think you need a killer app or killer hardware to be successful with AR today.

One thing we keep noticing in this exploration is the natural fit between AR and Machine Learning. A good machine learning model can quickly and reliably recognize things in the real world, which feeds into AR’s ability to augment the real world with interactive digital elements. This unlocks extremely practical applications for both everyday life and work contexts.

We don't think you need a killer app or killer hardware to be successful with AR today

Take assembly instructions, for example: if you’re not sure where a cable or connector is supposed to go in the thing you’re assembling, just show it to your smartphone camera - it’ll recognize the component and show you exactly where and how it fits in. The real world gives the app the inputs it needs to help the user, and provides the canvas onto which we can paint the solution.

As designers and developers of AR products, we are finding the most ambitious and mission-critical use cases in enterprise and manufacturing contexts. Augmented Reality is not only great at bringing virtual objects into the real world — it is great at bringing real objects and places to life with digital information.

Take a scenario where a maintenance worker goes in to inspect a piece of equipment. An AR device held or worn by the worker can recognize the equipment automatically with ML, overlay guidelines or instructions with AR. The user performs maintenance and reports back to the system using voice commands, completing their task from start to finish without having to touch a screen or a piece of paper, supported by a combination of AR and ML for guidance and validation. For tasks where outside expertise is required, call a remote expert and share your AR view with them through a video feed that they can draw onto in real time.

Your reality becomes their canvas

On the consumer side, we’re seeing gradual adoption of mobile AR for certain use cases. Apart from the face filters and games that have been around for years, people are finding their way towards AR as a practical tool. When users are offered a novel way to experience content or achieve a certain task with AR, they are happy to use it — but usually in short bursts, for specific use cases and in a specific real-world context.

One simple but profound reason is found in the physical constraints of handheld AR: it’s just not comfortable to hold up a device in front of you for extended periods of time, and looking at an augmented view through a tiny window feels limiting. Until head-mounted AR glasses become available to consumers, these are constraints we will need to live with as designers and developers.

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