Augmented Reality, the New Frontier

Augmented Reality. AR.
You have no doubt heard of it (think Pokémon Go). AR, also referred to as Mixed Reality has actually been around for years.
Not to be confused with Virtual Reality, AR places holograms on top of your existing reality (vs. VR which is a totally enclosed virtual world).
These technologies have been referred to as game changers for years as they bring hope and promise only to fade into the trough of disillusionment or limited adoption.
But, this is changing.
According to the 2019 Gartner Hype Cycle, AR and VR are now off the cycle, making them (more) mature technologies. This means they are finding more practical applications. They are delivering on what’s promised and integrating themselves more into our lives.
AR in particular is becoming more a part of our daily lives on our phones. Apps like IKEA are helping us visualize that new couch in our living room, games like Pokémon Go are drawing millions to play and emojis are giving us new ways to see ourselves.
As these technologies are being more adopted on our phones, so too are they being adopted on headsets.
VR headsets have been making inroads for a number of years, particularly in gaming. Facebooks acquisition of Oculus being among the bigger moves in the industry, HTC, Sony, and other players are continuously building the market.
Conversely, the AR headset market is shuffling around as it brings products to a market that has yet to go mainstream.
Magic Leap, seemingly before its time, has raised over $2b dollars to build out a consumer market has recently pivoted to the enterprise.
DAQRI: Daqri Smart Glasses, which raised $275m in VC funding shuttered in September of 2019.
Meta, Bose and several others started and stopped.
Renewed hope comes from the likes of Microsoft who released their new headset, the HoloLens 2 in 2019.
Apple glasses, rumored to be ready in the next 24 months, will likely meet a new generation ready for a new level of interaction with information and technology.
The AR market, slowly but surely, appears to be poised for growth.
According to “Global Augmented Reality (AR) market size is estimated to grow at CAGR of 32% with Revenue USD 76.99 billion during the forecast period 2020-2024.”
From enterprise to retail, and healthcare to consumer, AR is set to grow considerably in the coming years.
A New Reality
Necessity is the mother of invention.
The Covid 19 outbreak has ushered in a new era of necessity. Remote work has become a new normal and companies are scrambling to adapt. Covid has not only created necessity, it has also sparked curiosity, creating a massive demand for Oculus and other VR devices.
AR is proving no different. Remote work is creating new challenges for companies to continue to operate. These new challenges are finding new and creative solutions, including the use of AR to connect the home office to on-site applications.
Here are just a few examples of how AR is changing how people work.
AR has been used in manufacturing for some time actually. Shop floors have been using the technology to see how systems are constructed, see exploded views of parts, and even the order of installation. Think of complex systems such as aerospace engines, HVAC systems, vehicles, and many more. These are being built in CAD and displayed on the HoloLens to train new people, communicate about design, and reduce overall time and labor costs of the manufacturing process.
Once those complex systems are built, maintenance teams need to service them. With AR, an operator or maintenance person can see how it is built and how to service it.
AR has been in construction for a couple of years now, primarily as a marketing tool. We are however entering into a time when the technology is becoming more advanced with products like the HoloLens 2 and the culture is being forced to reimagine the landscape of construction in the next 10 years.
Today, a foreman can work with their VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) department to see all of the framing, electrical, HVAC, plumbing and other systems to dramatically improve QC on the job site. Over the next 24 months, teams will be able to use the HoloLens to optimize basic installation tasks.
Beyond that, property managers will be able to have a full 3D model of the as-built building, and be able to imagine new space layout, manage building issues, and, merged with IOT sensors, see metrics throughout smart buildings.
AR is helping surgeons with precision. Overlaying 3D models can help accurately navigate tight spaces and place small devices. Surgeons at Johns Hopkins Hospital recently used AR to perform Spinal Surgery, referring to the new technology as “x-ray vision” when looking at the patient.
During Covid, healthcare workers have used AR to reduce the amount of contact they come into with patients. Rehab is another way in which patients are able to relearn skills and rebuild strength using AR.
A research team from Purdue University recently developed STAR System for Telementoring with Augmented Reality that allows clinicians, surgeons and hospital workers to guide Military Medics and Paramedics to perform emergency procedures.
AR is also helping to educate the next generation of healthcare workers by being able to fully visualize all aspects of the human body in 3D.
Students can experience life and events close up, at scale to get the full experience.
Imagine watching a lesson about elephants in the wild, or learning about flying a plane from inside the cockpit in the classroom, history students seeing the signing of the Declaration of Independence at scale in 3d, or complex physics problems in 3d at scale.
AR is not limited to a headset or a phone. Mercedes Benz is working on an AR HUD (Heads up Display) that will show drivers information directly on the windshield.
Ikea is using AR to empower customers to see what their furniture and other home goods would look like in their home.
Fashion companies are helping customers see what it would look like to wear their product. Pull out a phone and visualize an Apple Watch on your wrist or a new pair of shoes.
Amazon recently released a “see it in AR” feature on mobile devices for certain products.
Collaboration is critical. Teams using AR will be able to collaborate remotely through applications like In Spatial, users can create an environment, place notes, pictures, and collaborate in real-time with figures of the people they are connected with. From across the world, it can feel like you are in the same room with other folks from your team.
Features like remote assist on HoloLens are allowing people to connect with each other across the world. A video screen of the person on the other end walks you through work immediately in front of you.
As the HoloLens 2 was coming available the US Military put in a massive order to work on what it calls the Integrated Visual Augmentation System.
Once the consumer market begins to adapt AR the market will likely expand significantly.
Imagine a personal trainer, that instead of traveling to their gym, you can download today’s lesson and do it in your basement and feel like they are right next to you.
Dance choreography, music training, sports, the possibilities are endless once we adapt our modes of thinking to using technology in this new and fascinating way.
Imagine seeing a text message pop up in your glasses or being able to see who is calling without lifting your phone or watch. This is coming sooner than we may think.
Bowling alleys, arcades and more are already starting to look different. We can see large areas now adorned with VR headsets that bring players into a different reality to fight aliens or go on a roller coaster.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore history recently released War Remains a VR experience of the trenches of WW1.
Apple is making moves in that direction as well. The company recently released plans to add AR content to boost the TV+ video service.
New technologies often come with a long tail of adoption. AR is no different. It requires new ways of thinking about our world. Before mobile, the world was chained to a computer, now computing is anywhere we want it to be.
On those mobile devices is the bridge to a full AR glasses experience. Snapchat, Emojis, Pokemon Go, Amazon and others are bringing Augmented Reality to the consumer.
The next generation is beginning to use AR now. As they adopt these new ways of interacting with the world, so too will they build new ways we will interact.
Factors of adoption
Several factors will drive adoption into this new world.
The more enriching the experience, the more practical it becomes to adopt. 5g will be a big improvement on being able to bring the bandwidth required to stream complex 3D models to a head mounted display.
As consumers, we pretty readily throw down $1200 on an iPhone, but $3,500 for a headset is getting up there. The $3,500 HoloLens may not be practical for consumers, but as different devices come onto the market at more affordable prices, consumers may begin to see AR as more accessible.
Once more apps are available, people will be able to see more of how the technology works and will begin to use this new understanding to solving problems in new and effective ways.
Exploring New Frontiers
As with any technology, adoption requires exploration of what it can do. Over the coming months and years, both industrial applications and consumer driven demand will increase as this new frontier expands.
The best way to start exploring is finding an opportunity or reason to try one on and see how it works. Google some applications, learn more about how this new world will look.
And for those interested in exploring deeper still, connect with XPLR to learn more about how AR will change our world.

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