If Silicon Valley is to be believed, it’s the next big thing. Augmented Reality (AR) is technology that can combine realistic digital visuals dynamically with the real world, as viewed through your phone camera or dedicated goggles.
Companies like Apple and Google are betting big on the technology, putting it at the heart of the iPhone operating system and experimenting with devices like Google Glass, spectacles with a built-in computer to offer workers hands-free information and instructions.
Apple CEO Tim Cook says, “I don’t think there is any sector or industry that will be untouched by AR.” But for most of us, our closest brush with augmented reality might have been seeing the phenomenal, but short-lived success of Pokémon Go, the Nintendo game which lets players hunt for fantastical creatures hidden in the real world.
So how can technology from a game turn into a useful workplace tool? Technologists have identified four main trends.
1. Take on-the-job training to the next level
Hands-on experience can be expensive and, in some industries, dangerous. But using AR can allow trainees to experiment with digital objects in a real environment, so mistakes won’t have serious consequences. Or they can view step-by-step instructions overlaid on the equipment they are using for effortless learning.
The College of West Anglia could be transformed in the near future, says Martin Hamilton, a futurist at Jisc, the government agency supporting technology in colleges.
“Just imagine holding your phone up to find that the equipment around you in the STEM lab are all tagged with their names, documentation, ‘reserve me’ buttons and the like – maybe with a graphical status indicating whether you have had the health and safety induction to use the kit,” he says.
2. Transform remote working
If you work on text documents or spreadsheets, remote working is already pretty easy. But if your job involves design or manufacturing, or anything else involving real-world objects, it’s a little trickier. But AR allows 3D models to be shared as easily as an email.
With AR from Microsoft’s Hololens, companies like Thyssenkrupp are able to share what workers in the field see with their manufacturing teams. So unique, made-to-measure stairlifts can be constructed for customers’ homes in record time – up to four times faster than before.
3. Create the next generation of sales brochure
When you browse a website today, the company shows you what their product looks like in glossy photos. But we’ve all been caught out by a product that doesn’t look how you expected when you get it home.
That’s all set to change as companies adopt AR sales techniques. The Ikea Place app, for instance, already allows you to use your phone to view 3D renderings of its furniture in your rooms. So you can buy with confidence, knowing that it fits in and looks the part.
4. Visualising creative tasks
What if designers and engineers could see the changes they were making without an expensive and time-consuming prototyping process? With augmented reality, they can.
Ford is one of the companies pioneering this way of working. Designers can make rapid changes to cars, layering their changes digitally on top of a physical vehicle instead of constructing clay models. So they can make thousands of design decisions faster and more efficiently than ever before.