AR In The Workplace
Augmented reality (AR) places digital images into your field of view, giving them a “place” in the real world. Many in big tech, including leaders at Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, think that
AR is going to be the next big thing. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, for example, thinks that AR will replace everything we use now that has screens; from smartphones to televisions — why would you need a smartphone if you can see your documents, calls, texts, and emails in your field of vision without one?
Google has Project Tango and Google Glass, and Microsoft has the
HoloLens headset. Apple is taking a different approach, offering new ways for developers to create AR apps for the iPhone. Either way, each of the biggest tech companies is working on their AR plan. However, AR technology is already being used in the workplace. Image Credit: NEXTConf/Flickr Repair specialists with ThyssenKrupp, a German company that just announced the first successful round of tests for its maglev elevator, use HoloLens and Skype to communicate with in-office experts while performing repairs. The HoloLens' camera allows those off-site to see exactly what the repair specialists are seeing and advise them accordingly. Stryker is using AR to design tomorrow's operating rooms. The use of the HoloLens allows hospitals to envision exactly what they'll need in their operating rooms to ensure that the design meets their specifications. This also allows different possibilities to be visualized in 3D and compared in real time. This process saves time and money, and makes it more likely that the facilities are operating correctly.Companies like GE are testing AR technology at places like power plants. GE is creating exact replicas of its industrial machines that it's calling “digital twins,” which incorporate all real counterpart data, enabling off-site technicians to examine them virtually, off-site. When technicians visit on-site, they can also use their experience with the twins to identify malfunctions in the real machines.Even retailers like Lowe's are experimenting with AR, recognizing its potential for use in a retail setting. For example, Lowe's is using the technology to help shoppers visualize how furniture will look in their homes. AR Transforming Our Lives
Although multiple companies are using existing AR technology now, and some are even working to create their own AR headsets and other devices, it will likely be years before AR is widely adopted in the workplace. The remaining technical challenges are one reason for the delay. Microsoft's HoloLens, for example, is a functional, standalone AR headset, but it can work without being connected to anything because its AR viewing areas are tiny and difficult to see. They are only visible when the headset is carefully adjusted, and even then are just a few inches wide. Magic Leap is the other side of the AR coin, promising to produce a headset with a more immersive experience and a wider viewing angle, but that may come with a big tradeoff in size and convenience.
It seems likely that we will continue to see important developments in AR technology within the coming years, many of which will be related to the technology's use in the workplace. Apple's ARkit, which enables developers to create AR apps for iPhone and iPad, may be one important source of innovation in this area. For every AR game developed, we are just as likely to see a productivity or creativity app created with workplace applications — something that will take us one step closer to integrating AR as an everyday part of the workplace.