Augmented reality (AR) still feels like something of a novelty. It is a technology we are all aware exists but has not had a breakthrough moment to make it ubiquitous. Despite there being no real turning point where the public has decided they need AR, it is still present in our everyday lives.
Smartphones dominate the technology market. For AR to stand a chance, it has become both useful and entertaining by utilizing this existing technology. We think of the dog filter on snapchat as a fun addition to our photo album rather than the adaptation of AR technology it is.
But then there’s wearable technology- the way we always imagined AR would come into our lives. Smart watches are enjoying a significant market share in this area (an estimated US$12.45 billion in 2017) but their AR capabilities are limited and inconvenient. While they may be aesthetically pleasing, as with the Apple watch series, they are better suited as an extension of a smartphone.
Smart glasses are able to corner both the AR and wearable tech markets. Google Glass may have not taken over the tech world but the possibilities were not abandoned. Like smart watches, there are glasses which feature fitness trackers and heart rate monitors but also the chance to separate from the phone.
AR, both on smartphones and smart glasses, has distinct advantages in the business world. As the technology grows and its value increases, companies who are ahead of the curve will feel the benefits.
Training new employees using AR satisfies all types of learners, whereas classroom training only fully satisfies the 30% of the population who learn by listening. Approximately 65% learn by seeing and the remaining 5% need to engage in an activity to fully grasp the requirements.
Using augmented reality technology allows trainees to learn within a real world environment, with instructions displayed to them via a head up display. Using a simulated training plan allows companies to train employees quickly and efficiently.
Investing in proper training is investing in your staff and business. Properly trained employees leads to a reduction in turnover, meaning no further cost hiring new employees after losing the initial hires. One study finds that the average cost to hire a new employee is US$4,129. Filling the position can then take weeks and that is more lost revenue if nobody is doing the work in the meantime.
Developing AR apps is not cheap but cannot be thought of in the short-term. If it takes $28,000 to develop a training programme which is used over several years the costs balance out. Based on the average cost of a new hire, keeping 7 staff would be enough to show an improvement. This does not need to be 7 in a single year if the training routine remains the same.
2. Communicating solutions
In a similar process to how AR helps training, it can be used to communicate ideas to established colleagues in real time. If there is a fault with machinery, for example, one worker can wear smart glasses and transmit the image back to a computer using the in-built camera.
Utilizing AR does not mean everybody wearing glasses or a headset. It could be the case that only one person need to wear them while information is streamed to a colleague at a computer. While smart glasses show and assess the problem, the colleague is able to search for a solution online, order relevant parts and make repair recommendations remotely.
While smartphones also have video calling, AR on smart glasses displays mechanics beneath the surface.
It would be short-sighted for all business benefits to only stretch so far as the warehouse walls. A reported 77% of Americans own a smartphone, providing marketing opportunities with the camera in their pocket. Marketing through AR does not even require potential customers to leave their homes. Roughly 40 million Americans currently struggle with some form of anxiety disorder, many of those will actively avoid leaving the house when possible.
If we consider fashion retail as an example, customers want to know how they’d look in an item. They may be put off by the fuss of travelling into town, potentially discovering an item is out of stock, and trying an item on if it is there. With AR, an image of the item can be layered on to the person through their mobile device.
It is not only fashion people may want to see in their homes. IKEA Place is an app intended for users to virtually place furniture within their homes. It is the second most popular ARKit app. The popularity of the app shows the uses for AR beyond gaming - currently the most commonly downloaded genre of AR app.
If you are designing a prototype, the first instinct may be to build it for testing. With altered reality, a prototype can be tested in a real world scenario before it even exists. Head mounted wearables allow technology to analyse space as you see it and add on images to replicate how a product would fit.
By only building prototypes after several phases of digital development, a company saves costs in manufacturing and labour. How much money this saves over time is dependent on the type of business, what materials are used and how often prototypes are built.
It is worth noting this is also a distinct advantage of virtual reality but the expenses would be more significant than AR. Augmented reality tech is also likely to be more adaptable to your business, with lower development costs for apps.
We are already familiar with maps as a feature on smartphones but they have a downside; you always need your phone out and on display. If someone is in London for business, for example, their phone in hand is a risk as phone theft on mopeds continues to blight the city.
Syncing with your phone or using in-built maps allows users to navigate a city like a local. For businesses which involve extensive travel, such as consulting firms, being in new places is common. Appearing uncomfortable in a setting can mark an individual as a target.
Smart glasses are not targets for theft because they are not recognised as valuable to the general public. Even as the technology gains more popularity, the tech will not necessarily become obvious. Smart glasses are being developed to look and function more like a regular pair of spectacles. Vuzix offers prescription lenses so their product can be worn even when the AR is not in use.
6. Collaborative working
We have covered how AR can be used to show a problem and be told a solution but there is an aspect which encourages teamwork for better results. Collaborative working is possible with or without technology but this is one which adds an extra level of engagement.
Certain industries, such as construction, have greater requirement for the technology. It helps them to be able to see how things will fit via a computer generated image multiple people can see. If everyone is happy with how a change looks, they can build. If not, time and money is saved by not building something insufficient.
It is not just workmates who benefit from such a working environment. Professionals can show clients prospective changes the same way. Interior designers can communicate their ideas with a solid visual and gain approval before any work is done.
7. Reducing costs-long-term
Though the initial investment in AR will range from reasonable to significant dependent on if you invest on multiple devices and developing apps. However, if used properly, the costs should be outweighed by savings over time. Staff training times will reduce, meaning they can be productive earlier and make money for your company.
Prototyping digitally and envisioning uses saves production costs for labour and materials. If colleagues are able to convey information as they see it to a digital screen it can increase remote working.
Increased remote working and the consumption of fewer resources leads to benefits beyond your company. Without the commutes and production of materials, there are environmental benefits. Fewer vehicles will pollute the air stuck in rush hour, saving air quality and wallets. Fuel is expensive, with both employees and managers wishing they could spend a little less.
There is no greater cost reduction than the one which affects the whole planet.