Augmented reality: Where AR is helpful in business

Augmented reality: The technological fusion of reality with virtuality and its use in business is becoming more significant. It is moving from science fiction to science fact, designed to speed up business processes, increase quality and reduce costs in the long term. Whether industry, logistics, services – augmented reality (AR) is influencing the world of work.

Find out what augmented reality is and what it can do here.

What is augmented reality?

Augmented reality is a technology-based extension of the perception of reality – also called augmented reality (AR) in technical jargon. In this process, additional information is virtually superimposed on the real image on the display of a tablet, smartphone, or glasses. This information, which virtually overlays or supplements reality in real-time, is often presented graphically.

Therefore, AR is often referred to as Mixed Reality. An example of augmented reality is the distance to the goal before a free-kick, which is shown on TV during a football broadcast. Mobile augmented reality, as many users know from Pokémon Go, is relatively young and only became interesting for the mass market with the iPhone 3Gs (2009).

Augmented reality: Google calls it Project Tango

Under the name Project Tango, Google is working on the implementation of augmented reality on smartphones. The project deals with 3D spatial recognition and real-time projection of virtual content.

In January, it became known that the German company Carl Zeiss is working together with Apple on AR glasses. In February, in a report in the British newspaper The Independent, Apple CEO Tim Cook compared augmented reality with probably the biggest technology revolution of recent years: the smartphone: “I look at AR like the silicon in my iPhone. It’s not a product per se, it’s a core technology. But before technology is good enough for the mainstream, it has to be well researched.”

Microsoft is also on the ball when it comes to augmented reality. The next version of Windows 10 (Redstone 3) is coming in autumn. According to information from ZDNet, it will also support augmented reality. In this new version, the classic desktop is to be expandable with AR elements, assuming the use of corresponding hardware devices such as AR glasses. In this way, the elements of the user interface can be projected into the real world. This considerably simplifies work with several devices at the same time as well as data exchange.

Augmented reality: use in companies

Augmented reality is not science fiction, but part of the digital transformation of the economy. Therefore, companies of all kinds should familiarize themselves with the topic and consider whether and, if so, how they can use AR to improve the quality of their products or services as well as work processes.

Some possible applications for augmented reality

  • Production: There, for example, AR glasses can integrate commands or information from IT. The employees thus have important machine data in their field of vision in real-time. They then literally see what they must do in the next production step. Likewise, the integration of additional production machines can be tested with AR in their real environment.
  • Engineering and assembly: Here, too, the next work steps can be displayed and explained to the fitter in his field of vision during installation. Engineering colleagues can work on 3D models with the help of AR and immediately adapt them to the real conditions.
  • Operation and maintenance of technical equipment: Maintenance can be carried out step by step with augmented reality. An AR app projects the image with the individual maintenance steps via the camera on the tablet or smartphone. The same applies to operating instructions. What is interesting here is that with the help of augmented reality, even the parts of a machine that are not visible to the human eye become visible and can be checked.
  • Medicine: Augmented reality is already being used in the field of medicine. It is used, for example, to display organs, to examine them and to prepare operations. But augmented reality also helps in the development of therapeutic approaches for chronic pain patients.
  • Logistics: In the area of logistics, AR helps with order picking. A time-consuming search through the warehouse for products is no longer necessary because the staff can already see the exact storage location using AR.
  • Training: Augmented reality also facilitates the training of employees, for example when they integrate new machines into production. This results in better preparation of the staff. Initial difficulties that slow down production can be minimized or avoided.

With AR you have your customers in view

  • Sales/Sales: Especially when it comes to selling bulky goods, AR can support sales staff. Augmented reality allows you to present products and their integration to the customer on the spot. The visualized solution no longer requires so much imagination, it is tangible for the customer.
  • Navigation and further information: across all sectors, augmented reality can bring employees and customers more efficiently to their destination and provide comprehensive information – whether in a sprawling factory, a museum, or a travel agency. Guided tours are made easier. The real buildings, exhibits or hotel rooms are enriched with virtually displayed information in glasses, on smartphones or tablets.

Augmented reality: examples

  • IKEA: With augmented reality, it has already been possible since 2013 for customers to have products from the catalogue displayed via tablet or smartphone in their own four walls. IKEA relies on Apple for AR. The two companies announced their cooperation only recently (as of mid-2017). The AR app is to be released in autumn 2017 for the launch of iOS 11.
  • BOSCH: Bosch uses AR for service, marketing, training, and production of complex products. For example, technicians can use augmented reality to see where cable harnesses are in machines and can have the information on repair, service, training, and operating instructions displayed directly.
  • BMW is testing augmented reality for vehicle maintenance.
  • DHL has tested and recognized the benefits of AR in logistics. Data glasses show logistics staff what they can find and where. According to the company, augmented reality has increased picking efficiency by 25 per cent.

Augmented reality between desire and reality

The market for augmented reality will grow and so will its application – studies agree on this. As early as August 2015, a study by Deutsche Bank expected the global market for augmented reality alone to grow from 500 million euros to 7.5 billion euros by 2020.

According to this study, business areas for European companies would lie primarily in specialized applications that are developed close to the customer. The market research company International Data Corporation (IDC) expects augmented reality to reach a sales volume of around 49 billion US dollars by 2021.

New dimensions of reality

In 2016, the auditing and consulting firm KPMG published the study “New Dimensions of Reality”. It contains an analysis of the potential applications for companies in the new technologies of virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR). The result: “In the future, VR and AR applications will be used in many places and change or perhaps even revolutionize previous procedures and processes.” According to KPMG, these technologies will have an increasingly strong influence, especially in the B2B sector. “In the long term, new business models will even emerge.”

AR applications could play an important role in cost savings, quality improvements, employee training or travel-intensive activities in the future. It will soon be impossible to imagine marketing and sales without them. The recommendation: Companies should already intensively deal with virtual, augmented, and mixed reality today.

Practical problems with AR

However, there are still practical problems with the use of AR. In addition to technical difficulties such as battery runtimes or network problems, the use of augmented reality in the business environment is currently still associated with high investment costs and harbors data protection risks. The Fraunhofer Institute for Mechatronic Design (IEM) also notes that the introduction of AR in companies can only be designed in dialogue with employees.

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