Taking the world by storm: The augmented technology revolution

Augmented reality (AR) has captured the attention of everyone worldwide. This was evident yet again when Niantic launched the Pokémon Go game application. Since its release in July 2016, the app has quickly gained widespread popularity, surpassing even the number of daily active users of Twitter. In addition, with the average player spending nearly 44 minutes a day on the app, the game also received a higher usage time than WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger — a testament to its success.

The key to the game’s popularity perhaps lies in its ability to successfully induct players into the world of Pokémon. Using an avatar, users have to move around in the real world in order to capture creatures via the in-built camera on their device.

More than a passing fad, AR is now becoming an important technology in the enterprise, literally bringing the digital world to life. For all their benefits, AR applications are also not complicated to deploy, and once properly in place, they require minimal effort for maintenance.

Success stories lend greater credibility to the benefits of AR and cement the technology’s position as an innovation set to take the world by storm. For example, in a pilot project, DHL found they were able to improve accuracy by minimizing errors, and increase efficiency by 25 percent when they equipped warehouse workers with AR-enabled smart-glasses that guided them through item picking for order fulfilment.

It is no wonder then, that many early-adopters in retail, manufacturing, utilities, education, tourism and gaming have started conducting field trials to test the technology’s ability in improving their employee engagement, workflow and business processes.

AR for Training

One area where AR is gaining traction is in workforce training. Many companies are increasingly applying AR tools to create training programs that drive employee engagement. According to the American Society for Training and Development, investment in employee training has a direct impact on the bottom-line. The study found that a mere $680 increase in training expenditures per employee generated a 6% improvement in total shareholder return on average. In addition, a Louis Harris and Associates poll found employee retention was two-thirds higher than that in an average company when employees felt they were given adequate training.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of AR-based training lies in its ability to take learning from the textbook to the playground. Rather than have employees rely on hard copy instructions or user manuals, they are equipped with a handheld device such as an iPad or a wearable such as Google Glass instead. When these devices are directed on the AR machine, a realistic, 3-D, life-sized model of the machine is rendered into the physical world with information on each part of the machine and its role, making it seem as if they are training on a real machine. Learners can then interact with the 3D model using gestures and touch.

The ability to customize AR-based training for different situations is another one of AR’s key value propositions. In the medical sector, for example, AR technology is being used in training sessions on body parts and functionalities for medical students. The same technology can also be tailored to other industries easily.

AR for Inspection and Maintenance

Today’s rapidly evolving technology and business landscape also means organizations often require agility and speed in the workplace for competitive advantage. AR technologies can enable custom-designed maintenance solutions where complex procedures can be animated directly on the equipment. This enhances effectiveness or accuracy for employees as animation-based instructions and reference materials are overlaid directly on the physical equipment.

AR for inspection and maintenance is now being used across a wide spectrum of industries. Field service agents, for example, can use AR and wearable technology to access checklists and work manuals, interact with systems via voice and gestures, and provide remote support. AR is eliciting interest in the energy and utilities world for asset inspection, meter-reading, remote monitoring of tasks, and health and safety. In healthcare, AR can help nurses and clinicians to learn about surgeries, carry out modelling of organs, and explain medical procedures. Automotive companies can benefit from AR in diverse areas such as factory planning, product visualization, worker support and customer support. The technology can help industrial designers visualize and experience a product’s design and operation, car body structure and engine layout, to name a few.

AR has been around for a while, but was seen more as a fun thing rather than as something useful at an enterprise level. That has changed. AR is now viewed as a potential game changer, because it can produce experiences that can actually reduce hardware and people dependencies by delivering real-time information on user movements. Given the speed at which AR is impacting existing industries and creating new ones, it could also provide a huge benefit to any company willing to make the investment. In the end, the flexibility offered by AR makes it a frontrunner in the race for enterprise adoption over the long term.

Jayajyoti Sengupta is APAC Head at Cognizant