The future of Augmented Reality and its business applications

date: 7 July 2020
reading time: 7 min

Technology over the years has been evolving at such a rapid pace that annual predictions of trends can seem out-of-date before even before being published. This technological evolution, in turn, enables an acceleration of the rate of change until, eventually, it will become exponential.

Reports and predictions in the past featured chapters on the cloud, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, blockchain, and user-centred design—all topics that felt overwhelming and fantastical at the time. Questions like “Can AI replace teachers” were usually asked in regards to future technologies. Interestingly, many of the things that seemed so futuristic and fantastical a decade ago are now foundational.

Augmented Reality (AR) is one such technology that is making the lines between real-life and virtual life blurrier. It is the blending of interactive digital overlays – like dazzling visuals, snappy haptic feedback or other sensory projections – into the users’ real-world environments.

Pokémon Go and Google Skymap are both well-known AR apps widely used all around the world. However, AR is more than just smartphone fun. The technology finds uses in industries from medicine to furnishing – and in defense systems as well.


What is Augmented Reality and how does it work?

AR turns the surroundings of a user into a digital interface by placing virtual objects in the real world, in real-time. It is the technology that expands our physical world, adding layers of useful and relevant digital information onto it. Unlike Virtual Reality (VR), AR does not create complete artificial environments to replace physical settings with digital ones. AR appears in the direct view of an existing environment and adds sounds, videos and graphics to it.

For AR, a range of data like animations, images, 3D models and videos may be used and users will see the result in both natural and synthetic light. Unlike in VR, users are aware of being in the real world, which is further advanced by computer vision.

This technology can be used on a variety of devices: screens, glasses, handheld devices, mobile phones, head-mounted displays, etc. It makes uses of technologies like S.L.A.M. (simultaneous localization and mapping) and depth tracking to superimpose images on the real world. AR uses the following components in a device:

  • Cameras and sensors – Cameras and sensors on devices are used to scan the environment and to locate physical objects to generate 3D images.
  • Processors – AR devices are little computers. Modern smartphones are more than capable to handle the processing power required to measure speed, angle, direction and orientation in space, as well as generate relevant superimposed images and 3D models based on these parameters.

The four main types of AR based on how the application generates images are:

  • Marker-based AR – Based on image recognition, this type of AR requires a special visual object and a camera to scan it. The AR device also calculates the position and orientation of a marker to position the content accordingly.
  • Markerless AR – Also widely termed as position-based AR, this type of AR uses GPS, compasses, gyroscopes, accelerometers, etc. to provide data corresponding to the user’s location. This data then determines what AR content needs to be generated in a certain area. Some applications that use markerless AR go on to include events and information, business ads pop-ups and navigation support.
  • Projection-based AR – This type of AR can be used to project synthetic light onto physical surfaces and, in some cases, interact with it.
  • Superimposition-based AR – This type of AR replaces the original view with an augmented view, either fully or partially. Ikea’s Place App is a prime example and one of the first applications to work with Apple’s ARkit and iOS system. The application includes 3D and true-to-scale models of everything from sofas and armchairs to footstools and coffee tables, generating an accurate impression of the furniture’s size, look, and functionality in the desired space.


Facts about Augmented Reality

Augmented reality complements the user’s vision of the real world with digital overlays of information. Some interesting facts about this fast-growing technology are:

  • AR, in reality, has been around for some time. Mr Ivan Sutherland from Harvard created the first head-mounted display system way back in the year 1968.
  • The famous AR game, Pokémon Go, reached its maximum peak of forty-five million daily users in July 2016.
  • Tom Caudell coined the augmented reality term in 1990. He used it specifically to describe the amalgamation of virtual graphics onto a physical display.
  • Back in 1999, NASA used an AR dashboard to navigate its X-38 re-entry vehicle.  The Astronaut, Scott Kelly, used this AR-enabled dashboard to report to Mission Control via his view from space.
  • AR was predicted to generate $300 billion revenue by 2017 whereas, in 2014, it ‘only’ generated around $5 billion. Now, it is also bound to have more than 1 billion users worldwide by 2020.


Augmented Reality Business Applications

Technology has revolutionized the way humans work and live. It allows us to lead easier and more efficient lives – and augmented reality is the next major step in that journey. Businesses today are adopting this new technology to be competitive and increase their reach. Some of the ways organizations today are applying AR include:

  • Retail – Retailers are prioritizing customer experience and digital transformation. With this blurring of the lines between digital and physical shopping, augmented reality is enabling businesses to bridge the gap and introduce new and improved experiences for customers to shop. A prime example of this is the Ikea Place App
  • Industrial Application – Introducing AR to industrial markets has drastically changed how many jobs are performed. Technicians in the field are now able to receive live support from remote staff, who can indicate markings, point out issues and superimpose models over items such as vehicle engines and the like, as well as numerous other applications. IT removes the aspect of guesswork and the margin of error that comes with manual work. NASA recently used Hololens to aid in the construction of their new aircraft, removing the need for manuals and complex instructions.
  • Business Intelligence and Analytics – AR solutions can help collect and process data on operator effectiveness to produce a holistic, real-time operational picture. They can enable the quick and accurate identification of bottlenecks, which can subsequently help boost productivity. Paired with sophisticated business intelligence, AR can enable manufacturing companies to make smarter, strategic business decisions to optimize their operations.

Many technology experts are considering AR as a viable and effective technology to adopt, as it is seen to be gaining success in almost every field it is used. Almost any issue can readily be solved with the help of augmented reality solutions.


Future of Augmented Reality

According to Markets and Markets, the Augmented Reality market is expected to reach $60.55 billion worldwide by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 40.29 per cent during the forecast period comprised between 2018 and 2023. Increasing interest and investments from top technology giants like Facebook are directly linked to the growth of the AR sector.

Overall, the AR software field will lead the growth by 2023, thanks to the increasing use of smartphones, tablets, and other devices in consumer, commercial and enterprises, which are used for the implementation of the AR technology. 

With the increasing demand for AR in healthcare and retail, there are simultaneously plenty of emerging opportunities and increasing demand for AR in architecture and the enterprise industry. 


Conclusion

AR as of now is a very active field, both in research and real-life application. In the future, we expect to see many exciting new developments. As computer vision gets better and more efficient at understanding the world around us, AR experiences are bound to become more immersive and exciting. Moreover, augmented reality today lives mostly on smartphones, but it can happen on any device with a camera. When enough computational power will be available on AR glasses, we expect this medium to make AR mainstream – enhancing the way we live, work, shop, play and carry out business.

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