How augmented reality helps advance the workplace

By Stephen Mellish

For the past couple of years, most exhibitors at Mobile World Congress have had some sort of augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) demo. Whether it was Samsung’s roller coaster demo or SK Telekom’s “trip under the sea,” people were happy to experience this “new” phenomenon. IDC has predicted that the worldwide AR and VR market size will increase from $5.2 billion in 2016 to $162 billion by 2020. The year 2016 also saw a slew of manufacturers launch VR headsets that were readily welcomed by the consumers. “Pokemon Go” also quickly became a global hit. However, most of the use cases we see are targeted at the consumers.

I remember this excitement several years ago when I first experienced AR. When I first wore Google Glass three years ago, I thought about how it would change our world. However, in reality, it has been massively underwhelming. Yes, the gaming and fun element is great, but how can we really use this technology to help further transform the enterprise? What are the use cases? Is it really that practical? What about all the hype around glass-type technology? Is AR just yet another overly hyped mobile fad?

IBM’s Research and Innovation labs have been working for several years to address these enterprise problems. They are looking at how they can extend people’s vision and support decision-making with cognitive-driven object recognition and interactive information. Whether it is helping retailers better organize and plan shelves in their supermarkets or helping engineers better troubleshoot machinery, I believe we are finally starting to see the breakthrough we expected all those years ago.

The reality of augmented reality

In the past few weeks, I have come across some great real-life examples of how we are working with our clients to deliver the transformation we have become accustomed to seeing as part of the Apple and IBM Alliance. Energy and utility companies are now using AR to locate and view underground assets. For instance, a pharmaceutical company uses VR to help with tremor visualization to speed up drug trials and help with better patient diagnosis.

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There are many use cases, and we are talking to our clients about them. So, how are they pushing the boundaries of reality?

Imagine field engineers fixing an asset. When they look at their equipment, visual recognition brings up manuals and instructions through the glass they are wearing. Their earpiece is listening to what is going on around them and giving them verbal instructions, connecting them automatically to experts who can make sure the asset is fixed the first time around. Bots then take care of reordering parts and updating CRM systems. Watson-like services help make this type of functionality possible.

I had a discussion with a farmer this week who wants to use drones to check livestock in remote fields. Imagine how much more can be done using sensors and IoT devices integrated with visual recognition technology and cognitive computing.

The next step for augmented reality is mixed reality, the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real-time. How long will it be until we stop looking at our phones and instead focus on the glass in front of our eyes? Given today’s pace of change, probably not very long.

Written By

Stephen Mellish

Mobile Strategy Consultant - Mobile at Scale

With over 10 years experience in the mobile app space, Stephen has worked with industry leading companies to develop innovative and creative mobile apps. Since joining IBM's Mobile Centre of Competence 3 years ago, Stephen has been heavily involved in the Apple + IBM Partnership,…