Pablo Fraile, Director of Developer Ecosystems, Arm
Today’s existing augmented reality (AR) technologies are likely to bring genuine value to consumers, especially in e-commerce, navigation and gaming. In fact, it is only a matter of time before the big wave of AR adoption among consumers takes place, though it still may take up to five years to come to fruition. In contrast, the adoption of AR within the business sector is already fairly wide spread and yielding positive results. In 2017 alone, $362 million was spent on on-site assembly and safety AR technology, while $309 million was spent on in process manufacturing and training.
Technology advances will help to increase consumer adoption of and access to AR, with two key future advancements in particular; the development of mobile devices and advent of 5G technology. Both will provide the necessary performance and bandwidth to allow consumers to experience AR with improved quality and lower latency on the move, without compromising the battery life of their devices. However, there are more immediate lessons and actions based on the success of AR adoption within businesses.
A key lesson from the business sector is moving AR away from being a novelty technology to one that is a necessity. One of the main reasons businesses are increasing their use of AR is because the applications have led to tangible cost and efficiency savings and a measurable return on investment. These applications are also scalable, as they are easy to promote and roll-out more widely within companies if they are proven to be having a positive impact. Finally, B2B applications are easier for AR developers to create because the scope of their task is narrower—often with specific business problems or needs in mind.
AR usage has been most successful for the manufacturing and training processes of businesses benefitting them with improved efficiencies and increased quality to the end product. On average, time savings of 25 percent or more are being reported for manufacturing processes that leverage AR. Headsets, glasses and other similar wearable AR devices are being piloted at thousands of companies worldwide to help factory workers visualize various instructions superimposed onto machinery and in their environments.
In many cases, using the technology is considered to be a better alternative to instruction manuals and leads to more efficient working with fewer costly mistakes
AR is being utilized at the final stage of the manufacturing process for Newport News Shipbuilding, a company that constructs U.S. Navy aircraft carriers. The company uses AR to superimpose final carrier designs in front of massive ships, so engineers are able to quickly mark steel structures that are not part of the completed carrier. This reduces the inspection process from 36 hours to 90 minutes, a time reduction of 96 percent.
AR is transforming training processes by increasing efficiency and clarifying procedures. In many cases, using the technology is considered to be a better alternative to instruction manuals and leads to more efficient working with fewer costly mistakes. Using AR gives a clear and visual guide that provides real-time feedback to workers for processes ranging from product assembly to machine operation.
After implementing AR within its training, Boeing has seen significant improvements in productivity and quality. The technology walks trainees at the company through how to assemble a wing section with 30 parts through 50 steps. Following the AR training programme, workers were able to finish the assembly process in 35 percent less time than those who were referring to normal 2D drawings. Moreover, the number of trainees with little to no experience who could execute the process correctly in their first try increased by 90 percent.
Other companies are also using AR to a similar level of success. General Electric (GE) is testing voice commands in AR to help factory workers conduct complicated wiring processes in wind turbines. This is already leading to a 34 percent increase in productivity. BP is using AR training to stimulate intense drilling conditions. With the technology, they can guide teams through specific procedures and enable them to practice emergency responses to crises without any risk.
The success of AR in business is being reflected in current and future investments. In 2017, venture capital investments into AR and virtual reality (VR) amounted to $2.1 billion across 276 financings, with 53 AR focused deals or acquisitions. Meanwhile, spending on the AR and VR sector is expected to increase from $11 billion in 2017 to $215 billion in 2021—a huge increase in just four years.
As the capability of mobile devices and wearables advance rapidly, it would be increasingly important for companies to explore ways in which they can integrate AR into their daily operations. The technology has been proven to increase productivity and performance within the many business sectors. Companies not planning for AR technology adoption are likely to struggle in the future against competitors that are.
AR’s current success in business can be used to guide developers to chart the path for its widespread adoption among consumers. Looking at the business experience, the focus has to be on creating compelling and useful applications that allow users to engage with AR daily. The largest gains have occurred in business applications where routine job processes are made more efficient or brought to a higher quality of standard because of AR integration. If consumer experiences from AR achieve a similar level of success, then this will help with its widespread adoption. Just like businesses, the necessity of using AR should always trump the novelty for consumer applications.