Augmented reality has the ability to compile tons of data from digital devices and transform it into experiences people can view and interact with in the physical world. So far, the method has helped brands deepen experiences for sports fans, bring dance challenges to life and allow shoppers to try on makeup with their phones.
Already broad, the applications for AR are quickly expanding. At MWC Barcelona’s panel entitled “Blurred Lines: Augmented Reality in Everyday Life,” leaders from Avegant, Holo-Light, VMware and more discussed how AR can be used to improve safety, increase efficiency and deliver real business results.
Right now, most AR uses cases that operate via a network have to be done in a certain place and require a huge network infrastructure. Virtual reality and AR startup Holo-Light is working on overcoming this to increase the tech’s mobility and performance so that AR can be used anywhere, according to Holo-Light GmbH head of technology Philipp Landgraf.
In December, Holo-Light announced it was building XRnow, the first immersive streaming platform designed for mass adoption of AR and VR applications on mobile devices. Like Netflix for AR and VR, the platform utilizes the power of the cloud to enable high-performance processing, on-demand access and global availability of AR and VR experiences.
The platform will allow companies to scale AR and VR use cases and showcase services and products in new ways. The example Landgraf gave is selling a car. Auto companies won’t always have all their models available in inventory but as AR becomes more developed, ray tracing—an intuitive image generation method—and algorithms can be used to create photo-realistic films showcasing a breadth of car models.
BMW already leverages Holo-Light’s AR engineering software 3S Pro to speed up design processes—from individual vehicle sections through complex production stages—by as much as 12 months. The regular computing power of mobile AR devices wouldn’t be able to power this use case because the individual parts of a car are detailed, complex and large in file size. But with the integration of Holo-Light’s in-house products AR3S and ISAR SDK (Interactive Streaming for Augmented Reality), BMW can visualize its 3D CAD (computer-aided design) models in very high quality and without any data preparation.
British telecom company BT has also has been participating in a few mixed reality projects lately, according to the company’s principal manager of mobile and 5G research team, Maria Cuevos. In February, it helped debut The Green Planet AR Experience, created by Factory 42 with BBC Studios. Upon entry, guests are given a mobile phone that helps immersive them in six plant worlds powered by BT’s mobile network EE 5G. David Attenborough, who’s in 3D hologram form, guides them through the journey.
“The biggest learning for us is to put [AR] in the hands of the people and see how they use it and how they experience the whole thing,” said Cuevos.
Just like smartphones and watches, AR devices will go through several iterations. Chief executive and founder Edward Tang’s startup Avegant creates display engines, or tiny projectors, for AR glasses that will power the next generation of these consumer glasses, he said.
To increase consumer adoption of AR wearables, Tang emphasized the importance of sizing down AR glasses and getting them to feel exactly like everyday eyewear. Avegant’s current projector, he added, is smaller than the width of a pencil which enables the company to produce stylish and functional glasses while adding intelligence into the displays.
“The interest level and investments that we’re seeing from all the major consumer players is an order of magnitude above what we’ve seen even just a couple [of] years ago. We’re seeing a lot more momentum and the technologies are getting to a point where we can really check a lot of the boxes it’s going to take to make successful consumer products,” said Tang.
He believes the work being done with Meta Oculus, Android’s ARCore and iOS’ ARKit development kits, as well as the sensor tech being used in smartphones, are all a precursor for what’s to come on wearable type devices.
Looking ahead, Tang said it’s important industry players don’t try cramming a phone or computer experience into a pair of AR glasses. Instead, they should consider the uses cases for the glasses’ sensors and contextual information. Some of the uses he envisions for AR glasses include drawing a line on the ground while giving someone directions, leaving a restaurant review while looking at the restaurant and the glasses knowing its wearer wants to buy a product just by looking at it.
From VMware, product line marketing manager Jessie Stoks said the biggest application for VR head-mounted wearables the company is seeing is for front-line workers including shift-based and service workers. Headsets deliver content hands-free in real-time to the worker, which is especially helpful for those in hazardous environments where quick access to a mobile device isn’t feasible, she said.
AR and VR headsets are also providing uninterrupted concentration to assembly line workers who may have a workstation but experience a lot of back and forth between the computer and whatever they’re working on. The result is greater productivity and less room for error, noted Stoks. These headsets are also streamlining remote training and collaboration as it’s easier to have the same view as the worker rather than guide them through emails or fly them out for training.