Immersive technology will change the future of business
Virtual reality (VR) has long held the spotlight when it comes to immersive technologies, and its show-stealing tendencies have only grown in recent months. Rising consumer uptake has driven speculation that the age of mainstream VR adoption is dawning. Across the business community, virtual platforms are gaining ground as companies switch to remote meetings.
Behind the VR hype, however, another innovative tool also offers many valuable capabilities that will help companies adapt to the increasingly digital world: augmented reality (AR).
While best known for collecting Pokémon characters, AR is about more than gaming apps. Its blend of real and virtual environments makes it an ideal fit for the new mixed reality era, as well as the organisations striving to bring their teams through the pandemic.
AR is ready to change the future of business, starting in three key areas:
1. Enabling smarter collaboration
Remote working has brought many benefits for employees, from fewer distractions to more flexibility around schedules. In fact, three in five UK workers would like to log on from home more often after lockdown. But the transition hasn’t run smoothly for all. In the rush to set up remote systems, several companies have overlooked the importance of ensuring their people can connect, and as a result, 20% of UK employees are finding home working difficult.
With at least some form of remote operations looking set to stick, businesses need better ways of keeping employees engaged — and AR could provide the answer.
AR solutions have started to emerge that go beyond video conferencing to bring teams as close as possible via immersive experiences. For example, at the beginning of 2020, Spatial unveiled a collaboration tool that makes any room augmentable. Built in partnership with Microsoft, the tech gives users the ability to transform their home environment via Hololens headsets; beaming 2D avatars of colleagues into AR workspaces and dropping in visual representations of key data. More recently, Visualise has also experimented with an ‘AR portal’ app that enables employees to step into virtual words using their smartphones, more specifically; a 360-degree stream of its office.
Although still in the early stages of development, these initiatives demonstrate the diverse possibilities for organisations trying to keep their people unified, whether they are staying remote or beginning a careful return to the office. With AR, companies can foster unity, idea sharing, and innovation across workforces, no matter the physical distance.
2. Streamlining skills training
The training applications of AR are already well recognised in certain areas, especially manufacturing where workers must reach strict safety standards before handling complex tech. Yet COVID-19 has confirmed that AR’s potential to help pass on crucial knowledge and experience stretches much further.
Probably the best-known pandemic-related example is leveraging AR to keep vital medical equipment running. With technicians both a precious resource and subject to lockdown restrictions, AR has offered a way to share their expertise remotely; using apps to diagnose problems with ventilators and guide frontline workers through the process of addressing them. But as companies across multiple industries look to get their businesses back on track, there will be sizeable scope to tap AR’s distance-learning potential for wider — albeit less critical — training purposes, using tech such as Vuforia Chalk and Microsoft Dynamics.
The ability to augment real-world experiences with overlaid images, text and other essential insight makes AR a powerful tool for training new and existing employees in almost any field; not only minimising risk, but also traditional barriers to knowledge sharing, such as location.
For example, that might include enabling specialists in different counties to deliver detailed one-to-one training in new procedures through head-mounted displays, without needing to travel. Similarly, organisations opting to keep teams permanently remote can also continue to recruit additional resource and provide comprehensive on-boarding with AR programmes.
3. Maintaining essential relationships
Finally, we come to upholding external connections. For both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) companies, ensuring continuous growth frequently depends on building and maintaining deep personal relationships. And in the current climate, options for doing so in the physical realm are relatively few.
Many of the biggest networking opportunities have moved online — from Apple WWDC, Augmented World Expo (AWE), 5G World and GamesBeat Summit to IBM Think — and, while retail stores may be now open, in-person interactions also remain limited. AR, however, has once more highlighted the best path for organisations trying to navigate digital-first living.
For instance, the recent virtual Pot Noodle careers fair illustrates a positive way forward for other, B2B-centric events. Using app-less tech from Aircards, attendees were able to place the 3D fair in their own surroundings via mobile devices and engage with AR booths, alongside representatives from various businesses. Applying the same principles to trade shows and conferences could herald a new era of interactive and high-tech networking, with no requirement for downloads or expensive headsets.
At a consumer level, retailers have also followed in the footsteps of IKEA’s ‘Place’ app that enables customers to project digital furniture in their own homes before buying. And among the most notable is ASOS, which stepped up to tackle shopper hesitation around purchasing and fuel interest with AR tech that showed how new products will fit. Digitally dressing models in items across multiple sizes cuts and fits allowed the fashion giant to promote over 500 new products, even when models were unable to physically wear its latest styles.
VR might have the futuristic image and flashy appeal, but it’s increasingly AR that’s winning favour with companies adjusting to the new working reality. Through multi-faceted collaboration tools, remote training and augmented interaction, AR is proving not just its current value, but also potential to bolster ongoing success. Set for a starring role in the future of business, it looks like AR will be the immersive tech to watch.