Our perspective is that smartphone based AR is a disruptive innovation that will continue to evolve quickly to challenge the high-end headset systems. The hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablets that can support AR will have a long-term impact on corporate learning.
First, some background on what AR is and where the market is today. Augmented reality (AR) adds to the real world around you. Often referred to as mixed reality AR superimposes information on to the world you see through a smartphone or a headset. While AR is sometimes mistakenly used when discussing Virtual Reality (VR) they are two significantly different concepts. Virtual reality is a completely immersive computer generated environment. Nothing in it interacts with the physical world and the experience requires a headset.
Consumers are experiencing smartphone based AR today inside of apps by wearing animal ears lenses in Snapchat and Instagram, placing furniture in Ikea, gaming with Pokemon Go, or by trying on virtual glasses inside of a Warby Parker app. But the technology hasn’t gone mainstream yet.
Most of the major technology companies have different initiatives in place to take advantage of this next wave of computing. Rapid progress is being made with both high-end systems like Microsoft Hololens and mass market solutions from Apple and Google that are part of their smartphones and tablets. (Facebook is going after the VR market with their Oculus headset.) Tremendous amounts of venture capital have also gone into headset and other AR companies for both consumers and businesses, but surviving the technology adoption curve has been challenging for many of these companies. The business models haven’t kept pace with the hype around the technology, and right now only the deepest pockets seem in a position to reach the AR endgame.
This investment in AR isn’t just for the consumer market however. Immersive augmented reality (AR) experiences represent a new dimension for technology and training in the enterprise, too. There is no shortage of demonstration videos with the production values of Hollywood movie trailers that show us what the future holds. But the reality of AR in the workplace is something different. There are significant cost and technological complexities to address before this is widely available in the enterprise.
First, the technology itself is new (location markers, computer vision and object recognition, occlusion;) content must be developed with specialized authoring tools (Unity); the ergonomics, form factors, and maintenance of headsets leave much to be desired; and playback specs of devices don’t meet the standards for widespread adoption.
Also, the cost of actually implementing a sustainable high-end AR solution can be considerable. ("Do my people need headsets that cost several thousand each? Where does the 2D and 3D content come from for this experience? How do we create this? Or maintain it? And how long will this take to develop?")
These are the barriers that make training managers realize the economics of creating AR aren’t far off from a summer blockbuster and keep AR from going deeper in the enterprise.
But caveats aside, the tech giants have shown a commitment to innovation in this space and we believe there is a long term impact to the corporate training market. We see three primary use cases for AR in the enterprise:
Training - Overlay 3D CAD models or animations in the real world to help onboard new employees, reduce errors, or teach new concepts and skills.
Work Instruction - Provide step-by-step instructions to increase productivity and improve safety and compliance.
AR & Remote Expert - These are AR collaboration tools that allow an expert to troubleshoot or diagnose problems and walk a technician through a process to address the problems.
There are hundreds of millions of smartphones and tablets available today and with each new release of an Apple device and iOS update new features are available. For example, Apple’s new iPad contains LiDAR sensors like the kind used in driverless cars to detect objects and build 3D maps of their surroundings. Combining LiDAR with the camera, motion sensors, and computer vision will improve the speed and placement of objects.
The power of PinPoint’s native app is that these innovations are available for corporate learning applications. Our initial foray is leveraging AR for training and simple work instruction applications. We view AR as another content type that people can quickly access alongside videos, audio, documents, and courses on their mobile devices. We are excited because we believe the line between the virtual and the real can be erased within the app.
Like the rest of the PinPoint app, the goal with AR is to make it as self-serve as possible and easy to put in the hands of a training manager. If you have an existing 3D model in the proper format you can upload, size, and place the object. But more realistically we equate creating a compelling AR experience to building a great online learning course. There is work to be done both defining the use case (the instructional approach) and creating the media to make certain end-users learn something.
This is a real example of how AR models look inside the PinPoint app.
And here is a realistic app scenario:
Imagine a new field service engineer has been asked to verify that a piece of equipment is functioning properly. She approaches the equipment and scans it. Important information about the equipment is sent directly to her phone. This is her first time working on the equipment so she selects a video to watch. After that she selects a checklist and verifies that almost everything is working properly. Then she selects an AR work instruction with step-by-step advice on how to fix the problem area. She is learning how to repair the device by interacting with a virtual model in her actual work environment. When she’s done, she submits her report. All by using the mobile phone already in her pocket.
This is the potential of integrating AR into the flow of work that can be tied to job roles, tasks, or locations. It is learning that takes place exactly when and where it is needed. The mixed reality of AR allows the learner to better connect with the content being presented. These are exciting times as mobile devices begin to incorporate the next wave of technological innovation. Please contact us if you would like to explore use cases for your business.