by Raman Mehta

Augmented Reality – Next Frontier for Competitive Advantage

Feb 14, 2017
Emerging TechnologyInternet of ThingsVirtual Reality

Augmented Reality is going to rewrite the way we interact with everything and create new business models. How can IT leaders sense and respond to emerging trends such as AR...and get ready for enterprise adoption.

2016 was an interesting year in many ways. It was an inflection point where IoT, Cloud and AI started to converge together to lay the foundation for new set of business applications. One of the most interesting development where this convergence comes together is the field of Augmented Reality (AR for short).

hololensspectatorview Microsoft

AR’s older cousin Virtual Reality (VR) has been in existence for quite some time and had its origins into the gaming, entertainment & training (e.g. Flight Simulators) segments. VR is an artificial, fully immersive computer generated simulation of real situations or environment. It immerses the users completely by stimulating their senses and makes them feel that they are having the first-hand experience.

To experience VR, you need a headset from the likes of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear, Microsoft HoloLens or plain old PlayStation VR headset. The pace of innovations in this space is astounding and these vendors are partnering with OEMs to provide associated computing power using GPUs and other modern hardware & sensory devices breakthroughs. VR will continue to find utility in gaming/entertainment & training; At Stanford University they are also working actively in using VR to develop lasting behavior changes for social causes such as global warming by providing first-hand experience of things like deforestation. The functionality & applicability of VR in business world however be continue to be limited as it is a totally immersive experience and users are detached with the real world.

This is where AR comes into focus (pun intended!). The crux of AR is on staying connected with the real world. AR is the blending of VR and real life, AR applications have virtual images that blend in with contents in the real world. With AR, users are able to interact with virtual contents in the real world, and are able to distinguish between the two worlds within the same experience. AR will have far greater applicability as it links the digital and analog worlds.

car augmented reality BMW

One of the very interesting AR use case is in the connected vehicles space. An application developer can base the creation of AR content on the information collected from neighboring vehicles (V2V) or roadside infrastructures (V2I). This information is then mixed with the instrument panel and GPS information and is displayed seamlessly on a Head up Display or transparent active windshield. The whole idea is to create next generation of ADAS systems that provide contextualized real-time dissemination of digital content.

Smart factories driven with Industrial IoT advancements also provide specific use cases where AR can add to competitive advantage of an enterprise. Imagine the importance of machine up-time in a 24*7 manufacturing operation. An AR enabled solution can enable monitoring of plant assets from a virtual control room with real-time sensor data that monitors heat, pressure, scrap and other key characteristics.  The IoT data can be visually overlaid with machine data such as schematic drawings, service steps and increase the efficiency and productivity of industrial facilities by enabling maintenance personnel to see the most pertinent sensor data in an AR view.

The AR applications in the medical field can be significant and can change the way medical professionals interact with each other during a diagnosis or a surgery. A remote team of surgeons can get the first-hand view of an ongoing surgery with all vital stats overlaid along with medical records such as MRI on a head up display. The AR technology will also be of interest to architects and smart city planners who could create virtual 3-D walkthroughs from existing 2-D blueprints overlaid with construction equipment, people, interior decoration and other geolocation data.

mshololens mixedrealityspace 08516 3x2 rgb Microsoft

The important step in getting your enterprise AR initiatives off the ground is to evaluate and select an AR framework. There are quite a few open source & commercial platforms that provide rich SDK. The purpose behind selecting a platform is that you can focus on the features of your applications and the platform provides the capabilities like 3D object tracking, face tracking, visual search, camera calibration, content APIs and support for various marker types (e.g. square, QR code). The platform needs to have support to recognize image targets through a cloud datastore as well as local image store. This improves application usability as it can work both in connected and offline mode.

ARToolkit is a widely used open source platform, among other features it also supports superimposing of virtual images on live environment through a video or see-through display. Vuforia AR platform provides an ease of use where your applications can see wide variety of things such as objects (including user-defined), texts and markers. It also works well with Unity which is a powerful cross platform 3D engine. Writing a 3D engine is intensive work so these platforms allow you to use your existing 3D engines such as Unity by leveraging the platform SDK.

Keep an eye on the Google Tango and Microsoft HoloLens that are working on an AR, VR and Mixed Reality  eco-system that includes AI, advanced gadgets like Fisheye & depth cameras and advanced sensory and perception devices. Tango is a platform that uses computer vision to give Android devices like Phab 2 Pro the ability to understand their position relative to the world around them – no longer there is a need to have multitude of beacons for geo position tracking. A Tango-enabled device has wide-angle fisheye camera, a depth sensing camera, accurate sensor timestamping, and an SDK that enables apps developers to use motion tracking, area learning and depth sensing.

Eventually AR is an interface paradigm shift that would completely rewrite how we would interact with everything.

Just for the kicks, in the AR world it is ok to SLAM anything – it means Simultaneous Localization and Mapping!!

Think of the investment that your enterprise has already made on adoption of big data, mobility and enterprise clouds. Those investments have already placed IT to be in the path of success to leverage solutions that rely heavily on robust and agile infrastructure. By collaborating with your business leadership team, you can now create tremendous value for your enterprise by being early adopters of these emerging trends and be seen as an innovation leader.