Are augmented reality and virtual reality more than just a gimmick?

Jan 19, 2017
  • finance
  • people
  • automotive
  • augmented reality

In today’s digital era, mobile and web apps took the business center stage. Through a variety of apps, business users have relevant information literally at their fingertips, any time, any place, anywhere. More recently, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have also presented themselves as alternative ways of accessing information easily – but will these technologies become as mainstream as apps are today? I believe they will. Although they currently mainly evoke images of youngsters chasing Pokémon or women gaining inspiration in virtual fitting rooms, both technologies hold great promise in a B2B context as well.

The potential of augmented reality

Many businesses are now starting to explore the potential of augmented reality. Instead of creating an entirely new environment (like virtual reality does), augmented reality places a graphic overlay over the physical world. Whenever immediate, contextual information is required, AR apps can enhance day-to-day operations in a very proactive and intuitive way. Examples of applications can be found in operations, plant maintenance, logistics, retail, healthcare, etc.

So, why aren’t we using AR on a large scale (yet)?

Well, mainly because the hardware still needs some improvements. For example, Microsoft’s HoloLens – which allows access to applications via holograms – is a very promising device but is still too expensive and too heavy for intensive, productive use. But the technology is evolving rapidly, making it just a matter of time until all the barriers will be overcome. All it takes is one disrupting provider who tackles the current hardware challenges in the right way and it will usher in a new era in which augmented reality apps are just as much of a commodity as mobile apps are today – for consumers and business users alike.

Besides the hardware, the apps developed for smart headsets also need to meet multiple requirements. They must offer proven added value for users; otherwise they risk distracting rather than supporting them.

Bridging the gap between the physical and digital world

At Delaware Consulting, we are convinced of the potential that AR and VR applications hold. We have developed an augmented reality app for field service that has already been tested by some of our customers. When field technicians scan a part of a machine with their HoloLens, it visualizes the machine and guides the technicians through the entire process of replacing components for maintenance or repair. The HoloLens allows technicians to scan parts hands-free and to check information through voice commands while staying focused on the task at hand. This application is also fully connected to back-end data, meaning that all actions taken by an engineer during work are augmented with business data and, simultaneously, the data is instantly enriched with the actions of the engineer.

And how about virtual reality?

For virtual reality in a business context, possible scenarios include architects or construction companies offering potential buyers a near-real-life impression of how their future home will look before it is even built. Other examples include training, simulation and business and asset management, where virtualized business data provides insights into the state of the business or asset.

Dare to experiment!

While the current hardware may not yet be perfect, it is good enough to enable experimentation with the enormous potential of augmented reality and virtual reality. 

I strongly believe that proof of concepts in specific industrial and other domains will accelerate, paving the way for a much broader roll-out as soon as flawless smart glasses become available at a reasonable price. Today you may still feel a little silly wearing futuristic-looking smart glasses, but in just a couple of years from now they will blend in naturally in both your private and professional life.

Author: Nick Thienpondt. You can follow Nick on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn