Unlike virtual reality, that creates a fully virtual environment around its users, augmented reality creates an illusion, as if virtual objects coexisted within the physical world. Simply put, AR is a means to present operational information in a completely new way – enveloped in a person’s view of their real environment and acting as the perfect “digital assistant”. AR makes that digital assistance interactive, more practical to absorb, understand and act upon, because it relies on our innate mental capacity to process a huge variety of information from the physical world.
Just a few years back, the best examples of AR could be found in gaming development. More recently sports like soccer, cricket and motor racing use AR to overlay statistics, game time and player information, speed etc. to augment the physical world with data that layers on additional knowledge to what we would normally see – and all in real-time.
And the adoption trend continues, as more and more people are now using AR technology via mobile apps in their every-day life – from education and fitness to shopping and real estate. Unlike the mass market, manufacturers typically need some time before they are ready to dive into disruptive technology. This is not because they dismiss the possibilities, but because workforce transformations can be hard, and industrial digital transformations can be even harder if not approached in the correct way. To be able to present information in a new way via AR, it first needs to be made relevant, accurate and easy to consume for the manufacturing workforce. It needs to operate in a secure environment as well as being suitable for demanding industrial conditions, from extreme temperatures, noise or flying sparks, to helmets, gloves and other personal protective equipment that may interfere with voice or physical gesture commands. But most importantly it needs to deliver value. Industrial facilities shouldn’t look at how to embed AR technology into their facilities, instead they should start from the premise of ‘how can we make things faster, smarter, and safer’, and look to advancements in AR to support this – getting back to the dog wagging its own tail – allowing technology to support the outcome, not determine it.