Augmented Reality and its Industrial Applications

Author photo: Chris Cunnane and Sharada Prahladrao
ByChris Cunnane and Sharada Prahladrao
Technology Trends

A series of executive interviews were hosted at the ARC Industry Forum in Orlando. These interviews elicited interesting perspectives on new technologies and the digital transformation journey across industries.  In an inhouse interview, ARC’s Chris Cunnane, Research Director, and Inderpreet (Preet) Shoker, Senior Analyst, discussed augmented reality (AR); the differences between augmented reality, virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR); and the increasing industrial applications.  You can watch it in entirety here and/or on  YouTube.

Watch on YouTube  

Understanding Augmented Reality

Chris began the session by asking “What is augmented reality?”

Preet explained that augmented reality is the use of technology to augment somebody's real field of view with artificial digital content.  For example, “What I'm looking at right now is my real field of view.  If I wore smart glasses running an AR application on top of it, adding some digital artificial content, like an animated character, I get an augmented view - and that is AR.”  To run an AR application, smart glasses, smartphones or tablets can be used, and phones are the most popular medium for running AR applications.  The popular gaming app Pokémon Go uses the smartphone’s camera to get the real field of view and on top of that adds an animated Pokémon character to create an augmented view for the user.  This started out as a very basic application, combining the real field of view with digital content.  But now, there are a lot of advanced, intelligent AR applications.  These advanced applications understand what is in the users’ field of view and then very intelligently place the digital object into the field of view, so that they almost behave like a real object.  Snapchat filters are again a very popular and similar application.  It uses the front-facing camera to get the image of the user and on top of that animation is added.  What it does next is very intelligent - the app recognizes the movement of the face and anchors the digital content on top of a real object - and it almost behaves like a real object.  “So, there's a lot of innovation going on in the augmented reality space and we are seeing more and more of these intelligent applications,” said Preet.

How AR Differs from Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality

“When trying to differentiate between VR and AR, I would say AR is a bit easier as only your partial field of view is taken by digital content, but when it comes to VR, 100 percent of users’ view is taken by digital content,” explained Preet.  Special headsets (such as Oculus or Sony VR) are needed for VR applications, and these create a full immersion for the users.  Hence, VR is more popular in the gaming industry.  But mixed reality is a bit more complicated, because with mixed reality only partial field of view is taken by digital content.  “I personally think of mixed reality, or MR, as an extension of AR - an advanced form of augmented reality,” added Preet.  With mixed reality you need special headsets, such as HoloLens or Magic Leap One, which are very advanced pieces of hardware with additional sensors, creating a richer AR user experience.  And another major difference is that with these headsets, the user is able to interact with the digital content with mere hand gestures.

Different Applications for Industries

“There are a lot of applications coming up. It's becoming very popular in the enterprise as well as the industrial world,” said Preet.  These are the top four applications:

  • Training - every industry needs to train the new recruits.  AR is used to create training programs and step by step instructions are given to the trainees.  This creates more engaging and interactive training programs.
  • Remote collaboration - in every industry there are times when workers need to collaborate with a remote expert and with AR it goes a step beyond the usual teleconferencing.  The expert is able to guide the worker, and with various AR tools they can draw on the screen and highlight certain areas. So, it enables better collaboration.
  • Assembly industry - in industries, such as automotive or semiconductor, where all the workers assemble components, they used to rely on paper instructions or remember all the steps.  But with augmented reality they are given step by step instructions, simplifying their job.
  • Warehouse logistics - AR applications are increasingly being used for order pickup in warehouses. So AR applications are basically combining a lot of other capabilities, such as image recognition, barcode scanning, indoor navigation, and everything is being integrated with the warehouse management system.


What Kind of Adoption Are You Seeing in Different Industries?

Preet’s response to this query was that AR has become very popular in the last 5-7 years in the industrial world, “but things have really picked up in the last two to three years.”  There have been many successful case studies and pilot programs.  The technology adoption has been rapid across different industries, such as automotive, semiconductor, and machinery manufacturing.  According to a recent ARC report, we expect robust growth of about 20 percent CAGR.  

Advice for End Users

Chris asked what end users should keep in mind when they are looking to implement AR technology.

Preet replied that when a new technology, such as augmented reality, is being implemented, end users need to have a long-term strategy.  They need to consider the problems and challenges they would like to resolve.  It is very important to ensure that the AR application is integrated well with other business systems.  “So, if it’s for order pickup in warehouses, make sure that your AR application is integrated with the warehouse management system. If it’s for maintenance, make sure it's integrated with your asset management system.  Only then will you be able to get the full benefit out of your technology investment,” concluded Preet.    


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