Augmented Reality in Business: How and When to Use It

While we’re yet to experience a full-scale AR disruption, the potential of this tech to revolutionize workflows and processes is already huge. Let’s see how and when businesses can use augmented reality.

Note: I’ll be using the terms augmented reality and mixed reality interchangeably throughout the article.

Read why mixed reality is synonymous with augmented reality in What Is Mixed Reality? The No BS Explanation

person interacting with an AR engine
Augmented Reality in Business: How and When to Use It

How Is Augmented Reality Used in Businesses?

Businesses across industries are already using augmented reality solutions for a variety of purposes.

For example, AR is used to:

  • Improve brand awareness
  • Showcase product demos
  • Increase customer experience
  • Streamline workflows

While the benefits can directly contribute to, say, increased sales in e-commerce businesses — Houzz’s customers are 11x more likely to make a purchase after using the company’s mobile AR feature — the AR technology isn’t universally viable for all sectors.

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How to Implement AR in Your Business Strategy?

Before jumping into the world of augmented reality tech, there are a few questions you have to answer.

If you want to include AR in your business strategy, first ask yourself what it is specifically that you want to achieve through an AR solution.

To give you an example: a problem can be something missing in the workflow.

Let’s say quality assurance at your company takes a lot of time to complete. The reason why might be that QA professionals need to comb through stacks of paper instructions to complete the process.

This inefficient approach results in a waste of time: seconds turn into minutes and minutes into hours. In the long term, it amounts to a significant drop in productivity.

Augmented reality could come in handy here by feeding all the steps and actions necessary to conduct a QA test into a mixed reality headset. The application would interact with and respond to the actions of the tester in real-time.

Here’s Renault’s road to quality assurance supported by mixed reality:

Wondering what companies use augmented reality? Let’s look at some of the use cases of augmented reality across industries and sectors.

Manufacturing

The manufacturing sector is expected to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of cross-reality solutions. Combined with the rollout of 5G connectivity that offers speeds 100x faster than 4G LTE, augmented reality can be a huge opportunity for manufacturing facilities to improve a number of their processes and workflows.

The upside of using AR in manufacturing facilities is that it’s a fraction of the cost compared to investing in complex hardware.

Besides, augmented reality is much more convenient to exchange information since there are no physical restrictions such as cables, devices. Data is fed to the AR application virtually.

Onboarding. With AR, employees just starting out in a manufacturing plant could see interactive hints and instructions on how to use machinery, with all important information layered over the physical equipment. AR onboarding can increase employee safety and shave off ramp-up time.

See an example of using AR for training purposes at BMW:

Productivity. AR headsets equipped with AI technology could help employees get from point A to point B in the most efficient fashion, leading to potential productivity gains in the long term. Moreover, engineers could send a request for a specific part by simply pointing at it.

Operational information. With AR elements overlaid in a factory, manufacturing employees could have easy access to information about the performance of existing equipment and infrastructure. For example, interactive gauges over different areas on the assembly line offer real-time insight for employees.

Safety. Mixed reality solutions can inform employees about dangers (e.g., areas closed for maintenance/cleaning). And when an emergency happens, workers in need of help or assistance could transmit an interactive beam with their whereabouts.

Automotive

Relying on complex technology and hardware, cars are becoming increasingly difficult to maintain for mechanics, who may not yet have the know-how necessary for servicing. The pace of the digital evolution in the automotive industry calls for improvements in various workflows and processes.

Remote assistance. AR-based remote assist lets engineers show other employees how to conduct complex repairs and service maintenance on vehicles.

Mercedes-Benz US is using Microsoft HoloLens 2 and Dynamics 365 Remote Assist to help technicians perform maintenance activities remotely with the assistance of an expert engineer.

Training. Cross-reality workshops are a safe and efficient way to share information. Engineers can enroll in digital training where they learn the workings of complex machinery and how to assemble various parts. Instructors show trainees how to disassemble an engine without actually putting it apart.

Porsche says it has tripled the usage of augmented reality in their workshops. “Tech Live Look” is Porsche’s in-house app for connecting technicians with experts to help solve complex car repairs. Porsche has been using augmented reality for years.

Tech Live Look from Porsche
Tech Live Look from Porsche. Source: Porsche

Tech Live Look speeds up car service per vehicle by up to 40%, significantly improving Porsche’s customer experience.

See how augmented reality can be used in education.

Prototyping. Every new iteration of a prototype can be costly for an automotive company. Car prototypes can cost upwards of $100,000. Immersive designs aid in iterating and improving on product designs without companies having to spend anything on expensive prototypes.

Now, $100,000 might not seem like a lot for big automotive companies, but when we’re talking about multiple iterations, it can amount to a nice sum.

BMW is already using AR in vehicle prototyping. AR lets workers know faster if a component will fit once the production starts. Using AR in that way decreases the need for performing many test setups.

Entertainment

Content consumption. Enhanced with augmented reality, written content can be expanded to include immersive experiences. AR can also serve as a visual aid in non-fiction writing to better illustrate concepts and events.

Board games. Traditional board games could use augmented reality to enhance the level of immersion for gamers. Physical boards can be transformed from 2D experiences into interactive 3D adventures — the board stays the same while the elements turn virtual.

A real world board game with augmented reality elements
A real world board game with augmented reality elements. Source: Tilt Five via Kickstarter

Military

In the military, soldiers can use augmented reality that transforms sensor data into visual input to gain greater insight into their surroundings as well as to improve navigation.

Situational awareness. Sensors and cameras implemented in AR tech provide soldiers with more information regarding their surroundings. Other critical information can also be fed into a headset from headquarters.

Since 2018, the US Army has been looking into AR when developing the Integrated Virtual Augmentation System (IVAS). The IVAS provides mission-critical information to soldiers on the battlefield, for example, the system performs a quick object identification check.

Navigation. In aviation, augmented reality blends complex charts and maps into a pilot’s field of view, decreasing the need to check the information on displays.

An example of heads-up display (HUD) in aviation
An example of heads-up display (HUD) in aviation.

The US Army is exploring the possibilities of augmented reality goggles for combat dogs. The idea is to give dogs in the field more contextual information, along with visual indicators that tell dogs where to go.

Ordinarily, soldiers guide their dogs with lasers or hand gestures. During a mission, however, it might not be possible for the soldier to be close enough to the dog to give it commands. This is where AR goggles step in, letting soldiers guide their dogs through visual cues rendered in the glasses. Additionally, the goggles attached to the dog’s head transmit what the dog sees back to the soldier.

AR goggles for dogs -- augmented reality technology in military
AR goggles for dogs. Source: US Army

Travel

Tenant instructions. Landlords renting apartments can use augmented reality to provide tenants with instructions. For example, to help tenants orient themselves around the apartment or explain how to use and locate different utilities.

Along with smart locks that eliminate the need for the landlord to hand the tenant the keys, augmented reality further decreases the necessity for contact.

Virtual AR Map Concept for rentals
AR Map Concept for rentals. Source: Isil Uzum via dribbble

Tenants simply put on a headset or turn on an app and explore the flat themselves with detailed instructions.

Immersive experiences. To advertise offered destinations and facilities, travel agencies can turn to augmented reality to create AR tour presentations. This way, customers get to experience interactive content and learn more about a destination. AR tour presentations also help travel agencies prepare offers with content customized to cater to different target audiences.

Moreover, to improve customer experience, travel agencies can equip their customers with advanced digital tour guides. These augmented reality guides can be further tweaked to include memorable and personalized experiences to tourists in a given location. For example, an AR guide could contain sightseeing places that match customer needs and preferences.

Augmented Reality Offers a High Potential for Disruption

As mixed reality technology matures, more and more use cases emerge where this technology can be applied to support businesses, professionals, and everyday users.

The global boost to GDP from the adoption of augmented reality and virtual reality in product and service development, retail, healthcare, and training and development
The global boost to GDP from the adoption of augmented reality and virtual reality across businesses and industries. Prognosis for 2022. Source: PwC

In the coming years, we are likely to observe an increase in the use of augmented reality. The sophistication of the hardware and the drop in price for AR devices will become vehicles for the mainstream adoption. When paired with artificial intelligence, AR can interact with the physical environment and get increasingly better at recognizing gestural input and object recognition and tracking.

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