Virtual reality has received a lot of attention lately, but there is much to be said for Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) technologies that enhance our capabilities in the real world or allow us to interact with technology more intuitively. Both technologies have clear applications for the enterprise and the future workplace. Examples from Vuzix and ODG could be seen at the recent CES 2017 and there is, of course, the much-discussed Microsoft Hololens.
Augmented Reality overlays virtual or synthetic elements onto the real world, whereas virtual reality is immersion in a virtual world. Augmented reality allows users to stay in the real world while maintaining connectivity to the Internet and a host of AR-enabled applications and services. Employees on the factory floor need to be present and engaged in the factory, not in a virtual world, but traditional computing technology is difficult to use while performing other tasks. AR allows employees to use the computer without constraining their hands. It can be used in any position such as horizontal under a car, standing, or traveling. That is the beauty of AR. It applies technology to what we are already doing, and it does so in a way that is natural for end users.
Research shows that users are very willing to use AR in their work. According to the Dell and Intel Future Workforce Study, 77 percent of millennials and 47 percent of baby boomers would be willing to use augmented reality in professional life. The desire to use this technology is clearly present but how does AR support and enhance business operations?
I spoke with Liam Quinn, CTO at Dell, about augmented reality and its role in the workplace to better understand what this might look like. He explained how AR frees up our hands so that we can work in our environment unhindered and yet still connected. AR makes it easier to obtain support because a remote technician can see what you see and work with you on a more personal basis. It is also extremely valuable for training. Instructions or demonstrations can be overlaid onto real life while a task is performed.
There is a multitude of opportunities within augmented reality. With AR, you can get an x-ray view of hardware from internal sensors or overlay infrared heat signatures onto a regular field of view. GPS data can be viewed while walking to a destination or contact details retrieved based on facial recognition when seeing someone.
Mixed Reality (MR) is a similar concept to augmented reality with some key differences. AR overlays content onto the world around us, but that content is not something the user interacts with. It is primarily informational. Mixed reality, however, allows for interactivity between real and virtual components. This is especially relevant with the increasing use of Internet of Things (IoT) because these Internet-connected devices can then be manipulated through MR.
Data from the machines around a person can be displayed on their MR gear. For example, a worker in a pump station could see the pressure levels of pipes at different places around the pump house. He or she could make flow changes to compensate using MR while still looking around the pump house rather than going to a computer console.
Security solutions could be implemented with mixed reality. For example, an entry door may be equipped with a camera. When a user approaches the door, their MR gear displays several pictures to them. They swipe through the ones that form their password in the appropriate order to gain entrance. The camera observes the swipes and knows which places should be swiped because it is interfacing with the MR gear. The same user approaching later would receive a set of pictures in different locations.
MR allows users to create content. Paint with virtual brushes, manipulate 3D objects that you can walk around and view from multiple perspectives, or collaborate around a shared virtual table that each person experiences in their own location.
As you can see, augmented reality and mixed reality bridge the gap between how we interact with the real world and how we utilize technology. They are the next step in human-computer interaction, and they are poised to change the way we work and do business. How is your company planning to use these technologies?