Augmented Reality has new appeal for B2B audiences

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Augmented reality suffered a very public, very embarrassing setback last year with the Google Glass debacle. 2015 has been the year when AR, the laying or projecting of digital content over real-world people, places and things, is really taking off.

So far, the year has witnessed the launch of Google-backed Magic Leap and Microsoft’s HoloLens, Sony’s announcement of developer pre-ordering for its SmartEyeglass and even news of a Google Glass redux. These and other developments have breathed new life into an innovation that some observers had written off as a fad for “glassholes.”

Not to be confused with virtual reality (VR), in which users are immersed in an artificial world, AR enhances the real world with that most precious of all commodities—information. It can also be downright magical. Witness Magic Leap, the lightweight wearable tech whose launch featured someone cupping a little dancing elephant in the palms of their hands. This really is the stuff of Minority Report and other sci-fi and futurist fantasy films come true.

No one can deny AR’s ‘wow’ factor.  For B2B uses, though, there has to be more to AR than just a dancing elephant. Relatively few AR marketing applications have been developed, for example, and this is partly due to early adopters being impressed by AR’s novelty instead of focusing on the technology’s B2B potential. Still, there are some exciting developments in the works.

Carl Byers, chief strategy officer at NGRAIN, a Vancouver-based 3D AR company, is excited about “the ability for AR to support automated inspection and damage assessment.”

The company uses volumetric technology to allow organizations to learn from complex models that can be used on wearable devices, tablets and other mobile devices.

“What that means is going up to a piece of equipment, for example a jet engine or a piping system in the energy sector, and being able to automatically use depth cameras and imaging to be able to assess whether the equipment is installed correctly, being able to assess whether the bolts are turned to the right spot or there’s any damage in the production or delivery process and then automatically providing that information in context using AR,” Byers told B2B News Network in a phone interview. “Moving forward, AR will provide immediate guidance using graphical overlays and other methods to determine whether pieces are installed correctly.”

As mobile devices increasingly replace desktop and laptop computers as the most commonly used web devices, B2B executives will have to continue to come up with creative ways to utilize AR technology to reach and influence their customers.

As B2B News Network’s Connor Gallic recently reported, there are a few areas where B2B AR might really take off. One of these is at trade shows, where companies could immerse attendees in an informative new world, presenting product specs or other data in a way they won’t soon forget. AR could also revolutionize print and billboard advertising, something Pepsi has done in its groundbreaking Unbelievable Bus Shelter campaign.

The ‘try before you buy’ potential of AR is yet another area in which the technology can establish itself as a powerful B2B marketing tool.

Going forward, we will see more immersive engagement and sensor devices that can collect and process an increasingly staggering amount of data.

“The analogy we use is a sand castle,” explained Byers. “In traditional rendering, which you see in a lot of games, polygons are used. Polygons render the surface of the sand castle, and it might look beautiful. But if you punch through the surface, then you have nothing inside but empty space. Our technology models every grain of sand, which is an independent object within the sand castle, so you can reach in and get the information associated with that grain of sand, and also all of its attributes.”

“From an industrial point of view, that means if we have a piece of equipment rendered with voxels, we don’t just have a beautiful surface rendering of the object, but we have every part inside of that object that’s accessible,” Byers added.

In the more distant—but not too distant—future, expect to see neuro-based AR, which is already being introduced by companies like MindMaze, whose MindLeap HMD VR gaming goggles work by detecting brain and muscle activity and using mind power and motion-capture cameras for both VR and AR gameplay. No controller needed.

Tim Merel, managing director at San Francisco-based Digi-Capital, one of the world’s leading AR advisory firms, predicts “a host of [AR] uses nobody has thought of yet,” including what he calls aCommerce, enterprise apps, advertising, consumer apps, as well as voice calls, web browsing, video streaming, games and even theme park rides.

“We forecast that AR/VR (virtual reality) could hit $150B revenue by 2020, with AR taking the lion’s share [of] around $120 billion and VR at $30 billion,” said Merel.

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Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for U.S. news. Based in San Francisco, he is the editor and publisher of Moral Low Ground and is a Yahoo! Featured Political Contributor.
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