The argument for augmented reality

By Ryan Shenefelt / Guest Column

Augmented reality, or AR, adds a layer of “tech” over the everyday world that we live in – a type of filter that truly “augments” our daily lives as opposed to virtual reality (VR), which transports us into an alternative world.

Everyday consumers may have seen VR in action this past holiday season, as friends and family members waved their arms around while wearing an electronic, SCUBA-like mask popularized by Samsung. But consumers had their first taste of AR with the introduction of Google Glass in 2012 (before it was discontinued by the tech giant), and then again in 2016 with the release of the hit mobile game, Pokemon Go, which sent teens and millennials outdoors in droves to experience the technology.

With the mass adoption of “phone-based” AR, companies and institutions now have the ability to bring AR directly to their consumers and patrons. Retail giant IKEA has launched IKEA Place, an AR catalog that allows users to place furniture directly in their living rooms, eliminating the “I can’t see it in person” issue that has traditionally required high-overhead, brick-and-mortar locations. Other retailers, including Amazon, Target and Wayfair, are now building similar AR features into their mobile apps.

In the museum world, an emerging trend is the use of AR to augment the visitor experience. These apps allow you to scan exhibits and artifacts to gain deeper information. Audio cues can be given through MP3 files, interactive games and 3-D images may appear, or the app can send a user to YouTube to view a related video.

AR is about more than just looking at products and paintings, however – it has also put down roots in the manufacturing world. After a failed consumer launch, Google Glass found a second life in highly regulated, training-intensive industries. The technology allows workers to view instructional manuals, assembly training guides or even leave voice notes on particularly “tricky” elements for future shift workers.

Companies like General Electric, Boeing and AGCO are already using AR in their facilities, with the latter reporting a 20 percent increase in their quality check speeds. Most manufacturing companies with high-tech needs have already shifted to using rugged tablets for fieldwork, but AR allows users a hands-free experience. Manufacturers of large machinery are also adding AR markers in order to allow project managers to “look” at the machine to quickly see its progress and an estimated completion date.

With Apple’s introduction of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, you may have noticed a large push for AR with Apple’s own ARKit, which lets developers create AR apps for iOS devices. iOS devices hold only 19 percent of the total mobile phone share, with Android coming in at 70 percent, but Apple’s App Store still claims double the sales of the Google Play Store, with $34 billion in downloads in 2016, compared to Google’s $17 billion. Mobile just might be the push that takes AR to the next level as consumer interest increases and investors funnel their money into AR startups.

Imagine the day when construction workers will be able to see where wiring should go within walls, consumers can virtually try on nail polishes, veins can easily be identified for IV insertions and farmers can detect an insect in their fields on site. That’s all augmented reality, and it’s already happening. Expect rapid advancement and adoption rates in 2018 and the near future.

Ryan Shenefelt is a digital strategist with de Novo Alternative Marketing in Cedar Rapids.