Geo Week News

January 23, 2017

Four Facts about the Current State of AR for Enterprise

By the end of 2016, I was convinced that augmented reality had arrived (or, maybe it was mixed reality that had arrived–it depends on who you ask). Last week’s AR in Action conference held at MIT’s Media Lab did little to convince me otherwise. But the TED-like conference of 1,000+ people, 32 panels, and 70 talks was more than a debut party for AR. If you wanted to get a sense for where we are with this nascent technology–for consumers and enterprise users alike–you’d be hard pressed to find a better group of people to tell you.

If you couldn’t make it, here are a few of my main takeaways from AR in Action.

AR is Going to Change the Way We Work

Like any conference filled with startups, tech entrepreneurs, and tech journalists, the overall vibe of AR in Action was optimistic verging on utopian. Tech blogger Robert Scoble, for instance, was on hand to talk about his theory that augmented reality represents the fourth major transformation in the way we compute—and, as a result, a major revolution in our day-to-day lives.

It isn’t just the evangelists who are buying into AR. Patrick Ryan, the engineering manager for Newport News Shipbuilding, said that as soon as he saw the technology he knew it was going to change everything his company does—from design, to skilled work, to documentation. From what I can tell, this is a common sentiment among a number of more forward-thinking enterprises.

ar-in-action-enterprise-panelIt’s Still a Challenge to Use at Enterprise Scale

OK, you’re convinced. You’ve seen videos where a field worker dons an augmented reality headset and a remote expert beams in instructions, enabling the worker to complete his work 60% faster. You want a HoloLens.

But, Patrick Ryan asks, do you know how we scale this technology for an enterprise? Is it going to be an IT nightmare? How do we author content for it at scale? How do we bridge the gap between this system and our legacy systems? How do we fit it into our existing workflows? How do we figure out our best practices?

These are the questions any company needs to ask before using a technology like this at full scale.

New Technologies are Not Diseases

During a panel of enterprise AR users, Wearality’s CTO David Smith made a pithy observation that companies have a bad habit of treating new technologies like a troublesome disease that needs to be eradicated.

If you’re the person pushing your company to adopt this technology, he says, the key to your success is convincing everyone that the technology isn’t a disease, but a baby. That is, it’s not a negative disruption, but a positive one.


AR Still Needs a Killer App

A killer app is, simply put, a program or piece of software so useful or desirable that it single-handedly justifies the cost of the technology it runs on. Augmented reality really needs one if we’re going to get better at selling it up the org chart and getting buy-in at higher levels. Unfortunately, a lot of the consultants, enterprise users, and technologists at the conference were saying the technology doesn’t have one yet.

(If you’re still unsure about what constitutes a killer app, here’s an example: VisiCalc is often sited as the killer app for the Apple II series computers. The spreadsheet software was said to be so useful that it justified the many thousands of dollars it cost to buy the Apple computers to run it.)

You could argue that certain industries, like mining, design, and construction, have developed killer apps for AR in the form of software that enables great improvements to collaboration, visualization, and efficiency. But the sense I got from the conference is that a lot of AR industry insiders think these applications aren’t enough. For AR to succeed fully as an enterprise technology, it needs an application so useful it improves a process by a few orders of magnitude.

It should offer you a way to work that is 100x better, or perform a function so valuable that it pays you back almost immediately for the huge effort you put in to scaling it as an enterprise technology. In other words, until the technology is more expensive not to use, it’s not quite ready.

Want more stories like this? Subscribe today!

Read Next

Related Articles


Join the Discussion