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What Is Augmented Reality? Understanding AR Across Industries

May 21, 2020 5:34:00 AM

You’ve likely heard of augmented reality (AR), but you may not fully understand what it is and how it can be used.

By 2022, consumers will have downloaded 5.5 billion AR applications, showing how augmented reality is more than just a novelty or a gimmick to be used for video gaming and social networking. It has applications in almost every industry, and it has the potential to change the way we learn, train, share information, and sell products.

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality is an interactive experience that presents you with a real environment that has been enhanced or altered by computer-generated information. Using a smartphone camera or a similar piece of technology, it allows you to experience the real world with additional data or images overlaid on top of it in the form of three-dimensional holograms, interactive models, or text.

The most familiar example of AR might be the hit mobile game Pokémon Go, which became popular across the world in 2016. The game allowed players to look through their smartphone cameras so they could both see and capture computer-generated creatures called Pokémon. The creatures would appear against the backdrop of the view from the smartphone’s camera, making it seem like they exist in real life.

Most augmented reality applications work similarly, but the digital information presented to the user can be almost anything you want. Rather than a fantasy creature, you can present data, metrics, or even a how-to guide, all against the living image of a real environment.

Augmented Reality Vs. Virtual Reality

If you think augmented reality sounds a lot like virtual reality (VR), you’re correct. But there are some key differences.

While AR adds digital elements to a view of the real environment, virtual reality creates a new and completely immersive environment for you to experience. Someone wearing a VR helmet is blind to what’s going on around them in the real world because they only see the virtual environment presented to them. Their experience may also be enhanced with gloves and other equipment that mimic the sensations they might experience while interacting with the virtual environment if it were real.

From a business perspective, the biggest difference between the two technologies is the equipment involved. You can use AR with a smartphone. You need special equipment to use VR.

Terminology You Should Know

It can be difficult to keep up with the terminology when speaking about this type of technology, so here are some terms you should be aware of.

  • “Hologram” or “Model” — The digitally-rendered information presented to the user in AR (the Pokémon in Pokémon Go). It’s typically three-dimensional and possibly animated.
  • Extended Reality (XR) — Used as an umbrella term for both augmented and virtual reality.
  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD) — Software that uses automation to help in the creation of designs, which can often be viewed in augmented reality.
  • Field of View (FoV) — The visual area in which the user can see virtual content.
  • Mesh — The web of points and lines that the computer recognizes in a three-dimensional space, allowing it to project an image that aligns with the real environment.
  • Tracking — The method the computer uses to fix an object in three-dimensional space, allowing the user to walk around it and view it from multiple angles.

The Current Uses of AR

The applications for AR already stretch far beyond gaming and sending funny photos. The following are just a few of the unique applications for AR.

Retail and eCommerce

AR has an enormous potential to enhance the retail experience by bringing products directly into customers’ homes. Someone shopping for a piece of furniture can see how it would look in their living room. Similarly, someone shopping online for a pair of pants can see how they look in them in the mirror before buying.

According to Gartner, 100 million consumers will shop in augmented reality both online and in-store in 2020.

Education

AR provides students with virtual guides and examples in support of other class materials, such as textbooks and handouts. AR can add gamification to the learning experience and even bring charts and diagrams to life before the student’s eyes, making learning more fun.

Medical Training

AR can help medical professionals obtain more effective training and hands-on learning. Instead of learning conceptual information in a traditional setting, medical professionals can be trained up front using an AR representation of a medical product. This allows them to put their education into practice immediately in a low-stakes environment.

Field Service & Maintenance

Field service technicians must travel to business locations to fix equipment on-site. Whether they’re fixing an industrial grinder or an espresso machine, first-time fixes are essential to maintaining client satisfaction. AR can help them by overlaying diagrams and how-to guides on the machines while they work on them.

Technicians can also use AR for training and certification purposes. Using an AR-enabled device, they can pinch, zoom, and rotate holographic models to gain first-hand knowledge of the equipment they must work on. They can even use exploded views of the equipment to see exactly how it functions and activate menus on the AR model.

Logistics

Warehouses and fulfillment centers can utilize AR to help their workers stay productive and cut down on the time it takes for them to get from point A to point B. Amazon is already working to roll out AR-enabled headsets that can show warehouse employees which pathways to take to reach items for picking and delivering.

AR is More Accessible Than You Think

It might sound complex and futuristic, but AR doesn’t have to be expensive or difficult to use. By partnering with a company like NexTech, you can create amazing holograms of your products that your customers can view using nothing but a smartphone. NexTech can even provide you with holographic personal shoppers and speakers, so your customers can experience and interactive sales conversation from the comfort of their homes.

Contact NexTech AR today to learn how we can help.

NexTech

Written by NexTech

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