Editor's Note: This post was originally published on July 9, 2018, and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Fifty years ago, Ivan Sutherland won the prestigious Turing Award for his three-dimensional display created for his employer, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). His 3-D invention was a massive metal-and-cable beast, awkwardly suspended from the ceiling, that encircled his head like a helmet on steroids. The ultimate purpose of Sutherland’s research and experimentation was to provide jet fighter pilots with visualization tools that would help precisely analyze the overwhelming number of data points they captured.
Boeing and AR in the 1980s
Outside of the military, AR was nonexistent because computers couldn’t support it. But two decades later, Boeing scientist Dr. Thomas Caudell explored AR with more-sophisticated computers. Wanting to make the first digitally-designed aircraft, the 777, easier, he and colleague David Mizell designed a see-through display to guide workers as they threaded bundles of wires onto the pegs of a 20- to 30-foot-long board. Their initial device turned out poorly (computers to support AR still needed to be up to the challenge), but the scientists returned to the drawing board. In 1988, Dr. Caudell coined augmented reality to describe the new type of “digital vision” they sought.
Today, Boeing is at the forefront of all types of “reality” – virtual, informed, augmented, and mixed. The company’s AR system takes spatially registered digital content and overlays it onto views of the real world. For example, in one scenario, it projected what would have been a 10,000+ page manual into a “visual headset.” Then, it displayed the body of an aircraft with the necessary technical information for the assembly process – making the process faster and less error-prone. The use of AR in Boeing’s manufacturing process has resulted in a 90% reduction in errors and a 30% decline in time in production, according to Paul Davies, Associate Technical Fellow at Boeing. The company’s use of AR for its 45-step training program has shown similarly impressive results.
AR is no longer a shiny new tech tool for big business. It’s everywhere, for everyone.
When Google Glass was hyped as the next shiny new tool in tech, businesses and consumers wondered how it would affect their lives.
Unfortunately, when it failed, few people were surprised. Since that failure, Microsoft has taken a giant leap forward, using tech similar to the Xbox Kinect to create Hololens. In addition, the emergence of two solid platforms created by Apple and Google – ARkit and ARCore – has resulted in a growing number of AR apps made with fresh features to satisfy a growing list of needs in manufacturing, business services, and consumer goods.
- If you watch sports, you’ve seen broadcasters overlay lines on the field to show first downs and other key movements. That’s AR.
- If you’ve shopped for homes or furniture, you may have seen 360-degree views of a house or pieces of furniture inserted into an image of your room. Retailers like IKEA, local interior designers, Realtors, landscape architects, surgeons, and law enforcement agencies are increasingly using AR.
- If you’ve seen Pokémon Go in action, you’ve noticed people hovering over their screens, looking at virtual creatures as if they were present in real-world situations. Users spent $200 million on in-game content in the first month of Pokémon Go’s existence. (Since its introduction in 2016, there have been 500 million downloads of the Pokémon app. Now, that’s AR for the masses!)
- If you’ve wondered how highly sophisticated systems and equipment are designed and manufactured in mere weeks (and repaired in mere hours), the answer is AR.
You don’t need to be big like Boeing or Pokémon to reap benefits.
Hololens and other AR wearable headsets now have all the computing power they need to maintain AR. The core technology behind AR is Simultaneous Localization and Mapping – or SLAM – which allows users to see the depth and textural maps that “overlay” a real-world scenario. Some manufacturers and field service organizations are deploying AR on headsets. Still, many others are deploying it on everyday devices – like tablets and smartphones – as they wait for the next iteration of wearable devices.
In field service and dozens of other industries, AR is delivering Boeing-like benefits. Below are the many benefits Boeing realized from using AR in manufacturing, followed by why field service organizations are also deploying AR.
- Reduction in errors: In field service, mistakes are costly – in terms of time required on the job, dissatisfied customers, and lost revenue from lapsed customers.
- Reduction in training requirements: In field service, AR is not only a first-time instructional assist but also a reference tool that workers can replay.
- Reduction in time spent: In field service, time is money. AR helps workers get their jobs done on time, every time.
- Increase in “worker recall”: of project-related instructions. Workers report that on the manufacturing floor, “If I can see it done, I can do it.”
- Transfer of “tribal knowledge“: It’s also called “remote assist,” it can shave hours (even days) off the time required to repair a piece of equipment or replace a part in a system.
If you need to know where to begin in AR the landscape, know why you should start.
The good news for field service organizations (at least for those with a digital field service solution like Gomocha FMP360) is that they already have access to data to analyze their operations. What they need – and what AR provides – is a way to use that data to optimize technician performance on the job.
Knowing how to capture, analyze, store, manipulate, and benefit from data can be overwhelming. The first step is to recognize that data is the key to gaining rich insights about your world, and augmented reality is the enhancement – the enabler – that allows you to visualize and analyze the growing torrent of data on your business’s interactive canvas.
And consider this: You should use AR sparingly because it’s trendy. AR is no longer a gimmick. AR solves real issues that affect business.
Want to serve more customers? Want to keep existing customers happier? Do you want to equip technicians with all the tools they need to perform well, lowering frustration and reducing technician turnover? Want to decrease costs and increase first-time fixes?
Regardless of what drives the adoption of augmented reality, the ROI it can achieve is impressive. Results are almost immediate. AR’s potential in business is astounding!