Far from the sci-fi visions of drastic most of us imagined when augmented reality (AR) first came onto the scene, its various technologies have kind of slipped, barely noticed, into our lives. We use AR for reporting and cool social media campaigns but we’re also aware of its potential pitfalls.
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It seems reasonable therefore that we should temper any excitement at Gartner’s prediction that AR will play a pivotal role in the workplace over the next few years. According to the research house, AR technology has matured to a point where organisations can use it as an internal tool to complement and enhance business processes, workflows and employee training.
That doesn’t sound too far-fetched. Think about this scenario: an app using Google Goggles stlye object recognition can be pointed at a machine in a factory, prompting instructional or safety videos to pop up. In turn, that has the potential to save time and resources on staff retrainings.
Indeed, Gartner identifies improvements in this kind of visual recongition, alongside advancements in location services, as reasons for AR’s increased suitability for the workspace. The precision of indoor location services, it says, has increased significantly, and this greater accuracy allows businesses to use AR location features for vehicle, campus and in-building navigation and identification. Image recognition capabilities in AR solutions allow user organisations to use these AR capabilities in processes that require staff to visually identify objects and parts and for real-time decision-making.
Another example it uses is that of fire-fighters. Using AR, they could pin-point the ambient temperature around a fire or grab hold of a building layout so they know exits, and potentially dangerous areas.
“AR is most useful as a tool in industries where workers are either in the field, do not have immediate access to information, or jobs that require one or both hands and the operator’s attention,” says Tuong Huy Nguyen, principal research analyst at Gartner. “As such, the impact on weightless industries is lower because these employees often have constant and direct access to the information they need (such as knowledge workers).”
That’s one reason why the organisations that have used AR for internal purposes in the past have mainly kept it down to specific and limited tasks.
Innovation in the face of real uncertainty?
Perhaps more contentious is Gartner’s suggestion that increased use of augmented reality in the workplace will drive innovation by enabling real-time decision-making through virtual prototyping and visualisation of content.
That, we would suggest, depends a lot more on the innovativeness of the people using the technology than on the tech itself. Equally, the promise of increased productivity and efficiency depends on how the technology is used. It has to be put in place in such a way as to allow people to be more efficient and productive (even as we begin to question the real value of those terms). Prior to deploying an AR solution as an internal tool, you should probably identify a clear goal or benefit for the deployment, such as improved access to information, or to provide training and assess how the organisation can use AR to reach this goal.
In doing so, you go a long way to mitigating the risks associated with any new tech trend.