Augmented Reality’s First Step Forward Might Be More Blue Collar Than You Think

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Editor’s note: Daniel Faggella holds a UPENN master’s degree in positive psychology, and is founder of TechEmergence, a news and advice website specifically for entrepreneurs and investors interested in the intersection of technology and the mind. He regularly interviews world experts on philosophy, artificial intelligence, life extension, and more, and has written for BETABoston, the World Future Society, the Institute for Ethics in Emerging Technology, and more.

Augmented reality remains limited in its day-to-day applications for most consumers. If you mention “augmented reality” on the street, people think about scanning their favorite magazine with their smartphone, and having a coupon or 3D image pop up. This hasn’t exactly been a “game-changer” for brands or marketers in most industries, but some AR company leaders believe that the first area of real penetration of the functional use of AR will be more “blue collar” than most people expect.

Augmate is an NYC-based augmented reality platform, founded by Pete Wassell. For Wassell, current AR technology isn’t capable enough to provide all consumers with a customized and uniquely tailored visual version of their own world – yet. He believes that more stationary or limited functions of field of view are well suited to the industry-agnostic use-cases on which Augmate focuses, including warehouse picking and manual worker training.

“What we’re working with is more reasonable set of checklists and overlays than can help a worker do their job,” says Wassell. “There’s upwards of a 30 percent efficiency increase in time on task when information is in your field of view.”

In warehouse picking, this might involve automatically showing a worker where to find an item, or automatically notify him or her of inventory levels on the fly. In a training environment, a company might have access to the field of view of dozens of workers, quickly assessing their progress and ensuring that they’re working through designated steps efficiently.

In other environments, he says, workers might see an overlay of “manual-like” instructions of a particular piece of equipment. In a car, this might be a specific piece of an engine, highlighting specific directions about how to access the part, even if it is beneath other car components. You can see these features live in Augmate’s “InstructAR” sample video here:

Across the pond in Germany, another company is taking a more industrial focus: Metaio. “What most people are familiar with in augmented reality are what I call ‘rabbits in newspapers,’ little funny eye-catchers that ultimately don’t add much value,” said Trak Lord, formerly the head of U.S. marketing for Metaio. The company’s role is to serve as a platform for augmented reality development, in addition to specific augmented reality applications in mostly business to business settings. Lord refers to much of the B2B technology as being “visualization technology.”

Lord uses an example of selling large robotic arms for industrial settings. “You can’t exactly rent one of these things, or bring it in with a suitcase. We’re talking about many tons and bolting this big machine into the ground.”

In these circumstances, salespeople can use augmented reality to not only demonstrate how the robotic arm will fit into a given industrial space, as well as the reach of its arm, and how its rotational radius might intersect and interfere with other equipment or other industrial robotic arms. “You don’t exactly want two of these things giving each other a ‘high five,’” jokes Lord.

AR innovator Daqri recently grabbed its new president from a paramount industrial company: Raytheon. Despite being involved heavily in entertainment, Daqri’s leadership now sees its biggest opportunity for growth in the industrial sector. The  new president, Andy Lowery, describes AR-applicable situations as follows: “Common processes that rely on the sophistication of human decision, and their ability for complex, agile behaviors, coupled with precise, information-driven, and often repetitive actions.”

From control-panel management, training and instruction (much like Augmate is aiming for), and batch operations, Daqri also sees desk-less jobs as the first big playing field for AR.

These industrial applications share the aim of replacing of manuals, guides, rulers and calculations with done-for-you, field-of-view feedback. This takes some of the lengthy and mentally taxing aspects of a job out of a worker’s hands and into his sights, essentially “augmenting” the output of the workers themselves (which, of course, is the only way to maintain a value proposition to businesses and industries).

Wassell believes that this kind of technology might help keep more manual jobs in the hands of humans instead of robots, a proposition that seems somewhat noble.

Whether you believe that AR can save desk-less workers from losing their jobs to robots is one thing, but it’s hard to argue against the practical application of AR to overlay and visualize information in jobs that require measurement, following specific task lists, finding items, and the like. Might these blue collar applications be what finally puts AR on the map, integrating these tools into daily working life? There seems to be no bigger clue than the fact that some of the finest industry innovators are betting on it.

IMAGE BY Flickr USER Kheel Center UNDER CC BY 2.0 LICENSE