Augmented Reality v. Virtual Reality
What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality (or AR for short) is the future of computing. Like all major paradigm shifts in technology, such as those of the evolution of the desktop computer or of the cell phone, that future always begins with the early adoption of an exciting new technology within the business world. AR is on the same trajectory as those highly successful technologies. In fact, AR is already being deployed by thought leaders in a variety of industry verticals.
So, how does Augmented Reality work? AR is best described as the real world augmented by computer-generated sensory input. At Atheer, AR is delivered through head-mounted displays, like our clear AiR Glasses, connected both to a phone-sized computer and to a collaborative network such that multiple units and people can interact in context. That collaborative network is powered by Atheer’s distinctive software, AiR Suite, which works together with our AiR Glasses for a complete solution. Because we understand that not every business is the same and the needs of workers differ greatly, our software also can be used on our partner devices, which are glasses manufactured by Epson, ODG, Intel/Recon, and Vuzix. In this piece, we aim to describe AR as well as to highlight the potential for AR to make an immediate difference in the way you conduct business.
AR in the Movies
In the case of today’s newest technologies, we have some great examples to reference in film to illustrate what these technologies are and what they do. Specifically, AR experiences exist in two distinct spaces, display space (also known as heads-up display) and sphere space. In display space, wherever you look, there are things tied to your vision. Imagine Tony Stark’s helmet from the movie IronMan. That’s display space. It neither blocks the vision nor makes it fully immersive; rather, it gives you some sense for where you are or provides an analysis of the actual picture you’re seeing in your field of vision. Imagine being able to look at a painting and have it recognized such that relevant information about the artist will be displayed alongside it.
In sphere space, objects live around you; they are essentially relative to you. The movie equivalent of this space is Minority Report. In a real-world context, imagine a doctor performing an operation with virtual screens around her allowing her to see the patient’s information. She can be looking at the patient on whom she is operating through her clear smartglasses, can look to her right to see a screen containing the patient’s vitals to her, or can look to her left for the patient’s x-ray report. These screens don’t exist physically, so it’s possible to have a team of people all with AR smartglasses pulling up just the personal screens that they need as opposed to a clutter of fixed, “real” screens getting in the way. Imagine the possibilities of this for complex surgeries like heart/lung transplants that require multiple doctors at once in an operating room! The same could be said about a team of people repairing a complex piece of machinery or a trader being able to visualize many points of information on multiple screens at a “virtual trading desk.”
There is another space that touches on AR but remains distinct from it for now. It’s called world space, or mixed reality (MR). Explaining the distinction can be a bit tricky, but it’s important to understand. The movie equivalent of MR is Star Wars, specifically the holographic halls in which the Jedi council appears to be gathered and sitting on chairs in the same space but aren’t really there, or even when Princess Leia appears from R2-D2 to plead for Obi-Wan Kenobi’s help. In MR, virtual objects are intermingled with real objects. Imagine the gaming and entertainment possibilities! MR always maps your environment in order to populate it with computer-driven data. Because of that mapping, a present-day distinction between AR and MR is that MR can fix objects in your visual field. For example, let’s say a mechanic is repairing a custom jet engine. He is on the ground with the plane in Boston, and he is using MR technology to collaborate (via our AiR Suite software) on the repair with the engineer in Germany who originally designed the engine. The engineer can use MR glasses and their related visual display field to circle a part that needs attention. When the mechanic looks away, that circle will remain around the object and out of the mechanic’s field of vision until the mechanic looks back at that spot, where the circle will remain. AR technology still allows the part to be circled in the mechanic’s visual field, but the circle is tied to the field of vision, not to the object. In order to have MR capabilities, hardware (glasses) and their attached computer require extra sensors and a lot more battery power for constantly mapping the world. Such hardware is bulkier, more costly, and has less battery life. Because constantly mapping the world and being able to fix objects often isn’t necessary and because the benefits of an AR solution are often what an enterprise needs, AR and MR hardware is separate for now. In the future, though, they are likely to merge as things like battery life improve in MR technology. Both involve the real world overlaid with information. While AR functions as a floating, see-through screen that can access information, allow for true collaboration, and more, AR does not require the same constant-mapping and fixing of the real world like MR necessitates. No matter what solution is best for your company, though, our AiR Suite software works with both AR and MR applications on both AR and MR head-mounted displays. Atheer’s AiR glasses are specific to AR for now, but we provide ways to choose the right hardware/software combination for your company’s needs no matter whether AR or MR is right for you.
There is another type of “reality” solution, called Virtual Reality (VR), that is distinct from the AR/MR space. VR is about traveling or escaping to a different place. As a movie analogy, think of The Matrix or Avatar; that’s VR. The power of VR is in the physicality of the experience. With VR, you can feel like you’re in a roller coaster, or flying through the air, or falling into a pit; you can do things that are pretty magical. While high-end VR hardware is just emerging and will need to evolve, some level of VR can be executed with mobile technology that already exists, like with Google Cardboard, so the VR experience is much more accessible for consumers than AR is at present. It is especially exciting to use VR for gaming these days. Its entertainment purposes are boundless! If you are seeking a VR, or virtual reality solution, Atheer does not offer that, though. Why? AR and MR are about being in and engaging with the real world while using technology to add or to overlay information or content. This information may be something that enriches an experience, entertains you, or enhances your productivity. This is the value proposition to your company for implementing Atheer’s hardware and/or software. VR is not real-world based. As such, we find that most enterprises are seeking more tangible AR/MR solutions that allow them to overlay computer-driven data onto real-world applications, described in more detail below.
What Will Augmented Reality Do for You?
When we started Atheer, we found that rather than trying to provide maximum impact according to a variety of industry verticals, it would be more relevant to divide our customers’ needs according to the activities that are core to their business environment. To do this, we came up with an acronym, F.A.S.T., in which F stands for Fix, A for Assemble, S for Survey, and T for Treat. Equally important to understanding the use cases across the board was understanding that whether we are dealing with a highly paid expert repairing an airplane, an experienced Risk Management Engineer assessing insurance risk onsite, or a warehouse supervisor overseeing quality assurance, they all require productivity, speed, and safety. As well, often remote communication or collaboration is essential to their deliverables.
Perhaps the most compelling case for using our smartglasses today is for Fixing or repairing complex, mission-critical machinery. For example, one of our airline customers faces costs of up to $50,000 per hour when one of the company’s airplanes is grounded and not in service because of a mechanical problem. Put yourself in the shoes of an airplane mechanic trying to fix an extraordinarily complex, often customized, airplane. Not only can the mechanic obtain real-time advice from a remote expert who can see what he sees, but he also can access maintenance manuals and schematics while wearing his smartglasses without ever having to stop working with his hands to make the needed repair.
Oftentimes, addressing needed repairs requires experts to physically travel to very remote places. We heard this, for instance, from a mining company with operations in Chile that often requires U.S.-based experts to visit with great travel and downtime costs. If a field worker can get a consultation remotely by simply donning a pair of glasses and conferencing the expert into the situation through AiR Suite, we are eliminating the need for onsite presence and are eliminating the costs associated with this. When you really think about it, the possibilities for completely re-engineering processes are quite vast and strong, including for anyone who sells complex machines that are distributed, like semiconductors, electronics manufacturing equipment, or large-scale printers. When costs are saved on repairing expensive technologies faster, significant economic benefits will be realized, and the technologies may become less expensive and more accessible as a result.
For any application, the biggest and most immediate advantage of smartglasses that comes to mind is true hands-free usage. There are plenty of situations in which holding a phone for a long time or taking gloves off to interact with a touchscreen isn’t a practical solution for workers. The ability to interact through voice, hand gestures, head motions, and eye movements provides a whole new level of usability in situations where a worker’s hands are tied up with tools or are gloved. Imagine holding yourself up in a structure while making a major repair on sensitive equipment, or imagine a doctor in the middle of open heart surgery. In difficult conditions, especially, it’s just not practical to be using phones or tablets, or even having to touch the side of the glasses to prompt access to data that may be needed in real time. True hands-free, all-conditions usability is the #1 thing that will drive early adopters to smartglasses.
What’s Next ?
DigiCapital’s CEO Tim Merel is calling VR/AR/MR the Fourth Platform Wave, and we at Atheer agree. AR is the future of computing. Enterprise companies in Oil and Gas, in Insurance, in the Airline Industry, in Warehousing, and beyond are utilizing our technologies to make immediate, cost-saving differences in the way they do business. Our team at Atheer works with customers to pilot customized solutions over 3, 6, or 12 month periods, and we are confident that, by the end if not well before, the potential ROI you will see will be significant.
For more information on specific use cases for smartglasses and for AiR Suite software, please read our next article highlighting the ways in which Atheer’s enterprise customers are implementing both our software and our hardware platforms to their great advantage.
If you or your team would benefit from talking through the ways you seek to innovate your enterprise through AR solutions, or if you have questions, please let us know. Atheer has a Customer Success Team that would be glad to share their insights. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.