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Hololens gives AR big push

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Microsoft’s HoloLens has massive ramifications for businesses and professionals. We are already seeing the aviation, engineering and medical spheres embracing it and finding ways to harness its capabilities, writes ETIENNE DE VILLIERS of Fuzzy Logic.

Earlier this year, tech juggernaut Microsoft began shipping the developer’s version of its HoloLens AR headset. A device that has been in development for years, the HoloLens is the first ever fully untethered, holographic computer – which enables users to interact with high‑definition holograms in the real world.

For developers worldwide, and indeed, for individuals and businesses, the Microsoft HoloLens has the potential to transform the way we work and interact with our physical environments. While the cost of the device ($3000) remains prohibitive to the average consumer, it is already being embraced within certain industries and sectors.

Contextual Wizardry

Arguably, the HoloLens is the first device that is demonstrating the real power of Augmented Reality (AR) and its potential applications in both business, and in the longer term, our day-to-day life. One of the most compelling elements of this technology is its ability to use the context you are in, and then overlay information around or onto that physical context. So, while Virtual Reality (VR) takes you into an entirely new context, the HoloLens uses AR to enrich and enhance your own, current context.

Imagine, for example, you are in your garden and you spot an unfamiliar plant. Using the HoloLens, the idea is that by simply looking at the plant and asking the question about what it is, the answer will pop up onto the screen – overlaid onto your view of the plant. From here, you can ask other questions such as, will it work in my garden? How do I care for it?

For AR developers, the key will be to ensure that this contextual ability is seamlessly integrated into the HoloLens, so that it becomes a natural extension of our world and our work.

Untethered, Unlimited

While AR and VR have been around for many years, it is the ‘untethered’ element of the HoloLens that makes it so exciting and transformative for developers. Because it is a headset the user’s hands are freed, and in combination with excellent hand tracking technology, it opens up the opportunity for entirely new experiences that are far more interactive and immersive. And unlike AR applications on a smartphone, which use the smartphone’s camera as its ‘eyes’, the HoloLens’s see-through display allows the user’s own eyes – and therefore own, real world context – to shape and guide the experience. No longer are you limited by your device’s camera view – it is your own, real world view that is providing the context.

This ability, and the resulting immersion in both the real and virtual world, has massive ramifications for businesses and professionals. Picture a paramedic rushing to an accident, and encountering a very serious and complex emergency scene. Using the HoloLens, this paramedic can connect – via Skype – to specialists located back at the hospital, who will then be able to ‘see’ what the paramedic is seeing. They can then guide the paramedic, step by step, by overlaying digital information and guidelines onto his immediate view of the physical scene in front of him.

Businesses on the AR Bandwagon

Although many of these scenarios remain purely hypothetical at this early stage, some companies are already leveraging the HoloLens within their operations. One such company is the engineering giant thyssenkrupp, which is using the technology within its elevator business. The company has pioneered the use of the Microsoft HoloLens amongst its army of service technicians.

Using the device, the technicians are able to visualise and identify problems with elevators ahead of a job. Prior to tackling any task, a technician can view a detailed, 3D image of the elevator, and then zoom into any part – offering endless training opportunities as well. These technicians then arrive at the actual site better prepared than ever before.

In addition, they have remote, hands-free access to technical and expert information when on site – with the HoloLens able to trigger a remote call to a subject matter expert. According to the company, the device saves huge amounts of time, stress and effort. A job that normally takes 1-2 hours, now takes less than 20 minutes, reports one company spokesperson.

A Universe of Opportunity

As many who are close to this technology have asserted, we are only scratching the surface of what AR, and devices such as the HoloLens, can truly offer. The early adopters, for now, will be those industries and sectors that rely on sophisticated and expensive technology, and who can afford the high costs associated with research and development. Indeed, we are already seeing the aviation, engineering and medical spheres embracing the HoloLens and finding ways to harness its game-changing capabilities. For local businesses and industry leaders, it is well worth keeping an eye on this fast evolving technology and planning for ways to leverage its immense potential.

Etienne de Villiers, Lead Programmer at Fuzzy Logic

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IoT at starting gate

South Africa is already past the Internet of Things (IoT) hype cycle and well into the mainstream, writes MARK WALKER, associate vice president of Sub-Saharan Africa at International Data Corporation (IDC).

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Projects and pilots are already becoming a commercial reality, tying neatly into the 2017 IDC prediction that 2018 would be the year when the local market took IoT mainstream. Over the next 12-18 months, it is anticipated that IoT implementations will continue to rise in both scope and popularity. Already 23% are in full deployment with 39% in the pilot phase. The value of IoT has been systematically proven and yet its reputation remains tenuous – more than 5% of companies are reluctant to put their money where the trend is – thanks to the shifting sands of IoT perception and success rate.

There are several reasons behind why IoT implementations are failing. The biggest is that organisations don’t know where to start. They know that IoT is something they can harness today and that it can be used to shift outdated modalities and operations. They are aware of the benefits and the case studies. What they don’t know is how to apply this knowledge to their own journey so their IoT story isn’t one of overbearing complexity and rising costs.

Another stumbling block is perception. Yes, there is the futuristic potential with the talking fridge and intelligent desk, but this is not where the real value lies. Organisations are overlooking the challenges that can be solved by realistic IoT, the banal and the boring solutions that leverage systems to deliver on business priorities. IoT’s potential sits within its ability to get the best out of assets and production efficiencies, solving problems in automation, security, and environment.

In addition to this, there is a lack of clarity around return on investment, uncertainty around the benefits, a lack of executive leadership, and concerns around security and the complexities of regulation.  Because IoT is an emerging technology there remains a limited awareness of the true extent of its value proposition and yet 66% of organisations are confident that this value exists.

This percentage poses both a problem and opportunity. On one hand, it showcases the local shift in thinking towards IoT as a technology worth investing into. On the other hand, many companies are seeing the competition invest and leaping blindly in the wrong direction. Stop. IoT is not the same for every business.

It is essential that every company makes its own case for IoT based on its needs and outcomes. Does agriculture have the same challenges as mining? Does one mining company have the same challenges as another? The answer is no. Organisations that want their IoT investment to succeed must reject the idea that they can pick up where another has left off. IoT must be relevant to the business outcome that it needs to achieve. While some use cases may apply to most industries based on specific circumstances, there are different realities and priorities that will demand a different approach and starting point.

Ask – what is the business problem right now and how can technology be leveraged to resolve it?

In the agriculture space, there is a need to improve crop yields and livestock management, improve farm productivity and implement environmental monitoring. In the construction and mining industry, safety and emergency response are a priority alongside workforce and production management. Education shifts the lens towards improving delivery and quality of education, access to advanced learning methods and reducing the costs of learning.  Smart cities want to improve traffic and efficiently deliver public services and healthcare is focusing on wellness, reducing hospital admissions and the security of assets and inventory management.

The technology and solutions selected must speak to these specific challenges.

If there are no insights used to create an IoT solution, it’s the equivalent of having the fastest Ferrari on Rivonia Road in peak traffic. It makes a fantastic noise, but it isn’t going to move any faster than the broken-down sedan in the next lane. Everyone will be impressed with the Ferrari, but the amount of power and the size of the investment mean nothing. It’s in the wrong place.

What differentiates the IoT successes is how a company leverages data to deliver meaningful value-added predictions and actions for personalised efficiencies, convenience, and improved industry processes. To move forward the organisation needs to focus on the business outcomes and not just the technology. They need to localise and adapt by applying context to the problem that’s being solved and explore innovation through partnerships and experimentation.

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ERP underpins food tracking

The food traceability market is expected to reach almost $20 billion by 2022 as increased consumer awareness, strict governance requirements, and advances in technology are resulting in growing standardisation of the segment, says STUART SCANLON, managing director of epic ERP

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Just like any data-driven environment, one of the biggest enablers of this is integrated enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions.

As the name suggests, traceability is the ability to track something through all stages of production, processing, and distribution. When it comes to the food industry, traceability must also enable stakeholders to identify the source of all food inputs that can include anything from raw materials, additives, ingredients, and packaging.

Considering the wealth of data that all these facets generate, it is hardly surprising that systems and processes need to be put in place to manage, analyse, and provide actionable insights. With traceability enabling corrective measures to be taken (think product recalls), having an efficient system is often the difference between life or death when it comes to public health risks.

Expansive solutions

Sceptics argue that traceability simply requires an extensive data warehouse to be done correctly, the reality is quite different. Yes, there are standard data records to be managed, but the real value lies in how all these components are tied together.

ERP provides the digital glue to enable this. With each stakeholder audience requiring different aspects of traceability (and compliance), it is essential for the producer, distributor, and every other organisation in the supply chain, to manage this effectively in a standardised manner.

With so many different companies involved in the food cycle, many using their own, proprietary systems, just consider the complexity of trying to manage traceability. Organisations must not only contend with local challenges, but global ones as well as the import and export of food are big business drivers.

So, even though traceability is vital to keep track of everything in this complex cycle, it is also imperative to monitor the ingredients and factories where items are produced. Having expansive solutions that must track the entire process from ‘cradle to grave’ is an imperative. Not only is this vital from a safety perspective, but from cost and reputational management aspects as well. Just think of the recent listeriosis issue in South Africa and the impact it has had on all parties in that supply chain.

Efficiency improvements

Thanks to the increasing digital transformation efforts by companies in the food industry, traceability becomes a more effective process. It is no longer a case of using on-premise solutions that can be compromised but having hosted ones that provide more effective fail-safes.

In a market segment that requires strict compliance and regulatory requirements to be met, cloud-based solutions can provide everyone in the supply chain with a more secure (and tamper-resistant) solution than many of the legacy approaches of old.

This is not to say ERP requires the one or the other. Instead, there needs to be a transition provided between the two scenarios that empowers those in the food supply chain to maximise the insights (and benefits) derived from traceability.

Now, more than ever, traceability is a business priority. Having the correct foundation through effective ERP is essential if a business can manage its growth and meet legislative requirements into the future.

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