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Augmented reality gets ready for business

Lenovo has revealed details of an augmented reality system for businesses. ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK explores the potential.

Virtual reality (VR) gets all the attention, because it promises consumers not only a whole new world, but many new worlds. By comparison, augmented reality (AR) is the poor relation. Yet, this is where we are likely to see the real evolution, product ranges and use cases emerging in the five years.

Ironically, AR may even save VR, as it allows for several levels of immersion, from basic text overlaid on whatever one is viewing in the real world, all the way through to near-total VR.

It is this versatility of AR that is seeing it invading industries, organisations and enterprises globally. From teaching anatomy in a class to performing surgery, from repairing an aircraft engine to in-vehicle navigation, the use cases are becoming well-established. And where there are business use cases, manufacturers and developers quickly fill in the gaps identified by users.

For this reason, an AR device is being developed by Lenovo, best known for its ThinkPad laptops and Yoga two-in-one laptop-tablet combination. At the Transform 2.0 conference hosted by the Lenovo Data Centre Group in New York this month, it revealed not only a headset, but also a computing device and a software platform. At first sight, it may even appear to be a VR headset. This means that it can cover the full spectrum of AR experiences.

“I don’t think there’s a super hard line between AR and VR,” said Christian Teismann, senior vice president and general manager of Lenovo Worldwide Enterprise Business, at the event. “If you think of the AR you put over real reality, you start with 1% virtual. When you get to 100%, it’s become VR. 

“However, the use for VR is limited to experience. I don’t think for commercial applications VR has a lot of use cases, but the amount of AR overlaid on reality will vary a lot. In some cases, most reality will be augmented, in others only very little.”

Two great examples that encapsulate the issue is the use of augmented reality in cars versus its use in surgery.

“When you’re driving a car, how much augmented reality is reasonable?” asks Teismann. “It can only support you, as when your speed or turn-by-turn navigation is projected onto the windscreen in front of you. In other uses, AR becomes critical. Think of the scenario where a surgeon is doing microscopic surgery and is operating via a computer. The surgery is being done with laser technology, and you can no longer see inside the body in the same way as when you cut it open. As a result, most of the procedure will be augmented.”

Because the use cases of AR in commercial environments are so specific, he says, “It will never go to the entire extreme of virtual, because you lose the aspect of reality being part of the value proposition.”

For this reason, most VR is focused on the consumer space, and most of it is gaming or entertainment oriented. 

Continue reading to find out more about Lenovo’s AR technology.

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