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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.

“Let’s say you want to do maintenance on a jet engine. Today, you as a maintenance engineer have to be certified on a specific jet engine. If you think of the amount of jet engines out there, its very hard to keep up with certification, so many airports cannot service jet engines because there is no one certification. They have to fly people out, at huge cost.

“In future, it will be normal that engineers who don’t have specific certification will be able to do on-site work with AR overlaid onto the engine, assisted by artificial intelligence in the back-end telling them what to do. If the engine is enabled for the Internet of Things, the engineers will also be getting data from engine. You could also have a certified engineer assisting remotely.

“It re-engineers the entire value chain of the service industry. We will see a lot of AR in retailer logistics, constantly re-tooling logistic chains. Even as a consumer, you will be able to do AR-assisted repairs on household devices yourself. However, it will be initially for companies rather than consumers.”

The thinking behind many of these examples is so well-established, commentators tend to think that AR has run out of ideas. Teismann points out that most companies are trying to solve the same problems, but the, err, reality is that the technology is finally catching up to the use cases.

“The use cases are not changing that much at the moment, but what is starting to mature is the technology. I believe the form factor itself was not ideal for long-term usage. It was too heavy. The compute power didn’t compute real-time enough. With technology advancing, these things are maturing. We are starting to come to a point where wide-scale adoption is more likely.”

A further issue is that the use cases are often too complicated, hence Lenovo’s decision to focus not only on the hardware, but also a software platform that can be roped in to build use cases in an “object-oriented” way. This means that it becomes more useful for individual companies rather than on a broad scale, but simultaneously more scalable in how it can be run in a specific environment.

Most important, Lenovo and other AR developers are learning from experience.

“It also requires the willingness of customers to really pilot these things. You don’t get it right from day one, because you learn from every customer use case. The first implementation is never perfect, the second is better, and the third becomes mature and can be replicated on a more scalable basis.”

The industry is moving from the second to the third phase. The timeframe, says Teismann, is between 5 and 10 years, but some industries will move much faster, because the return on investment is so much higher. 

“If you think of a complex thing like an oil platform, to fly someone out to fix something because no one else knows how, if someone has an AR device on the oil platform, a normal mechanic can do it with remote guidance. The use case immediately pays off. In car workshops, like with BMW engineers for example, it will take longer to pay off.”

The Lenovo headset won’t be sold off the shelves, but will be brought in by what the company refers to as lead customers, many of which will be global organisations like aircraft companies. 

The headset itself, however, will be only part of a solution. The future of AR will be very specific to the reality you want to repair or explore.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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