One of the most exciting technologies today is augmented reality or AR. As part of the ‘extended reality’ family, AR is gaining much interest for its potential value in numerous fields and industries. So, what is the definition of AR? How is augmented reality being used today, and how will it grow in the coming years? Keep reading to find out.
What is AR?
For a lot of people, there is still some confusion about the different types of extended reality such as AR, VR, and MR. So, what is AR, and how does it compare to these other technologies?
Augmented reality is defined as a technologically enabled experience in which virtual 3D content is superimposed on the real world. In this sense, AR doesn’t exclude reality, but mixes it with virtual elements that can be seen using viewing devices.
How is AR different to VR or MR?
The fact that AR doesn’t exclude the outside world makes AR quite different to VR, which is a wholly separate virtual experience that shuts out the real world altogether with goggles, and enables participants to manipulate virtual objects in the VR world using haptic and spatial sensors.
Some of the latest VR goggles, such as the Quest 2, include Passthrough capabilities, so the participant can choose to see the real-world using cameras on the goggles when they want to. VR experiences using these kinds of goggles are therefore becoming more like AR experiences.
Mixed Reality (MR), on the other hand, is a kind of AR that enables users to manipulate virtual objects as well as see them. So, we can see that there is a movement towards greater unity in extended reality experiences. The key thing to remember with AR is that it all combines virtual 3D content with the real world – this is the very definition of augmented reality. Virtual objects can be extensions of real ones too – such as filters (e.g., Snapchat) or data about the object (e.g., Google Lens).
We can see today that VR technologies are trying to offer more ‘AR-like’ experiences (e.g., the Passthrough goggles mentioned above), and it seems likely that the lines between these experiences will blur as we enter a new era of experience-sharing. Being prepared for this next stage of development is important for businesses, and cross-experience support should be considered as part of their overall metaverse strategy. AR platforms like the Fectar app, for example, enable the sharing of 3D virtual content across all device types, and this will also help support more content sharing for both VR and AR spaces in coming years.
How do people experience AR?
Unlike VR, which requires specialized goggles and other equipment, AR can be experienced in many more ways. This was highlighted by Apple CEO, Tim Cook, when discussing the growing role of extended reality technologies; while VR will have niche uses, AR will become part of our everyday experience:
“Eventually all countries will have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day, it will become that much a part of you.”
Tim Cook, CEO, Apple.(source)
You can, of course, use dedicated AR glasses to experience augmented reality, but many people use smartphones or tablets instead, which makes it a very accessible technology. There are some technical requirements for devices, but these are now included in most smartphones and tablets from the moment they roll off the assembly-line.
How AR is used in reality
You could easily be mistaken for thinking that AR is one of those much-hyped ‘fun’ technologies that end up disappearing into obscurity – but it isn’t. It’s here to stay, in one form or another.
While AR is certainly fun to use and explore, it has many serious applications too. Augmented reality is already delivering strong value across a broad swathe of sectors and industries, and it’s not going away anytime soon.
In fact, augmented reality is starting to enter a new phase of its development as a crucial part of the metaverse. Gartner has defined 3 distinct stages of technological maturity for metaverse technologies like AR. They have identified that the metaverse will eventually become a single unified ‘3D internet’, and that journey will take a few years before these technologies reach full maturity, sometime around 2030.
AR has the big benefit of being accessible easily using something as common as your smartphone. Thanks to advances like the Fectar App, AR content is becoming available from a unified platform instead of being siloed with single app experiences. This marks the transition from the ‘Emerging’ phase into the next phase: ‘Advanced’.
Many businesses have already started to experiment with AR technologies, and are finding special use cases where the value is especially strong.
Business applications of augmented reality
So, how is AR used in business and industry today? There are incredibly diverse examples of ways that 3D content can deliver value, so let’s take a look at some of the most interesting ways AR is being used today.
Marketing with AR
Marketing is all about getting your product or service into the minds of potential customers. A critical part of this is making sure your brand is memorable, and that people understand what you offer. By offering potential leads 3D content they can explore in their own homes and offices, you can gain a competitive advantage.
You can also use AR in public spaces to create viral social media marketing campaigns. If you start using AR and 3D content today, you might beat your competition to it and be the first in your sector.
Furthermore, you can always be ahead with better content and experiences when you already have a head-start. You can see some examples of AR marketing here, but the strategic advantage is gained by offering a truly unique concept.
AR for retail
Sales are lost when the consumer is uncertain about their choice. Certain products are very prone to this, such as big-ticket items, bulky purchases, and fashion. In the case of fashion, many retailers offer hassle-free returns to overcome the uncertainty factor; if it doesn’t look right, you can easily return it. But you can’t do this so easily with a new sofa, greenhouse, or custom-made glasses.
This is where AR comes in. Using a handy AR app, customers can virtually try on shoes or eyeglasses, or see how that gigantic sofa really fits in their actual living-room. Studies show that products with AR experiences have a 94% higher conversion rate compared to those without.
No surprise then, that Amazon recently launched its own AR app, which allows customers to try out multiple items at the same time. The positive impact on total spend should be clear: consumers can shop for their entire interior decorating needs in a convenient one-stop shop.
Dedicated AR apps have been a necessity for some time, but, in the future, platforms like the Fectar app will be used more often to share and explore multiple products with a single app. This substantially lowers the threshold for retailers to start experimenting with AR and easily share 3D content.
Alternatively, retailers can upgrade their app with AR functionality to captivate more customers.
Augmented Reality in Manufacturing
AR delivers valuable by combining the physical real world with hypothetical designs and virtual objects. In the manufacturing industry this is applied when designing new factory setups, or when making alterations to existing assembly processes and hardware.
Facility and process optimization
New potential hardware can be shown alongside existing machinery to see how they would operate together, and ensure a safe and efficient working environment. Using an AR headset or AR glasses, an operator can interact with industrial robots while seeing performance data and technical settings superimposed on their visual field. This is a clear way to use digital twins to optimize designs and processes with positive effects on safety and efficiency.
Boeing is using AR to improve manufacturing processes, and this has resulted in a 90% increase in quality, with a 30% increase in speed for pilot projects. Similarly, automotive manufacturer Porsche has reduced time spent resolving issues by 40% using AR headsets. Furthermore, the company is now using AR to train after-sales employees.
Another interesting area of application is the use of virtual prototyping in AR, which enables manufacturers to reduce the cost of prototyping. Prototyping with virtual models enables customers to get a clear handle on the final product, or tweak a design without incurring material production costs.
This prototyping methodology can enable more agile manufacturing, by using common design elements or components which are used in multiple products and variations. Each final design can be shown to potential clients, so manufacturers can offer a broader range of ‘different designs’ without increasing stock or material risk. They can happily make use of economies of scale for materials sourcing without needing to commit to a final design, knowing that the choices all use the same basic set of components.
The greatest strength of AR is the way it can help us visualize possibilities in the actual spaces destined for transformation. There are few better examples of this than in architecture and civil engineering. Architects can easily show how a building will look in its intended location, and take their clients on a virtual walk-through.
Before the foundations are laid, you can see what the view will look like, the light incidence, and if there are any potential conflicts. Different designs can be shown, including variations in exterior cladding, flooring materials, or interior finishes. Will the staircase fit? It’s easy to visualize with AR.
Too often, people only become aware of dangers when they have a close encounter with them. And sometimes even this can be deadly. Safety training, therefore, can make the difference between life and death. However, it can be hard to show people the dangers or communicate them in an engaging way. Take, for instance, landmines and unexploded ordnance. This is a lingering, hidden danger in countries that have suffered from war, especially in Ukraine where the civilian population has been actively targeted.
To help save the lives of children in countries in this dire situation, Fectar produced an app for educating children about the dangers. It shows children how to recognize landmines or internationally banned cluster munitions left by soldiers (which sadly have a design that looks like a toy, with predictably devastating impacts), as well as other forms of unexploded ordnance such as grenades or artillery shells.
This app includes instructions from a native Ukrainian speaker, and engaging 3D content. The app is also optimized for older phones so it can have the widest reach.
This is just one example of using AR for safety training. It can also help people understand safety issues in numerous other situations, by demonstrating dangers ‘close up’, but still at a healthy distance.
Using AR in Education
Augmented reality is really starting to take-off in the education sector. It has distinct benefits for different levels of education:
- In elementary schools, children can use it to get to grips with fundamental concepts like photosynthesis or the solar system.
- In middle-school and high school, students can go deeper and explore human anatomy, see how things looked centuries ago, or dissect a virtual frog without causing any harm to any living creatures.
- At the university and post-graduate level, AR is being used to train surgeons and doctors as well as other skilled professions like engineers and mechanics.
Leisure time in AR
Let’s not forget: AR is fun! People love interacting with the merged world and virtual objects, and it’s this engaging quality that gives it such impact in all the above applications. Augmented reality is well-established in our leisure time; it’s used for fun Snapchat filters, and various AR games like Pokémon GO.
The leisure sector will certainly show strong growth from AR concepts in the coming years.
How does AR work?
AR relies on a close interworking between multiple layers of technologies, including hardware and software elements.
We can think of the AR experience as being a triangle of elements: the 3D content itself, the camera showing the real world, and sensors that detect location, tilt, and movement. Together, these enable the user to see a combined world in which the 3D model is displayed ‘anchored’ to a real location, so they can see and walk around a virtual object. As they get closer to the object it behaves just as a real object would, appearing to get bigger the nearer you get.
This environmental awareness is an essential part of the AR experience, so the hardware must be able to support it with GPS location, depth, acceleration, and gyroscopic sensors. It also must support the fundamental platform for AR on mobile. For Apple devices, this is the ARKit platform (you can check if your iPhone’s on the list here), and for Android devices this is the ARCore platform (see if your Android phone can support AR here).
The state of the AR market
Revenue from AR and VR is growing at a healthy compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.72% from 2023 to 2027, reaching a global sales volume of US$52.05 billion by 2027. Just looking at AR software alone, this will achieve global revenue of US$19.37 billion in 2027.
Right now, AR is being used to visualize incredible and varied possibilities. As AR technologies improve and become more ubiquitous, it will shift to assisting the creative process as well. Imagine, architects will not only finalize their designs and explore possibilities using AR; the builders themselves will be able to use AR to show exactly where things go as they build the structure itself, brick by brick. No more doorways in the wrong place.
We can already see this kind of breakthrough with AR assisted surgeries.
Potential for growth from AR
According to McKinsey, the potential benefits of AR for fueling growth are numerous and varied. They include:
- More efficient prototyping and test simulations
- Process improvement, including improved quality assurance, and on-the-job visual guidance
- Introducing new products to customers
- New ways to enhance customer experiences and interaction
- Increased collaboration, including virtual team meetings and multi-stakeholder collaborations
- Scalability of trainings, especially in simulating unusual or dangerous situations
- Wider rollout of hands-on training where equipment might be cumbersome, dangerous, or unusual
- Cost savings from multiple domains, including product improvement, process optimization and more
Growth in this area has only just begun to take root. From here onwards, the pace of innovation and development will only accelerate. New technologies and improvements to existing AR hardware will mean that augmented reality will become more capable and more applicable in different situations.
What are the lessons that people need to take from this?
For one thing, businesses need to be acutely aware of the pivotal moment we’re at right now. There will be tangible benefits for companies already experimenting with AR, or those that start to use it in the next few years.
Conversely, companies that hold back from adopting AR as part of their business will be left high and dry, just like those few holdouts that refused to accept the internet after the bubble burst. Almost all these companies disappeared within just a few years, as the market moved under their feet.
It can seem a challenge to start using AR, however there are now AR tools and expertise available which substantially lower the bar to entry for companies that are willing to experiment.
The Fectar app is already making AR spaces easily sharable with a user base of more than 6 million people, and the accompanying Fectar Studio is making it easier than ever to create stunning 3D content immersive experiences.