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How Your Business Can Prepare for an Augmented Reality Future

Whether you believe Apple’s latest announcements mark the arrival of mainstream Augmented Reality or still think mass use of AR is years away; smart (AR) glasses are the future. The question is how long we will hold onto our smartphones for (and yes, which device and/or platform will tip the technology in the consumer market’s favor.)

Just as glasses are the ultimate form factor for workers in factories, out in the field, in the O.R., etc.; heads-up and hands-free is ideal for consumers. The biggest problem with our phones is that we carry them everywhere and are constantly looking down at them. AR will not only provide better contextual information to enrich our daily lives, but it will also revive an element of society that today can feel somewhat foreign compared to texting or email (especially to Millennials;) and that is face-to-face human interaction. (FaceTime doesn’t count.)

So why aren’t people more eager to free their hands and gaze from a hand-held screen? Smartwatches seem to have broken into the mainstream or are at least accepted by consumers. What is it about putting on a pair of glasses? It’s not just aesthetics and privacy concerns. In enterprise, you identify a problem in the workplace – some source of inefficiency – that AR can address; but when the work day is done, what is the problem that AR would fix, that would motivate us to finally give up our phones beyond sheer convenience or entertainment? I can only guess as it’s outside my area of expertise.

Nevertheless, one day AR glasses will be acceptable outside the workplace, and once that happens a whole new world of enterprise applications will open up—those applications that depend upon consumers owning/wearing glasses and headsets, and not necessarily as often as they carry their smartphones now.

 

So, what can enterprises do in the meantime, while waiting for consumer AR glasses to take off?

1) Provide the experience for the customer or partner, like “HaaS” (hardware as a service) or an in-store demo. Some architects, realtors, automotive companies, major retailers and even airlines are already doing this, and some manufacturers are supplying customers with smart glasses to facilitate remote equipment troubleshooting and customer support.

2) Share the benefits of smart glasses with the customer/partner. Ex. HVAC worker wearing smart glasses to a job to let the customer see the problem or service in real time; a store salesperson doing the same to help an online shopper make a purchasing decision; a flight attendant viewing information about a passenger to provide better, more personalized service; doctors wearing glasses with patients, etc.

Or 3) Start with a mobile app or create a 360-degree video with the intent of making it heads-up in AR or VR in the future. While this can be very expensive (a 360˚ video can cost anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000 to produce, according to Forrester Research,) it puts the organization in the best position to capitalize on these technologies in different form factors and environments down the road. Until then, the videos can be shared on social media, at pop-up events, on the company website, etc.

 

Some example use cases:

Hyundai

In dealerships across Australia, Hyundai has introduced the Hyundai AR Showroom app for the iPad, a sales tool for dealers to show car shoppers the built-in safety and performance features of the “all-new i30.”

The app, created by Auggd, allows the salesperson to demonstrate features of Hyundai’s reinvented hatchback that are normally difficult to explain in a showroom environment (without having multiple vehicles on the floor.) By holding up an iPad in front of the real i30, shoppers can manipulate a 3D model overlay of the car; they can change its appearance and accessory options, and view animations of safety features like autonomous emergency braking and lane-keeping assist.

It seems Hyundai has been making an effort to get both its customers and representatives familiar with Augmented Reality. In early 2016, the South Korean automaker created an AR owner’s manual for some of its more popular models. The manual app and new Hyundai AR Showroom app could easily transition to glasses or a headset in the future for a more immersive and effective experience. These apps are also providing Hyundai with valuable consumer insights.

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Wayfair

This Boston-based online furniture and home goods retailer envisions its customers one day shopping for Wayfair products at home using Mixed Reality headsets. In the meantime, the company’s R&D team Wayfair Next has created WayfairView, a mobile app that leverages Google’s Augmented Reality technology Tango along with Wayfair’s growing library of 3D product models. The app lets users view full-scale virtual models of furniture and décor in their homes with an AR-capable smartphone; they can look at items from multiple angles, see whether a piece of furniture will fit in a room, etc. before buying.

For over a year now, Wayfair has been visualizing millions of its home products in 3D. The models are currently used in the shopping app and on the company’s website but are ultimately destined for a headset.

*Mike Festa, Director of Wayfair Next, will speak at EWTS Fall 2017

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Excedrin

Virtual Reality is a powerful storytelling medium, which is why it makes for great marketing as well as an effective job training tool. After the success of last year’s online “Migraine Experience” campaign in which users could experience migraine symptoms like blurry vision and flashing lights through AR filters; Excedrin created “Excedrin Works,” a new VR video campaign from the P.O.V. of real migraine sufferers at work.

The 2016 AR campaign saw close to 400,000 social engagements. The latest VR one is expected to be even more engaging, driving home the medication brand’s purpose and driving sales. By appealing to human emotions, Excedrin is hoping viewers will understand how crippling migraines can be and why its product is necessary.

The two VR videos, created with Weber Shandwick and Hogarth, can be found on Excedrin’s website and YouTube channel. To round out the campaign, the company is also running several documentary-style videos on TV and social media, and collaborating with race car driver Danica Patrick to share her history of migraines.

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Tesco

The British supermarket chain has dropped a few hints that Virtual Reality is the future of shopping at Tesco. Way back in 2011, the company partnered with Cheil Worldwide to “open” a virtual supermarket in South Korea: An entire wall of a Korean subway station was made to appear like rows of shelves in a market, containing Tesco products with QR codes that commuters could scan to buy groceries on their phones. (After a long workday, it would be nice to get the food shopping done while waiting for your train—Tesco even arranged for deliveries to take place the same night.)

The subway experiment provided Tesco with insight for growing its business in SK. Around 2014, the grocery chain again used VR for R&D, wanting to improve its marketing and how it merchandized and reorganized stores. The company collaborated with Figure Digital on an Oculus Rift demo video called “Tesco Pelé” in which customers wearing VR headsets shop in a virtual supermarket, the layout of which represented an actual Tesco store design up for review. At the end of the simulation, the wearer steps onto a pro soccer field.

The possibilities here include, of course, virtual grocery shopping and consumer research; but the Pelé element (famous soccer player) suggests opportunities for corporate sponsorships, as well.

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Lowe’s 

Like Wayfair, Lowe’s wants to be ready for the day when consumers use their own AR glasses and VR headsets. In Fall 2016, the home improvement chain debuted Lowe’s Vision, an app powered by Tango that lets customers measure any room in their homes and design it with virtual Lowe’s products using the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro phone.

In Spring 2017, Lowe’s began piloting Lowe’s Vision: In-Store Navigation, another Tango-powered app, in two of its stores. This second AR app makes it easier to shop for your home improvement project: Customers can use any Tango-enabled smartphone (or demo one with a sales associate) to search for products, read reviews, create shopping lists, and find the most efficient route to items throughout the store with the help of digital directions overlaid onto the real world.

One of the first AR/VR ideas to come out of Lowe’s Innovation Labs was the Holoroom in 2014/15. Now available in select stores, it’s essentially a how-to section in the store where shoppers can put on the HTC Vive headset and practice home improvement projects like tiling a bathroom in virtual reality.

Lowe’s is onto something in exposing its customers to emerging technologies that transition from their homes into actual Lowe’s stores, helping them with their home improvement projects from start to finish.

 

So how can your business prepare for an AR future? This is a time for innovation. Augmented and Virtual Reality represent new paradigms for sharing and taking in information. The same factors that make the technology ideal for workers – heads-up and hands-free, immersive, proven to be a superior learning method – can work for your customers and partners–figure out their pain points just as you would in determining a great use case for your workforce.How might AR/VR make it easier or more appealing for consumers to interact with your brand, seek your services, buy (and use) your product, etc.? Consider the scenario in which the business provides AR glasses for the customer/partner as well as the future one in which consumers have access to their own devices. What can you do now to begin forming a bridge between those two scenarios? 

 

About EWTS Fall 2017:

The Fall Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2017 taking place October 18-19, 2017 in Boston, MA is the leading event for wearable technology in enterprise. It is also the only true enterprise event in the wearables space, with the speakers and audience members hailing from top enterprise organizations across the industry spectrum. Consisting of real-world case studies, engaging workshops, and expert-led panel discussions on such topics as enterprise applications for Augmented and Virtual Reality, head-mounted displays, and body-worn devices, plus key challenges, best practices, and more; EWTS is the best opportunity for you to hear and learn from those organizations who have successfully utilized wearables in their operations. 

 

photo credit: dronepicr Kölner Dom aus Lego Gamescom via photopin (license)

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