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6 enterprise AR use cases

Augmented reality is making its way into the enterprise. Here, experts detail six AR use cases and how AR headsets are helping boost productivity and reduce errors.

While augmented reality in the consumer space gets the most attention, it's the enterprise that is going to figure out the "killer AR application," according to John Werner.

Werner, vice president of strategic partnerships at Meta, a Silicon Valley startup focused on AR products, might be right, judging by the enterprise AR use cases shared at the recent LiveWorx event in Boston. Though it's still early days for enterprise AR, the superimposition of digital information on real world environments is staking a claim in the workplace.

The four enterprise areas where AR is gaining a foothold are logistics, manufacturing, HR and productivity, but AR's potential in the enterprise stretches beyond that, according to Shel Israel, author and CEO at Transformation Group LLC.

At the LiveWorx event Werner, Israel and other AR experts detailed some of the top enterprise AR use cases. Here are six of them.

1. Training millennials

Multinational conglomerate Honeywell is using Microsoft's HoloLens technology to train millennials in maintenance. HoloLens is one of the most well-known AR headsets, with applications ranging from the game room to the meeting room.

Neena Kamath, program manager of the AR/VR team at Microsoft, explained how, at Honeywell, employees with years of knowledge about equipment and maintenance are starting to age-out of the industry, potentially leaving the company without imparting that knowledge to younger workers.

Instead of having these experts sit down and write out training documents -- which takes a long time and often doesn't capture all of the necessary information -- Honeywell is having them wear the AR headsets and record and narrate everything that they do.

Don't give them a book to read to learn about this; let them go out there in the field and do this and learn from it.
Neena Kamathprogram manager of the AR/VR team, Microsoft

"With folks coming in from the millennial generation, there is this expectation that things are out there contextually in the world around you," Kamath said. "Don't give them a book to read to learn about this; let them go out there in the field and do this and learn from it."

The results have already been promising, with a noticeable reduction in training time and an increase in employee's knowledge retention.

"If you learn something by reading a textbook or a manual, you retain about 20% to 30% of it after about three months because you're not using all of [that knowledge] every day," Kamath said. "When you learn it digitally, in your world, trying to do the maintenance on the actual equipment, you retain about 80% of it three months later. It's a pretty significant difference."

2. Storm damage assessment

The Electric Power Research Institute Inc., or EPRI, and Duke Energy are partnering on an enterprise AR use case involving storm damage assessment.

When a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or other natural disaster strikes, surveyors are sent out to assess the damage and note how much and which type of equipment is needed for repairs. With paper and pencil in hand, these surveyors are generally 50% accurate on their first pass, said Andy Lowery, co-founder and CEO at RealWear. A second pass is then required and that additional assessment cycle takes about two days. That redundancy is costly. With an average outage affecting approximately 250,000 people, every day that power is out represents a loss of around $8 million in revenue, Lowery said.

The energy partnership's solution was to create an AR application in which surveyors, wearing a headset in situ, would access a back-end system that had "before" pictures of every single piece of the distribution system that Duke Energy maintains. Using Bluetooth beacons and triangulation, the AR device would then use AR arrows to direct a person to take an "after" picture of the damage that was perfectly aligned with the "before" picture. After the technician walks through the entire space, the device automatically generates a report with all the pictures, details what equipment need to be ordered and beams it up to the cloud.

With the AR application, Duke Energy has reduced errors to zero, making for an instantaneous one- to two-day savings of $8 to $16 million per potential outage.

3. Rendering 3D objects

Meta is using AR to experiment with a "print preview" function for 3D printing that would render soon-to-be-printed objects in a 1:1 ratio, allowing designers to walk around and interact with the objects they're building. This might be able to help companies move faster, save money and get things right before production.

"Often when you create these 1:1 ratios and walk around it, you're like 'wait a second, this is off,'" Werner said. "We've almost been seduced by two-dimensional objects -- whether it's through television or movies, we're always seeing things in 2D. I think what all of us are doing is bringing 3D objects that you can interact with," he said, referring to the other AR companies that are also testing out this new process.

He said the same process can be applied to construction and real estate, with every step from design to construction to selling rendered in 3D using AR devices.

4. Recruitment

Jaguar Land Rover and the British band Gorillaz have partnered on a recruitment initiative that uses AR and VR to attract young technical talent.

"We're going through this massive change over the next decade where software is going to become so much more prevalent in vehicles," said Alex Heslop, head of electrical engineering at Jaguar Land Rover. "We have to find a new way of recruiting talent that perhaps wouldn't traditionally look at the automotive industry."

Dubbed "Crack the Code," the result is an AR app challenge that mixes AR, VR and the real world. Gorillaz's virtual garage is brought to life in front of potential candidates, creating challenges to tease out peoples' capabilities in software architecture, app development, graphics performance capability and more. Applicants who crack the code get a shot at a full-time position at Jaguar.

5. Maintenance and repair

Toms River Municipal Utilities Authority in New Jersey is using AR headsets to visualize the underground infrastructure of utility lines -- in real time -- before workers start digging. This helps workers with planning and maintenance efforts, and helps them avoid embarrassing mistakes and unwanted blackouts, Israel said. The system uses a geocalibration process to align the rendered visuals to the physical world, anchoring to visible geographic information system features such as sewer manholes. The interface supports hand gestures and voice commands, allowing workers to operate hands-free as they gather other on-site information.

6. Logistics

DHL, the logistics giant, is using AR headsets in warehouses to help with order picking -- something the company has deemed "vision picking." The display on the AR glasses identifies location numbers, scans product bar codes, identifies the number of items that need to be picked and shows workers where each item should be placed in the trolley. The technology increased productivity by 15% and dramatically reduced error rates. With the AR glasses, training and onboarding required 50% less time -- results which have prompted rollouts in DHL warehouses worldwide.

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