Augmented Reality Could Help Both Businesses and Individuals Make That Next Big Leap


To start with, let's make the distinction between Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) clear. Unlike VR, AR offers its viewers graphical and/or textual content supplementing the real, physical immediate environment rather than creating a totally new environment, like VR.

AR opens up interesting possibilities for business applications in the areas of marketing, training, HR, product design, maintenance and several others. Below, we check out some of these possibilities.

AR could help make life easier for customer-facing staff, typically those working in retail. For example, sales assistants at make-up counters could use AR to visualize and promote cosmetics that would look best on a particular customer. Not only can the sales assistant see how the customer will look like wearing different kinds of cosmetics, he or she could simultaneously get real-time guidance on how best to apply it.

In the healthcare industry, AR could help a medical practitioner capture certain symptoms during the examination of a patient and bring up relevant medical information for those in the doctor's view.

AR could be very useful in the areas of education and training. For example, it could empower a participant to go through various scenarios and eventualities, over and over again, with the cost of failure being next to nothing. Similarly, while the participant is starting a given task or a process, it could continually keep instructing and guiding him on how to complete the task quickly and efficiently.



Google's recently announced Google Lens app is an example of AI powered augmented reality which bakes in search capabilities starting with an image as the primary input. For example, if you take a photo of a restaurant, it will not only tell you that this is a restaurant or that its name is 'Alfresco', for example, which would be fairly basic information but could also give you information about the hours of its operation, the menu, and availability of a table for reservation that evening. 

AR could also be very effective in remote collaboration scenarios. When a team whose several members are remotely based, holds a meeting, the remote members could become easily distracted and switch off after a while. With Augmented Reality, everyone will be more engaged because they will all be 'present' in the same room. Those who are physically present in the room will also be much more likely to engage them more often.

The rise of e-commerce has made showcasing products particularly important. Among the more popular uses of AR could be placing furniture or other equipment, like a sink or a bathtub, in a given room or space to give the potential customer a good idea of how well they fit in and how they look when placed in a particular area within that space. Compared to seeing the pieces of furniture in a showroom environment, this would make the customer experience much more meaningful and integrated with his or her actual environment. 

Several decades ago, most people would be found reading something or the other during a long train ride. Today, most of them can be found staring at their mobile phones. One prevailing theory is that not too far into the future, smartphones will be replaced by normal looking glasses that display virtual information on to the real world. As per this theory, when you can display virtually anything on to the world around you, the need for physical displays is effectively erased. In this scenario, Augmented Reality (AR) will eventually replace all screens, including TVs. 

The problem is that while a desktop or a laptop has a mouse and a smartphone has a touchscreen, the scenario mentioned above has virtually no input device. How then can one respond to a notification or respond to a text when one is wearing a computer on one's face?

One solution to this problem lies in directly connecting to one's brain and letting the brain transmit text or commands directly as may be desired. This is why a company like Facebook is working on a brain sensor capable of letting people type using only their minds.

There exists a school of thought which states that there is little or no evidence that most people want AR glasses and actually plenty of evidence to the contrary.  Consider the fact that 3D movies, which require glasses, are declining in interest and 3D TV has already bombed badly as a product. Facebook's own Oculus Rift and other VR headsets are selling poorly despite high-powered campaigns accompanied by a lot of media hype. The audience for television, on the other hand, keeps growing every year and smartphone sales show no signs of tapering off any time soon. 

-- Raja Mitra