From The Editor | February 9, 2018

5 AR Predictions For 2018

Sarah Nicastro

By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
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Field Service VR AR

It will be interesting to see how the use of Augmented Reality (AR) in field service progresses in 2018. While the value proposition is strong, I think the hype around the technology makes it difficult for companies to clearly assess the impact it could have on their organizations. Brian Ballard, CEO and co-founder of Upskill, joins me to summarize five trends we can expect this year.

Upskill provides enterprise software for augmented reality devices in industrial settings. Customers include GE, The Boeing Company, and Georgia Pacific, among others, which use Upskill’s technology to enhance the capabilities and efficiencies of hands-on workers. Upskill developed these predictions after analyzing the data collected from conversations with customers and reviewing industry-wide trends, to help readers like you sort through all the hype.

“There is an abundance of buzz, speculation, and real ROI when it comes to the enterprise AR market in 2018,” says Ballard. “Sorting through massive amounts of the innovation and hype can be a challenge. We digested predictions from around the industry and compared them with what we’re hearing from our customers to create a definitive list of the five biggest trends that will impact the enterprise AR market in the months ahead.”

Enterprise AR will become essential to the creation, delivery, and service of the world’s best-known brands.

“In the last 12 months, several studies and forecasts from market research firms, like ABI Research, have all pointed to the acceleration of head-worn hardware and adoption of AR in the enterprise. This momentum is only further echoed by Gartner who predicts that AR solutions will be adopted across multiple functions in 30 percent of large enterprises by 2020 — and this certainly would include large service organizations,” explains Ballard. He points out that there are several factors driving this growth, and that in 2018, AR solutions will continue to mature. “There’s been a lot of momentum already, and as market diversity increases – notably adding smart glasses that are extremely wearable and intrinsically safe, in addition to exciting mixed reality device offerings – more use cases will unlock and AR will expand into more verticals,” he says.

Service and logistics will take pole position in the race for broad adoption of AR.

IDC forecasts that by 2020, 25 percent of field service technicians will use AR. Many also believe that the impact of AR in logistics is “a real no brainer.” Ballard explains that, “This is because AR-powered material handling and field service applications tend to have a high degree of solution repeatability, as well as less infrastructure turnover requirements than their manufacturing counterparts. Field service environments have also built friendliness towards mobile computing and cloud-delivered software, and a handful of use cases that can be supported with little to no system and process integration.”   

He goes on to explain that as more businesses are looking to monetize service revenue, AR will help increase maintenance-based performance and margin to deliver real ROI. “This is particularly important for manufacturers that are transforming their business models to incorporate equipment as a service model. AR helps lower their cost of sale as well as adding further opportunities to monetize their post-delivery services. For machine and equipment manufacturers, AR also will enable monetization of their intellectual property by incorporating their design and engineering content to build the service and maintenance manuals of the future,” he says.  

Lastly, field service can readily take advantage of AR for collaborative purposes and training as well. “With AR delivered on smart glasses, workers can receive information from centralized areas, collect it, and feed it to other employees to benefit the entire workforce. AR will also streamline training, allowing workers to receive incremental, immersive and “on-the-job” instructions with instantaneously available information to expedite and improve learning,” Ballard notes.

AR will become increasingly more accessible for enterprises.

“To make an organization more agile, we need to put the power into the hands of those who are closest to the problem. Of course, the people in the field aren’t your typical software engineers and developers. One historical challenge in the AR industry has been the high level of effort it took to build AR-enabled applications. IDC’s prediction suggesting ‘improvements in simple ("low-/no-code") development tools will expand the number of non-tech developers, and by 2021, these non-traditional tech developers will build 20 percent of business applications and 30 percent new application features (60 percent by 2027)’ indicates a trend that is emerging in codeless/GUI-based application development,” says Ballard. 

Like with other technological advancements, as adoption rises, costs come down. “As tools like Skylight and AWS Sumerian are becoming more commonplace, the market will hit an inflection point on the number of enterprise applications being developed. This explosion is going to be powered by the lowered complexity and cost to build and maintain apps, which will be driven primarily with apps targeted for the industrial workforce,” Ballard explains.

Advances in speech will accelerate and make voice a vital interaction paradigm.

Ballard expects speech will quickly become the predominant interaction modalities for smart glasses in 2018. “As Forrester aptly put it, ‘we’ll see increasing demand for developers that know how to build augmented reality and natural language processing (NLP) based experiences.’ Because many AR use cases involve complex, hands-on work, navigating the wearable interface with speech is ideal, keeping the worker completely hands-free,” he says. 

Investments in consumer AR and VR will drive increased device options and experiences.

“As Steven Levy of Wired commented, AR in 2018 will involve layering information onto live images provided by mobile phone cameras. Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Facebook all are providing deep toolsets for developers to create apps for this approach. This sets us up for a near future where, ‘a set of always-on glasses that will blur the line between the physical world and a digital contract made of pure information,’ according to Levy,” says Ballard. Ballard believes these 3D visualization and content creation capabilities will translate well into the enterprise. “All of these activities by the technology giants in 2017 are lowering the barrier for entry for content creation. This will be a boon not just for consumers, but also the enterprise, particularly as the shared ecosystem continues to grow exponentially,” he says.