By Michael Blumberg, President, Blumberg Advisory Group
Earlier this year Field Technologies published an article that I authored title "Will 2017 Be the Breakout Year For Augmented Reality?". Based on our review of market research from several different industry analyst firms, we anticipate expenditures on Augmented Reality to reach $8.8 Billion by 2017-year end. So far, this year has certainly been a break-out year for AR within the Field Service Industry. We've seen many vendors hit the market with AR products and solutions. For example, Fieldbit, XM Reality, Scope AR, Help Lightning, Real Wear, and ThingWorx. Many of these vendors have award-winning products and all have successful deployments with Field Service companies, with many more transactions in their pipeline.
Despite the growing array of available options for deploying AR in a field service environment, there seems to be a bit of confusion and uncertainty among Field Service executives about what constitutes the optimal AR solution. Questions arise as to the type of hardware to be deployed, the type of software platform to be utilized, and the type of content to be viewed and delivered. For example, some executives focus only the aspect of streaming and annotating live video. Others refer to the ability to view a digital twin and 3-D image. Others are concerned about the hardware used to view AR images. Will it be smart glasses, head mounted devices, tablets, or smartphones?
Unfortunately, many executives often let the bells and whistles of the solution (e.g., product features) or the dollar value of the investment drive decisions about which type of AR solutions they implement. Making decisions solely on these criteria can result in disappointing results. In other words, the solution falls short of expectations or does not address the long-term needs of the company because the decisions are based on purchasing what seems to be the coolest or most affordable solution at the time.
Field Service executives can ensure they implement the best solution for their companies when the make decisions based on the following criteria:
- Use Case Definition: The use case plays a key role in defining AR requirements. Some of the most common use cases include First Time Fix, On-The-Job Training, Safety & Compliance, and Asset Management & Tracking. For example, video streaming might sufficient for on-the-job training whereas annotated images are required in facilitating First Time Fix. Basically, the use case helps determine the richness of contextual data that is required and thus defines functional requirements from an AR software perspective.
- Type of Deployment - The deployment scenario also provides a perspective on what type of AR platform to implement and the budget required. For example, AR platforms that enable a manufacturer to embed a digital twin and 3-D image overlay to a piece of equipment are ideal for new product introductions. However, they can be quite expensive to develop and implement from a cost and time perspective. On the other hand, AR platforms that incorporate video streaming and annotated images can be deployed relatively quickly and require less investment capital. As such they are optimal for supporting an existing installed base of equipment.
- Operating Environment - Utilizing AR in an industrial environment may require the use of rugged and/or hands-free devices like wearable or smart glasses, or rugged tablets. Of course, specialized hardware devices add more costs to the investment budget. On the hand, office and home environments maybe served just as effectively through smart phones that a field engineer already possesses; thus, require no further investment in hardware.
In summary, field service organizations (FSOs) are advised to develop clear and realistic expectations about the use case, deployment scenarios, and operating environments in which AR solutions will be utilized. These considerations will help define the type of hardware devices and software platforms/applications that are best suited to meet their needs. This in turn will determine the capital investment and operating budget required and ensure that the AR solution deployed meets or exceeds expectations.