Augmented Reality: Changing the Future of Bar Codes

Written By: David Wallace
  • 3/8/2016

Ever since childhood, you’ve seen humans interacting with computers – in the 1960s it was usually blinking lights and keyboards or verbal commands. By the 1990s, virtual screens projected in mid-air anywhere in “The Matrix” or “Minority Report” advanced the concepts. These days, Siri or Alexa and on-demand apps are delivering on that interactive promise with learning systems and tools that support the Internet of Things.

We’ve survived some rummy interface devices like CueCat and transitional options – QR codes, single-purpose apps – to connect knowledge, things and people. It isn’t easy to deliver what you need to know when it’s most critical. VuMark, introduced at PTC’s ThingEvent in January, is the latest advance from the bar code or scannable code. It permits users to create a recognizable, consistent and graphically-pleasant way to connect users with deeper information through augmented reality technology. A universal identification solution, it can be used to recognize any unique object to deliver a specific AR experience. Unlike QR codes, the companies behind the marker have the design freedom to identify themselves through a custom look and feel – giving users more confidence in the brand as a trusted information provider.

“One issue with technology-enabled information gathering is that most of the content is static,” said David Saab, an information scientist focused on emerging semantic and interactive technologies. “What, when and how updates are made depends upon the individuals within the institution responsible for those updates, how good their predictive abilities are to anticipate questions from future users, and how well connected the update is to legacy information.”

The popularity of consumer apps has been a major factor in making people more comfortable turning to phones and tablets for maps, videos, reviews, instant messages or other resources. Augmented reality takes that to a deeper level, providing menus of information that answer questions at the time and place they’re needed.

These technologies also allow smaller companies to create a knowledge-base for users and track what resources are used most often. Service, maintenance, diagnostics and other needs can be delivered on-site and create new opportunities for just-in-time repairs. 

UK-based industry analyst, Rethink IOT, said that another benefit will be for companies selling increasingly complex products into emerging markets, while still being able to offer assurance to new prospective customers that self-service or their own nearby technicians can keep those products running smoothly. 

Pro-sumer blends of professional use and consumer-friendly platforms such as Windows 10, Android and Apple iOS have taken root as “bring your own device” policies merge the same phones, tablets and laptops that employees prefer. These easier-to-use technologies are replacing a range of single-purpose bar code readers, scanners or RFID chip systems.

Enterprise mobility platform Apperian analyzed its customer base of nearly 2 million mobile app installations. Its research report found sales and marketing were the most commonly deployed types of apps (18 percent) followed by field services (15 percent). User authentication apps (12 percent) were also in the Top Five.

The human or cultural factors can’t be overlooked. There is a balance to be struck with companies and managers creating a culture that encourages people to interact by asking difficult questions. That can be as crucial as deploying technologies that support self-sufficiency. 

Coaching and feedback on tech is critical. So is avoiding digital overload. The proliferation of social and collaboration tools – Jive, Yammer, Slack, Facebook for Business, IM and others—paralyzed some organizations as they sampled new forms of communication. The enterprise collaboration marketplace is abuzz with a 20 percent growth rate, yet companies need to find the business case that suits the tech tools and their knowledge-sharing needs. 

Demographically, organizations are already seeing a “brain drain” as long-time employees or Baby Boomer-era managers retire in massive numbers. The need for hiring back retirees was one solution at NASA. Other organizations are developing knowledge management or mentoring programs. VuMark and similar technologies may allow for easier tracking and measuring of the visits each asset receives along with when, where, and how the information gets used.

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About the Author

David Wallace

A business, strategy and technology writer, David Wallace has contributed to The New York Times, Reuters and Wired among other news outlets. He is no fan of the Oxford Comma. He has taught news reporting at Emerson College and Boston University since 2004.