The Future of AR/VR in the Enterprise




Whether your reality is virtual, augmented, blended, mixed or actual, the combination of 3D imagery interacting with Internet of Things devices and data is changing how we work and play.

Experts blame Tony Stark.

A panel of Augmented Reality/Virtual Realty executives called out Pokémon Go and movie images of the Iron Man inventor swiping at see-through data screens in mid-air without a device as the dream vision of “virtual reality.” And Iron Man’s Jarvis creation of a persistent, augmented intelligent system only adds to already outsized expectations.

To CEOs in real-life (however you define it), the ‘want it and want it now’ factor is moving Fortune 100 companies to test business cases for IoT sensors, AR goggles or other technologies. So, boundaries are being pushed quickly.

“We want to be kind of like Excel where people use it at work and then brought it home to sort their grocery lists. Computer vision will extend with cameras that can see, analyze and give you real time information,” John Werner, VP of Strategic Partnerships at Meta Co., told a Dec. 6, AR/VR program in Cambridge. “If you’re a radiologist why interpret the image in 2-D if you’re doing surgery and have to work in 3-D? We’re seeing improvements in productivity, safety, learning.”

Meta produces a headset and development kit allowing hand gestures for controls and heads-up display. Werner said the tools and skills for 3D augmented reality are approaching mass-market price and knowledge in the same way web design, video or audio editing did a decade ago.

Ascent Venture Partners hosted the forum with an audience of software developers, device makers and students planning ahead for a career in a new industry.

Verizon, for instance, has a broad range of consumer media, business-related and operational needs for augmented reality, noted Danny Klein, senior manager for new business development.

“We’re seeing enterprise brands and companies taking advantage of AR because they have an audience already. On the consumer side, like advertising, The New Yorker magazine did a AR cover that brought it to life. Those are interesting, and demonstrates there’s a lot of interest to see how companies can play in it,” he said.

“And Verizon has one of the largest field workforce in the country so providing them the tools they need at the time they need it is key,” he added. Accelerating repairs might involve a VR image of what an area looked like before wires or poles were damaged by a storm or accident. Reducing rework or cutting repair time is key when dispatching a truck costs hundreds of dollars.

IDC predicts worldwide revenues in AR/VR will reach $162 billion by 2020 – up from an estimated $5.2 billion in 2016. With that kind of explosive growth, there will be inevitable winners and losers as the industry matures, observed Matt Fates, a general partner at Ascent.

An unusual consumer-focused AR project comes from Wayfair, an Internet-based seller of home furnishings. Mike Festa is the director of Wayfair Next, a group looking for new technology that extends the business. Tens of thousands of furniture items have already been added to a tool that lets buyers use AR to visualize the size or color of different items in their home or offices before purchasing.

“Access will start with people inserting their phone into headset physical devices,” Festa said. “Google Glass jumped out in front and didn’t live up to the hype."

Today, 3D modeling is costly and technical, but it’s early and open standards – like the Unity project to build a common Android development kit – are likely to follow.

“Where can we find value today? When there’s value with contextualizing digital information in the physical world. When you can bring those things today in a way that’s meaningful,” said Michael Campbell, executive vice president of ThingWorx products at PTC. “It’s a whole new medium of communication and new ways to work. The paradigms for AR are still being defined.”

For instance, if you have a smart phone screen or AR-ready visor, do you need each device to also have a display? Or can data be shared and interfaced to a nearby, recognized device? That could extend from controls on a washing machine to displays on a car dashboard. With so many questions still unanswered, the possibilities of AR/VR are endless.