Augmented Reality and how it could change the workplace

Augmented Reality could potentially be as revolutionary as email, the fax machine, or even computers themselves. What could your workplace look like in 2020 and beyond? 

With technology changing so fast, it’s hard to imagine what’s coming next. Here’s a peek into a future full of Augmented Reality (AR) devices, where even computer screens could be a thing of the past. 

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality, or AR, is a (at present) futuristic way of allowing devices to interact with what’s surrounding you.

In opposition to Virtual Reality, which completely replaces the world around you with a computer-generated environment ranging from a fictitious fantasy to a walk through a real-world museum thousands of miles away, AR is designed to blend the digital and the real worlds to add to what is really there, rather than totally hide it.

Perhaps the best known example of AR right now is the game Pokémon Go.

The default settings on this app overlays what your phone camera sees of the real world with digital ‘monsters’ that you have to catch, which appear to be standing right in front of you when viewed on the screen.

Augmented Reality in the workplace 

Chasing fantastical creatures around your local park is well and good, but AR has the potential for so much more.
Microsoft is hoping that a product it’s developing called HoloLens will lead the charge.

These wearable lenses are a “self-contained, holographic computer that allows you to interact with high definition holograms.”

Already available for developers to experiment with, HoloLens has the potential to revolutionise the industries of architecture, gaming, tourism, engineering and design, to name but a few.

Instead of working with a computer, a keyboard and a mouse, devices like HoloLens can allow us to make changes and give instructions using hand or head movements and voice commands.

Moreover, the images and interfaces that your computer can generate would no longer restricted to a relatively small rectangular screen locked to a static location.

With AR, you may one day see computer-generated images wherever you look. They can remain directly in-front of you at all times as you look around, or even be virtually stuck to a specific spot on a wall, or hanging stationary in the air.

So how will AR change the way we work? 

Imagine you have a job assembling parts in a factory. During training, you could pop on a wearable headset that displays a step by step guide and a hologram of the finished product in 3D for you to refer to.

This hologram could potentially even be sitting on a table in-front of you, just as if it was really an object in the room.

No more switching back to a guide on a screen or book – your instructions are right there in front of your eyes. Your trainer could be a thousand miles away but right there with you, providing pointers about the exact parts that you’re working on.

Now picture you’re a car mechanic working on a new model of engine. A holographic overlay would detail exactly what does what and highlight the parts that should be removed for repair.

You could be an interior designer and use an AR headset to test colour schemes without having to spill a drop of paint.
As a jewellery designer, you could share your ideas with a client and let them virtually try on their new engagement ring before they commit to spending money.

AR could feature heavily in offices as well. An architect designing a new building block can see a model in hologram form from all angles, working in exact scale.

A salesman can share an entire product line with his clients in 3D. Multiple collaborators can view a prototype and share feedback and ideas.

Workers suffering from carpal tunnel can forget about mouse scrolling; AR has the potential to let them adjust what they see on the screen simply by looking up and down, expand their screen to fit more text on it, or even use hand gestures, instead of finicky finger movements, to control their view.

Speaking of screens, with AR you may eventually open dozens of windows or programs in-front of you, all hanging in the air, visible only to you or those you choose to share your view with.

Either interact with these windows in a traditional way, with a keyboard and mouse, or control them with gestures and voice.

Once again AR is still in its early stages and none of this is certain to come to pass, but once systems become workable and affordable, your imagination may very well be the limit when it comes to what you can see, and what you do with your new found abilities.

Why AR is the next big thing for workplaces 

The goal of Augmented Reality developers is to give business the opportunity to save money. Some examples shared recently by PwC’s emerging technology blog include:

  • Warehouse workers using AR glasses to fulfil orders, resulting in a 25% increase in efficiency
  • Boeing trainees assembling a mock airplane 30% faster and 90% more accurately using AR-animated instructions on tablets than those using PDF documents

Because of the productivity boosting potential of this technology, experts are predicting that VR and Augmented Reality are on their way to becoming a $150 billion industry by the year 2020, with massive investment from companies including Canon, Sony, GoPro and Disney as well as tech giants Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

If the products currently being developed do live up to their potential, AR could be set to eventually make a huge difference to the way we do things in all areas of our work.

AR isn't the only audio-visual technology set to revolutionise the worlplace. Check out our virtual tour of connected small businesses in 2020 for a peek of what the future might hold for customers, as well as small business owners.