Augmented Reality Market Has Plenty Of Challenges To Overcome Despite Huge Potential

It’s incredible to think that the idea of using virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality – collectively called “Extended Reality” (XR) – for commercial and industrial purposes is only five years old. The Oculus Rift VR headset was initially launched in 2012 and the company was snapped up by Facebook for $2 billion in March 2014. In December 2014, Samsung released the Gear VR which was designed to work with a smartphone. Microsoft released a development edition of its HoloLens, mixed reality glasses, in March 2016. Building on their expertise with projection technologies, Epson offers the Moverio AR glasses and HP has launched the Reveal extended reality platform. Since this surge of interest in XR hardware, the focus has switched to software and development kits. In 2017, Apple released ARKit and Google delivered ARCore into the market. At the same time, firms with deep experience in 3D CAD have realized they are in pole position to exploit the XR market. That’s why PTC launched their Vuforia XR proposition for industrial customers. The most heavily funded XR business is Magic Leap which, 8 years after it was founded, released Magic Leap One in 2018.

So a lot has happened in a short space of time. And at least $5 billion of funding has been invested in XR technologies. To get a better understanding of the current potential of XR for commercial and industrial customers, Verdantix participated in Europe’s largest AR/VR event the AWE EU Conference & Expo. With speakers from firms such as Airbus, Boeing, Bosch, Daimler, GSK, KLM and PSA Group this was not just an event for techies. But most attendees were XR innovators trying to figure out the ecosystem. The recurring theme in the XR market is one of amazing technology which is still at least 3 years away from being easy to buy, implement and generate a quick ROI.

Problem 1. Head mounted devices are heavy. They can cause eye-ache and headaches due to pressure on the bridge of the nose. They may conflict with PPE such as safety glasses. They are also expensive. The current solution of using smartphones eliminates the benefits of hands-free working.

Problem 2. XR is compute heavy which means it drains device batteries quickly. Chip designers like ARM are bringing more efficient chips to market but this is going to take several years to fully flow through the value chain. Rapid power consumption limits usage scenarios.

Problem 3. There is a lack of XR-ready content. Manufacturers such as Bosch and Siemens can see the benefit of selling equipment with a license to access an XR version of their technical manual. But this is something which is years away from being provided and raises concerns about IP protection.

Problem 4. This is not plug and play technology in an industrial setting. Using XR technologies successfully requires changes to normal work routines and users need training on how to apply the technology effectively.

Problem 5. The XR technology stack is not standardized. Due to the immaturity of the market, there is a lack of agreement on which technology vendor is best positioned to do what. What software should the HMD suppliers offer? Who should produce XR-ready content? How is security handled?

Problem 6. Customers are primarily implementing XR pilot projects. This may be for marketing purposes such as the PepsiCo ‘Unbelievable Bus Shelter’ or simply to test the technology at one Daimler production line. As a result, XR suppliers don’t have stable revenue streams.

No doubt, XR technologies will find successful usage scenarios over time. But the thrilling technologies on offer need to coalesce into easy-to-buy value propositions with proven business value. Recommendation: if your firm has 3D CAD content run a trial project to see what works.