Gartner’s hype-cycle has augmented reality (AR) sliding down into the trough of disillusionment, which means it’s not far from the slope of enlightenment and subsequent productivity. How is AR being used in the enterprise now? Brian Runciman MBCS reports.

Perhaps in keeping with a term that dates from the 1990s, even the pop band Bon Jovi has now got involved in AR - with an app they used in 2013 to sell merchandise. AR has taken a while to move from futuristic idea to useful application, but it is now getting into corporate mind-sets and beyond.

The likes of Raytheon and Mitsubishi have been trialling it in the workplace, and there are many pilots in varying states of readiness for hospitals, construction sites, factories and more.

Any job that requires a hands-on approach, but has additional knowledge or job spec requirements, can potentially benefit from AR solutions, for example car building and warehousing.

But AR is not just about ‘blue-collar’ or entertainment. Gartner recently highlighted that AR applications are now becoming useful as an internal tool for organisations in complementing and enhancing business processes, workflows and employee training - usually either location-based or computer-vision enabled. There is a hybrid approach too, called mixed reality, which could include things from multiplayer gaming to teleconferencing.

The BCS academic journal ‘Interacting with Computers’ recently ran a series of papers on the possibilities offered by combining ubiquitous sensors and recognition technology for training. This approach can ‘enhance interaction, learning and playfulness by employing sensors, recognition and advanced interactive technologies to create a joyful and meaningful interaction environment,’ say the editors.

The hope is that these technologies may offer new angles for addressing the challenge of sustaining users’ motivation and engaging them in meaningful interaction to make learning effective.

The applications discussed included one to measure a learner’s game-based learning motivation using an electroencephalography sensor; and one for note-taking in 3D using a combination of head-mounted displays with cameras - it also allows the use of hand gestures to embed notes in the corresponding contents of a 3D space - i.e. a movie or panoramic picture.

Another paper suggested an ebook reading-behaviour monitoring system, based on eye-tracking and touchscreen sensing techniques. The aim is to assist educators to observe students’ reading behaviour so as to provide individual guidance.

AR in marketing

Jupiter Research recently found that AR mobile device applications generated nearly $300 million revenue in 2013 and that is estimated to increase by more than $2.5 billion by 2017.

Academic studies are underway to increase the subtlety of in-app marketing approaches, such as marker-less augmented reality system on smartphones to conveying information about advertisements to users without explaining goods by persuading consumers to have an interest, but linking augmented reality system and database management systems to quickly provide more accurate and diversified information to users.

Another suggested application was specifically designed for improved product display. In order to get a deeper insight into consumers' reflections from real-time AR shopping the writers of a recent paper presented a demo platform for the purchase of trainers (see the link in the full State of Play report).

Security and safety

AR creates both challenges and opportunities for security, privacy and safety.

Another recent study looked at a head-up display (HUD) system that recognises and presents information about safe driving to a car driver. It displays information for the driver and can recognise obstacles even in bad weather conditions. Composed of four modules - a ground obstacle detection module, an object decision module, an object recognition module, and a display module - the recognition ratio of the driving safety information obtained is about 73 per cent at present.

Entertainment and gaming

The most headway in AR is in the entertainment and gaming fields. Game developer Ubisoft is practicing what it preaches not only in its games but in its business, using an augmented reality application to engage employees in their plans to save for their retirement.

Bringing safety and entertainment together, a recent case study focused on American football, with an idea to use a helmet-mounted system to advise players how successful a shot might be, or to tell them when they are entering a situation where they could injure themselves. Whether that’s in the spirit, or rules of the game, is a future discussion.

In museums some AR technology has been implemented via mobile applications, reducing the reliance on additional hardware or systems. There are a variety of solutions in AR that can help museums fulfil their role and educational goals.

This BCS State of Play report looks at how things stand in 2014. Perspectives covered include those of the enterprise, marketing and advertising, security and safety and the entertainment and gaming business.