Augmented Reality: It's Tough in Reality

BOSE is the latest company to withdraw from pursuing ambitions in the augmented reality sector. Other casualties include ODG and Daqri (acquired by Snap). Earlier, Atheer, a pioneer in augmented reality (AR), gave up ambitions to sell headsets, retrenching instead to offer software platforms that enable enterprise application development on other companies’ hardware.

A few years ago, I chatted with a former Atheer CEO. He said the overriding challenge in hardware was the optics. We at Counterpoint believe this continues to be one of the most difficult aspects of developing AR glasses and one that no one seems to have managed to crack yet. Magic Leap is the ‘poster child’ for the difficulty in making AR work. It was determined to develop its own, unique waveguide, but ended up consuming billions of dollars and almost going bust.

Unsurprisingly, the BOSE solution was based on audio rather than visual augmentation. Though a novel approach, it didn’t garner enough interest to make it commercially viable. And after key personnel left and the downturn caused by COVID-19 hit home, BOSE is withdrawing from the initiative. The concept was reasonable – using audio to enhance something someone is already doing. For example, navigating through a city or working out in the gym. But these can be accomplished just as well using regular hearables paired with a smartphone or smartwatch.

BOSE’s departure leaves very few players continuing to push ahead in consumer-orientated AR wearable devices. The one with the highest expectations is Apple. It is expected to announce something soon, but precisely when remains unclear. Tim Cook has spoken of the potential of AR many times, and some sort of eyewear has been in development for several years. But we suspect it’s the pesky optics that will be causing Apple the most headaches. The current most likely timeline points to an announcement in 2021 with the product becoming available the following year. The most likely format will be for the glasses to work in concert with an iPhone – the phone delivering computational power and potentially electrical power as well. The glasses will effectively act as an additional screen and house various sensors to enable surface detection, hand tracking and possibly object recognition, although this is computationally intensive. ARKit, which has been available for several years, will be the basis for application development for the glasses.

Chinese company Nreal, which was founded by people who left Magic Leap, is ahead of Apple but following a similar path, though in its case it is confining itself to the Android smartphone environment. Nreal glasses plug into compatible Android phones for power and computational resources.  This simple approach – using the glasses as a second screen for an existing device – is relatively modest in scope, but is the lowest-risk way forward. Nreal supports Unity and Unreal Engine for application development and is looking at both consumer and enterprise options.

Consumer AR remains challenging and we struggle to conceive of truly compelling applications that will overcome consumers’ reticence about wearing glasses – an extremely image altering addition. But in the enterprise, AR is already proving its worth. Applications supporting diverse sectors like field force, construction and healthcare are already benefiting from AR devices – companies such as Vuzix have been performing well here.

Microsoft continues to gently push ahead with Hololens. But the devices are not without challenge to use given their size, weight and somewhat delicate nature that is incompatible with construction sites, for example. This means many of the most widely deployed AR use cases continue to be through screen – that is holding up a tablet or smartphone to see the enhanced view via the device’s camera and mediating software.

AR and VR are often cited as technologies that will be revolutionized by 5G. We can support this idea conceptually, but the near term reality is much less exciting and continues to be a hard, slow slog for the remaining players in the game. The AR revolution is inching closer, but it may still be a few years before it’s a commercial reality.

Qualcomm's Ecosystem Approach to Accelerate Augmented & Virtual Reality Adoption in Enterprise

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality or amalgamation of the two also known as Mixed Reality (MR) or Xtended Reality (XR) is the way we are going to communicate, collaborate, consume content and also, in many scenarios, create content. With every cellular generation, “G”, we have seen the change in how we interact/communicate with each other or create/consume content. From T9 keypads in 2G to  QWERTY and resistive touch in 3G to the touchscreen in 4G and now to XR gestures and voice with the onset of 5G.

In the consumer world, XR is already gaining popularity as one of the top initial 5G era use-cases from consuming 4K, 360 deg, multi-view live streaming VR/AR content to the real-time multiplayer cloud and spatial gaming. However, the opportunity for XR is bigger and broader in enterprises.  We have seen a lot of tethered AR/VR implementations in this decade. However, with the advent of technologies such as 5G, Wi-Fi 6 we are entering a new era of untethered XR experiences making it more useful beyond the four walls.

To drive untethered XR in enterprises, Qualcomm has launched its latest Qualcomm XR Enterprise Program, to bring together different XR solution providers like XR device manufacturers, XR software platform players, XR apps, content and services providers, and system integrators to help accelerate the XR adoption in enterprises. We have already seen in some verticals, such as Industrial, Retail, and others, that XR adoption is reaching a tipping point.

Qualcomm has roped in variety of XR companies specializing in multiple verticals and use-cases to collaborate and build solutions to avail multiple benefits which include:

  • Tighter Hardware-Software and Service Integration
  • Shared Collaborative Development, Insights 
  • Highly Optimized Workflows
  • Agreement on High Quality & Solution Excellence
  • Nicely tie into existing IoT solutions
  • Large Scale XR Deployments
  • Faster Time to Market
  • Lowering Total Cost of Ownership

Our research shows in enterprise space, the top use-cases for which enterprise XR adoption is rising is as follows:

  • Digital Twins: Overlaying the real-time telemetry data for machines, equipment, facilities, etc. on the physical world helps better decision making
  • Documentation: This is also one of the top use-cases, where the entire process is documented (e.g., manuals, workflows, etc.) visually which is great for training new employees realizing in hundreds of hours, thousands of dollars in savings for the organization
  • Upskilling & Training: This is the fastest-growing use-case in terms of XR adoption to remotely or in-person train, upskill employees effectively again immediate ROI for enterprises. Education vertical is another big opportunity for remotely train and upskill students quickly and efficiently.
  • Remote Assistance: This particular is among the main XR use-cases across enterprises for remotely assisting field workforce or first-line workers saving millions of dollars in lost time, travel, and other constraints. e.g., Xerox is seeing 76% technical problems resolved without any on-site help in Field Services Remote Assistance using AR Glasses
  • Business Development & Marketing: Companies such as Zerolight in collaboration with Pico are helping automotive OEMs for real-time visualizations to assist dealerships with sales and marketing through the entire buyer journey from engagement to selection to configuration to payment.
  • Healthcare: We are seeing XR is being used in the healthcare context from therapeutic use-cases to visual analytics of the patient’s health data to hands-free surgeries.

The lower latency, higher bandwidth promise of the 5G era alongside significant developments in Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) and technologies such as Boundless XR will further drive adoption from form-factor, user experience, and battery-life perspective to have more meaningful, useful and untethered XR experiences in enterprises. Initiatives such as Qualcomm XR Enterprise program will further catalyze this adoption in the 5G era.

PTC LiveWorx 2019 : AR & IoT Adoption Reaching a Tipping Point in Industrial Vertical

Counterpoint Analysts participated in the 2019 edition of LiveWorx in Boston last month conceptualized and hosted by PTC. PTC is one of the top three companies globally driving digital transformation through its end-to-end software platforms in the industrial sector especially factories, agriculture, retail, and other applications.

  • LiveWorx is a one-of-its-kind premier technology industry event held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center (BCEC)and showcases the latest innovation, emerging technologies, tools, experiences, tech demos transforming today’s digital industrial enterprise to the next level.
  • LiveWorx’19 attracted close to 6,359 attendees (and 3,233 via live streaming) from 74 countries. Keynote tracks, workshops, and tech demos focused on “Digital Engineering”, which included product design and product lifecycle management, and “Industry 4.0”, which included connected smart enterprise assets/products transmitting valuable data at the edge or to the cloud to generate real-time analytics using AI and visualize the resulting actionable insights using Digital Dashboards or Augmented Reality.
  • PTC with its comprehensive portfolio from CAD for design (PTC CREO) to PLM (PTC Windchill) for manufacturing to IoT (PTC ThingWorx) and AR (PTC Vuforia) for connected assets monitoring to data visualization respectively and key partnerships with Microsoft, Rockwell Automation, Vodafone Business and other is empowering this organization to transform digitally accelerating the goal of saving money / making money and also drive greater customer satisfaction.
  • PTC had a number of customers and partners showcasing demos at LiveWorx,  however, most of them showcased the power of IoT (streaming data) from machines + AR (data and insights visualization) in the industrial IoT setting. Prominent examples included AR-powered Digital Twins to interactive hands-free AR Documentation creation to AR-based Remote Assistance to AR-based Employee Training and AR-based Collaboration.
  • Thousands of companies have adopted IoT + AR as a key strategy and many of them have seen immediate ROI in deploying these technologies. Companies which have been using PTC’s ThingWorx and Vuforia platforms successfully include Volvo, Boeing, Xerox, Ericsson, Lockheed Martin, Howden, Global Foundries, BAE Systems, Fujitsu, Cannondale, and many others.
  • Other key highlights included, PTC expanded its AR offerings by acquiring Netherlands based AR integration company twnkls. PTC also made a strategic investment in Matterport which offers immersive 3D Spatial Capture technology to help visualize factories
  • The adoption of key technologies from AI+Robotics to IoT to AR is growing fast in the industrial sector and helping companies generate exponential business value, efficiencies, and productivity to transform the industrial enterprise.

The comprehensive analysis on LiveWorx’19, key case studies, survey on the growing use-cases of AR in the industrial sector and on PTC’s portfolio and competitiveness can be downloaded by Counterpoint clients here


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