3 Real World Applications of Augmented Reality

Expect to see these benefits from AR

Augmented Reality once trundled behind Virtual Reality as a confused and uncertain concept. Today, AR is viewed as the most applicable and useful form of mixed reality, now topping VR investment. By 2020, global revenue is predicted to reach $90 billion. The power of AR lies in its ability to interact with the real world, making it a useful tool in a long list of sectors. By definition, the technology adds to our perception of the world around us. So, in which professions does AR have the most potential, and how could it disrupt these industries?

1. AR in surgery
Augmented Reality and the healthcare industry seem like the perfect match. Complicated medical procedures could be massively improved using AR technology, and Boston based Cambridge Consultants are currently developing a system to do just that. Surgery can be risky, and even seasoned surgeons can make mistakes. However, Cambridge Consultants have found a potential solution by combining MRI and CT scans to build up a 3D image of a patient’s body. The image is then projected onto the patient themselves when the surgeon puts on an AR headset. In future, it could be combined with alerts to tell surgeons when they are close to a nerve for example. In this way, the technology could be incredibly helpful for trainee or less experienced surgeons too.

“We can take these very complicated specialist procedures and make them accessible to far less specialist surgeons,” said project leader Simon Karger. The more complicated the surgery, the more useful AR could be. However, it won’t be used on humans until it’s completely accurate, which could take years. Nonetheless, the ball is undoubtedly rolling.

2. AR in engineering
Production and manufacturing have been disrupted by innovative technology. Augmented Reality has provided yet another tool for the creation and maintenance of complicated and expensive machines, making it easier for engineers to carry out repairs. NGRAIN, a Canadian 3D imaging company, uses 3D scans and analytics to detect minor damage to aircraft and uses this information to improve maintenance and repair operations (MRO). The company has trialled their service with aerospace giants Lockheed Martin. Engineers use Epson Moverio BT-200 glasses kitted out with motion and depth sensors to overlay images onto the working environment. NGRAIN claims that this enables engineers work up up to 30 times faster and with 96 per cent accuracy, which is especially important when carrying out MRO on costly equipment that needs to fly thousands of feet in the air. Augmented Reality repairs are now used by numerous companies – Hyundai has even released its own AR app to help car owners perform basic maintenance.

3. AR in the military
Despite seeming like a relatively new application of Augmented Reality, the first fully functioning AR system was developed at the US Air Force Research Laboratory back in 1992. Since then, the US military has had a keen interest in the technology. At the Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC), a team is carrying out research on the interactions soldiers have with AR. Eventually, this information will inform AR applications within the military. Dr. Tad Brunyé, a senior research psychologist at NSRDEC, suggests that Augmented Reality tech could be used in high fidelity visualisation, improving situation awareness and therefore mission planning. 3D models of environments could also be vitally important to carrying out successful operations. It won’t be long before these processes become a reality. During last month’s S2ME2 naval exercise, the US navy successfully demonstrated functional augmented reality technology.

Unlike other disruptive technologies, AR complements human professionals instead of threatening to replace them. It allows the user to add to the physical world to improve the quality of their work, whether that be a medical procedure or a maintenance job. Despite the clear capabilities of AR, there is still a reluctance to use it to enhance human skill. Can we really trust these systems in such vital industries? Eventually, yes. Augmented Reality is already used by engineers, but it could take years before the tech is applied to life threatening situations like military combat or complicated surgery. There’s still an incredibly long way to go, but the companies in this list have taken the vital pioneering steps towards wider AR adoption.