The Promise of Augmented Reality (AR) in Instructions
Augmented and virtual reality caught the attention of many technology companies last year. At SwipeGuide we have a continued interested in these technologies and the potential of them for instructions. If there is one place to check out the new potential for Augmented Reality it is the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. With 4,000 exhibitors showing the latest tech and 180,000 visitors longing for innovations it is the one-week hotspot for things like 5G, virtual and augmented reality, robots, and self-driving cars. An excellent spot for us to check out the potential of augmented reality for instructions. So here you go – what we found out about the current state of AR and AR in instructions at CES in Las Vegas.
What is Augmented Reality (AR)?
Let’s clarify the difference between virtual and augmented reality before diving deeper into the topic. Virtual reality (VR) is an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real-life environment or situation. The user feels like experiencing the simulated reality in real life, mainly through stimulation of vision and hearing. Augmented reality (AR) on the other hand, layers computer-generated augmentations upon an existing reality in order to interact with it in a more realistic way. AR blends digital components into the real world and they’re thus also easier to tell apart.
CES was a true mecca for fans of both VR and AR and we saw incredible innovations in entertainment, retail and everything in between. We, however, experienced that general VR and AR are still in quite an early stages and many innovations are not yet available on the market. VR glasses were especially common, but when asking for AR versions the answer is often: “that will come later this year”.
Based on what we saw in Vegas, we got the impression that augmented reality seems to be more promising than virtual reality in most fields, and most experts actually agree with us on this*. Especially when it comes to instructions we see that AR is a more suitable option. We’ve seen good examples of VR for training purposes (off the job), but we are certain that work instructions (on the job) are better and more understandable with AR.
The AR user experience
We saw various types of user experiences (UX) in AR devices at CES. Glasses seem to be the most common device, but in some cases augmented content was placed on helmet covers, on tabletops, or on smartphone and tablet. When looking at the user experience we saw following variations:
Since smartphones are getting better and smarter, they are very interesting for AR. Most people have them in their pockets all the time, which makes it the #1 channel to reach people with your AR content. Tablets are an interesting alternative as they have bigger screens that allow a bigger augmented projection of reality. However, they are less portable and not as widely dispersed. In industrial settings, we see that smartphones and tablets can have some limitations. The devices are vulnerable, sometimes not allowed on the floor, and they cannot be handled handsfree. Wearables are the best option when you need to use the instructions while performing a task. The main examples are glasses with built-in projection and small screens mounted to helmets.
Level of immersion:
At CES we saw several versions of overlays on reality on smartphones, tablets, and glasses. With SwipeGuide we want to be as close to reality as possible, but until now we don’t present the instruction as an overlay. We do the next-to reality display. For CES we created an overlay AR experience on smartphone and tablet, but the question remains if this is the best user experience for instructions. At the RealWear booth, we saw an interesting example of presenting the instruction next to reality. They use a small screen in front of your eye to present instructions. Their HMT-1 devices also have recording options.
Navigation is the following interesting choice to make about AR. The current SwipeGuide interaction is about “swiping” through the instructions, thus using your fingertips to navigate. We have seen cases with changes in context that triggered next steps in the AR experience. This required high-quality image recognition that often is hard to achieve. We also experienced voice control at RealWear which works well if you are looking for a hands-free interaction with instructions.
How to make AR content creation scalable?
Scalable content creation is a challenge. We see great potential, but the custom development of content is still difficult and time-consuming. Content creation is easy in the current version of the SwipeGuide platform and publishing it out to multiple channels and devices can be done with one click. We are looking for the same simplicity when it comes to augmented reality.
An interesting alternative to consider is content creation using a wearable device. Some of the devices we saw can also be used to record content whilst performing a task. This can be an interesting feature to make visual content production seamless and easy. The quality is still an issue, but as AR technology is advancing quickly it looks promising.
We are convinced that augmented reality has future potential for instructions. But it is still a developing technology and not mainstream since both the devices and the software are not on a level in order to distribute it on a broad scale yet.
We presented the SwipeGuide AR demo that shows instructions of the Segway Ninebot as an overlay atop reality on a smartphone. We look forward to experimenting more with this fascinating technology and partner up with other AR companies in order to further grow in the field!
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