Time Magazine called them Snapchat’s secret weapon: the filters that savvy users place over the images they take with the app to show a city or event they’re visiting or to put dog or cat ears on their friend’s heads. Filters are fun and very popular among the millennial and Generation Z crowds, as well as many marketers, who use them to generate buzz about events. They’re also a great example of augmented reality (AR), technology that places digital information or graphics on top of what the user is seeing.
AR is appearing in more than just consumer apps, though, and businesses are increasingly seeing use cases for the technology. “AR will become the new interface between humans and machines, bridging the digital and physical worlds,” write Michael Porter, a Harvard professor, and James Heppelmann, president and CEO of PTC, in Harvard Business Review. “AR enables a new information-delivery paradigm, which we believe will have a profound impact on how data is structured, managed, and delivered on the internet.”
As the popularity of virtual and augmented reality increases, spending is increasing, as well. CB Insights reports that deals to AR and VR startups have increased every year since 2012 and hit 80 deals in the first quarter of 2017, a 36-percent increase over the previous deal high, which was set in the third quarter of 2016.
Today, Apprentice announced $2.5 million in venture funding from lead investor Silverton Partners and advanced tech venture capital firm Hemi Ventures, for its AR platform, Affinity. Affinity uses AR smart glasses to support research and development (R&D) and manufacturing operators, scientists, and engineers in the $200 billion global biopharma manufacturing industry. The platform includes a telepresence tool that enables collaboration and virtual support and feedback, a workflow aid that uses AR to overlay text, images and video onto the user’s field of view, and a tool that automatically captures data like writing, barcodes, voice notes and labels while the user is working.
Apprentice boasts the only regulatory-compliant AR solution that doesn’t require users to change their standard operating procedures, which Mike Dodd, a general partner at Silverton, says was important to the firm when considering the investment. “We wanted to support a company like Apprentice, whose innovations grow a client’s ROI while benefitting the everyday user, and are built … industry-compliant with little adoption risk,” he says.
Training, especially in fields like manufacturing, is cited by many experts as an effective use of AR to save time and money and improve knowledge retention. When AR is used in training, “little is left to the imagination or interpretation,” write Porter and Heppelmann. They cite a study by Boeing, in which AR was used to teach learners the 50 steps to assemble a 30-part section of an aircraft wing. Learners who used AR completed the work 35 percent more quickly than learners who used two-dimensional drawings and documentation, and the number of learners with little or no experience who could perform the task correctly the first time increased by 90 percent. Lee Company, which sells and services building systems, has saved more than $500 per technician per month in labor and travel costs by using AR to connect field technicians with remote experts. According to Porter and Heppelmann, Lee obtains a $20 return on every $1 it invests in AR. They also write, “At some companies, AR has reduced the training time for new employees in certain kinds of work to nearly zero and lowered the skill requirements for new hires.”
“When you are working in industries in which losing a single batch can mean million-dollar losses, or those with complex procedures or time-sensitive product timelines,” says Angelo Stracquatanio, CEO and co-founder of Apprentice, “increasing efficiency and eliminating human error whenever possible becomes crucial for company and consumer alike.” With its new funding, Apprentice plans to hire new team members, invest in new innovations, and expand into new industries, such as small biotech, chemicals and cosmetics.
“The bottom line is that all of these benefits trickle down to the everyday consumer who is dependent upon timely advances in medicine or cost-effective, lifesaving drugs,” says Stracquatanio. He adds that deploying Apprentice products at one facility could save an organization “millions in losses and delays caused by accidental batch destruction, contaminated research or misused equipment.”
The Future of Augmented Reality
“There is unlimited potential in the augmented reality world,” Stracquatanio says. His advice for organizations is “to remain open-minded about how AR can magnify your existing success.” Apprentice, meanwhile, is excited to continue working toward its goal “of creating a synergistic relationship between man and technology that amplifies a workforce’s human capital.”
In 2018, Stracquatanio predicts “a decline in VR popularity and an increase in the AR market,” since AR technology has more applications (at least for now) for both commercial and consumer use. “It’s going to be transformational in learning, decision-making and in how we interact within our physical environments.” Funding will follow. In May, CB Insights predicted $2.16 billion in funding for AR and VR this year, and some expect AR spending to reach $60 billion in 2020, according to Porter and Heppelmann.
In between Snapchatting AR emojis and pinning virtual art to your front yard, take a look at the training your company does. How could it be made safer, more efficient, and more memorable using augmented reality? If you don’t have an answer to this question, your employees may move to a company that does.