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The Startups Bringing AR Into The Workplace

AR will affect some industries far more than others

11Oct

When Google Glass was publicly announced in 2012, it was taken on one of the most rapid complete hype cycles in tech history. Not long after its announcement, there were those that predicted an urban environment awash with smart glasses, that Google's vision of friends taking and sending pictures and maps via headsets was the inevitable next step in social development. Even I can admit getting a little bit excited over the prospect of a seemingly immediate augmented reality experience, and hoped only for a less science fiction design as the product developed.

The hype naturally didn't last long, though. Once the prospect of actually wearing a portable computer on your face became a reality, an overwhelming majority of consumers weren't ready to take that step. Issues of privacy and usability aside, the original Glass looked faintly ridiculous and those with any vanity at all rejected it. It's the sort of technology that many could see themselves using only if many others around them were also sporting the frames. Google has realized what many now realize about smart glasses, that they have far more of a place in industry than they do on the high street, at least for now.

When we talk about augmented reality (AR) today, it's important to first understand that the original Google Glass business model is no longer really being considered. The vast majority of AR startups today are focusing on either industry or gaming, with very little regard for the consumer market. Google themselves have even steered the infamous project toward the world of work with 'Glass Enterprise Edition', a product it hopes will change the way manufacturing companies work. Essentially, the new Glass will allow employees to focus on their hands-on work without having to stop to access apps, be able to pull up on the spot training videos and quality assurance checklists among other things, and connect with co-workers through live video streams from the employees' perspectives.

And there are a number of companies developing AR with industry in mind. One such company is Upskill, an AR startup focusing on enterprise software rather than building the frames themselves. The strategy is unconventional - most are developing physical glasses rather than simply a platform for applications - but Upskill are hoping that its Skylight can be present across different AR hardware.

The company has added tools to make app creation on its platform so simple that even those without any coding experience could put together a workflow app, as well as a feature that allows users to live stream what they're seeing. Another of its additions - Skylight Connect - allows users to tap into company databases, again with no coding experience necessary. All of this combines to make a product that Upskill hopes will make large scale AR projects viable for large companies.

As noted by TechCrunch, large organizations typically have vast legacy infrastructures that the AR applications will have to work with. This has been one of the key details holding AR in the workplace back, and Upskill hope to position Skylight as the platform that can navigate those infrastructures on a grand scale to drive the industry forward.

It's unlikely that AR will affect the lives of the majority of workers any time soon. The notion that every profession will be hooked up to a headset and receive email notifications in the corner of their eye in the recognizable future is fanciful; far from being the new PC, AR smart glasses will be used (initially at least) only for roles in which it solves a specific working problem. For example, there have been cases of warehouse-picking roles being revolutionized by the use of AR technology largely because it allows employees to work independently without revisiting a central hub for instruction.

In situations like this, when AR solves a simple workplace issue or streamlines processes, it is easy to see large companies rolling out the technology at scale. Upskill hopes to be at the center of that roll out, focusing on being easy to use and able to provide simple workflow applications to even the least technologically minded company. We won't see estate agents giving tours of houses through virtual reality until some way in the future but, for jobs in which employees follow processes and work independently, the AR revolution could be just around the corner. 

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