Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance (AREA) emerges to accelerate adoption

A fairly hefty collection of industrial figures have formed the latest IoT-focused alliance this week, with the launch of the Augmented Reality for the Enterprise Alliance (AREA). The more notable founding members include Boeing, Bosch, the IEEE and the EPRI, and collectively, the group aims to accelerate the adoption of augmented reality tech in the enterprise.

Broadly speaking, augmented reality (AR) tech is most familiar to consumers through devices like Google Glass, which overlays a user’s view of the world with contextually relevant information. In that example, the glasses alone can’t be relied upon to process the world around them by themselves. A much wider device-level deployment is needed to feed extra information to them, and devices like Bluetooth and WiFi beacons can provide precise location-specific data for a device like Glass to use.

Behind the scenes of course, there is a much wider ecosystem of applications and cloud-based platforms that enable such devices to operate – again, drawing in more potential partners and interested parties into an alliance such as AREA, which can unite both the hardware and software vendors and developers, as well as their potential end-users. This provides much greater sales opportunities for these members, in terms of direct selling of devices or services, as well as cross-selling those products into other partner ecosystems.

To this end, 1066 Labs, APX Labs, Atheer Labs, Augmate, The Boeing Company, Bosch, CN2 Technology, DAQRI, Design Mill, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), IEEE Standards Association, NGRAIN, iQagent, Newport News Shipbuilding, Perey Research and Consulting, and Talent Swarm have joined together to launch AREA as sponsor members– a group that hopes to advance the wider AR ecosystem, to the benefit of all those involved.

The uses for these AR services have huge potential in inter-personal relations, especially customer service and front of house staff. A set of glasses could run an application that can trawl LinkedIn and Facebook and identify a user via facial recognition. Being able to quickly identify both existing and potential customers, and then pull up the relevant files, has a very obvious value – but one that requires a significant investment in the wider ecosystem, which is where AREA comes in.

Outside of customer-facing applications, the industrial arena is another area that has received a lot of attention from AR adopters, who recognize the potential of the systems in manufacturing and assembly, as well as remote deployments and installations. For workers, being able to see the most recent status updates, case notes or operational instructions in a hands-free manner is tremendously helpful – and to this end, a pair of AR-enabled glasses become a very valuable communications and compliance tool for the worker and their employer.

While Google’s Glass project is undergoing something of an internal overhaul, in preparation for a consumer-focused launch, AREA-member Atheer Labs has already developed a pretty convincing equivalent device called the AiR, powered by its AiR OS. Ideally, member companies like Atheer gain a leg-up on integrating with the wider industrial deployments of companies like Bosch, and therefore access to all of the industrial giant’s customers too. Increasing the brand recognition of such devices is also a key focus for the alliance.

AREA is billing itself as the only global member-based organization focusing on accelerating AR adoption, and says that “though AR for the enterprise offers great promise, published pioneer experiences are scarce, and few programs exist to help organizations seeking to deploy AR to navigate the many uncharted integration challenges.” Unsurprisingly, AREA promises to address those needs.

The alliance points to research that predicts mobile AR use in the enterprise will drive annual software license revenues licenses up to $2.4bn in 2019, from $247m in 2014. This is key, as software will be the glue that holds together separate device ecosystems and business practices – as AREA aims to “help organizations achieve greater operational efficiencies through smooth introduction and widespread adoption of interoperable AR-enabled enterprise systems.”

Image recognition plays a big part in the AR user-experience, as wearable devices will need to be able to identify physical objects and locations, and then query a database to pull data to their users. That database will need to be dynamically updated, according to both direct feedback from the end-devices, as well as regular updates from the platform that will power these deployments.

It’s a pretty similar approach as that used in autonomous vehicles, which have to depend on a mixture of database-informed visual information, as well as the readings and measurements pulled from their onboard sensors, and there seems to be a lot of overlap between those two use cases, should they choose to work more closely.

“Through our members’ collaborative efforts, the AREA will address challenges and lower barriers to AR adoption within the enterprise, at technical, business and societal levels,” said Christine Perey, AREA’s Executive Director. “A highly functional ecosystem of AR customers, non-commercial entities and providers of core enabling technologies, solutions and services is quickly going to emerge.”

In terms of membership benefits, AREA says signing up will enable access to vendor-neutral content, participation in programs, early access to beta software and hardware, an alliance-wide research framework, and discounts for fee-based activities – with sponsor members having a direct role in shaping the AR industry.