Date posted: 6/06/2017 3 min read

Augmented reality the new black

Why augmented reality may soon revolutionise location-specific learning, corporate onboarding and induction programmes.

In brief

  • Augmented reality (AR) has the potential to provide benefits on the job, or with location-specific learning.
  • AR appeals to companies looking for easily distributed learning experiences that can be enhanced by augmented overlays.
  • Facebook is developing cost effective AR tools that use smartphone cameras.

As recent instalments in this column have detailed, virtual reality (VR) is the platform with which to immerse yourself, or another viewer, in a completely different environment. But there is another, potentially even more disruptive, technology that could provide major benefits to on-the-job or location-specific learning. That technology is called augmented reality (AR).  

Where VR transports users into another world, room or time in an immersive manner, AR brings objects and information into your world. The most recent high profile example of AR is the Pokemon GO app that took the world by storm in 2016. Pokemon GO uses a camera to show the live scene in front of the user and place rendered objects in that scene.  

Games like Pokemon GO aren’t necessarily indicative of a learning-based AR platform, but they show the possibilities of where AR platforms can enhance learning systems. The hardware that is most likely to lead the way in this space the upcoming HoloLens platform from Microsoft.

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Experience AR through the HoloLens

Microsoft’s HoloLens is a standalone headset with a see-through visor that sits over your eyes. The visor is a heads-up display (HUD), but its greatest trick is using a number of sensors on board the headset to scan the environment the user is in and determine objects, surfaces and scale of the room. It can then place rendered objects in the user’s field of view that appear to be physically placed on the surfaces in your classroom, lab or lounge room.

This platform provides a great opportunity to build educational apps that require hands on, in situ training. For example, a HoloLens app could be programmed to identify parts of an automobile and help students work through an assembly or repair of a particular component. Because the headset is wireless, the students can use both hands and aren’t restricted to being tethered to a nearby computer.

The medical industry could also benefit from learning with AR. Instructions and holograms of medical equipment could be overlaid on a medical student’s HoloLens to provide dynamic feedback on an operation or procedure. The same goes for construction and heavy vehicle employees – on-the-job training that combines real world instruction with enhanced information in real time.

Disruptive technology with benefits

Unlike VR, which has a lower cost of entry in terms of video capture and inexpensive products like Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, the HoloLens is still prohibitive in terms of cost of ownership. The consumer version of HoloLens is yet to make an appearance, and the current developer version is available at just over A$4,000.  

But the future is looking brighter, and cheaper, for AR if Facebook has anything to do with it. At Facebook’s recent developer conference there was a distinct focus on VR and AR.  

The key theme from an AR perspective was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s declaration that AR doesn’t have to be as complicated or cost prohibitive as HoloLens is. His company will be focusing on the camera and processing power of smartphones to create AR experiences that can be deployed easily and cheaply.  

For example, corporate onboarding and induction programmes could be jazzed up with the simple use of a smartphone to guide users through different areas of a new building, displaying relevant departmental call outs and information on product categories and links to further training tools.  

This augurs well for companies looking for easily distributed learning experiences that can be enhanced by augmented overlays. The barriers to entry for AR will quickly tumble, delivering new possibilities to motivate and upskill staff.  

This article is part of a regular Technology column that takes aim at technology issues as they relate to business, economics and finance. As part of this column, Acuity is running a series by Ritchie Djamhur specifically on learning and innovation.