With the exception of socially-distributed mobile AR lenses, consumer AR mostly isn’t ready for prime time. This is due to cultural readiness and the technology’s underbaked status. But the calculus is different in enterprise environments where AR glasses have a clearer path to adoption.
This involves a business case for boosted productivity from line-of-site guidance in functions like assembly, maintenance, and tech support. Moreover, the style crimes of bulky headgear and awkwardness of upheld smartphones are less of an issue in industrial workspaces.
Despite that well-worn rallying cry, Enterprise AR is still stuck in early adopter phases and hasn’t hit its tipping point. There are organizational adoption issues due to typical inertia and resistance to new things. This has caused many initiatives to stall in the dreaded “pilot purgatory.”
But there are ways to sidestep these hurdles, many of which are ironically more about marketing and communication than technology. This was the topic of a recent fireside chat we moderated with Lenovo and Bridgestone, and the topic of our latest XR Talks (video and takeaways below).
Expandable & Scalable
One challenge with Enterprise AR, along with the above fundamental issues, is varied needs across the industrial landscape. This compelled Lenovo to build its ThinkReality platform in a way that’s expandable and scalable with lots of flexibility, such as a wide range of hardware support.
One way that plays out is in use cases — everything from assembly work to warehousing. Lenovo Commercial AR/VR Lead Nathan Pettyjohn says the most prevalent use cases today are remote assistance, guided workflows and training, but Think Reality is ready for any demand shifts.
From the perspective of a real-life brand that’s implementing AR, Bridgestone’s Brian Robinson says that training is the company’s most valuable use case, but it’s also implementing AR (and VR) for design and other stages. The goal is to make these technologies a “daily use item.”
Robinson is also quick to specify that AR and VR aren’t silver bullets and map to specific use cases. He prefers AR for on-site training because operators can work with real equipment without obstructed views. But for a new plant that isn’t built yet, VR helps to get operators ready virtually.
AR also shines in session recordings to preserve and deploy institutional knowledge. It’s a better mousetrap for the existing processes of recording sessions with a GoPro then creating video tutorials. Line-of-sight AR enables better mental mapping of 2D instructions to 3D space.
Speak the Language
Back to the theme of organizational and cultural challenges, the above AR product positioning only goes so far if enterprises don’t implement them correctly. Robinson says the name of the game is to identify all of the stakeholders, then speak their language to get the right buy-in.
For example, the IT department is famously risk-averse. Robinson advises to plan smart for AR network integration. Don’t set AR up to fail by deploying apps that aren’t secure or could overload the network. You can download training modules in advance and work offline, for example.
This could impact the flavor of AR you choose. Remote assistance is a continuous data stream, whereas pre-authored guided workflows can work mostly offline. Conversely, remote assistance can have less end-user resistance given the comfort factor that a human guide is involved.
Cost is also an issue, depending on how equipment budgeting is done in a given organization. In Bridgestone’s case, Robinson sidestepped departmental resistance by getting AR designated by IT as a managed device, so that it doesn’t cost plant managers anything budget-wise.
He also bred healthy competition among plant managers to motivate them to keep up with each other’s tech adoption. And sometimes it helps to “show rather than tell,” by lending plant managers AR devices. Usually, he says, they’re sold on the benefits and the price resistance melts away.
“I try to take the cost out of it,” said Robinson. “I try to put it as ‘let me let you borrow it. I’ll cover the cost for now’. The moment they see it work, it’s no longer about the cost, it’s about ‘how quickly can I implement this?’. Having that live call at a machine blows them away, then that opens the doors to ‘what else can we do with this?’ and then they start getting those gears turning.”
See the full session below…