One of AR’s anticipated use cases is indoor wayfinding. Google has begun to innovate in this area as a new feature of its Live View AR navigation. Startups like ARway (acquired by NexTech*) and Dent Reality (raised $3.4 million last week) are likewise pushing things forward.

As background, AR wayfinding is as challenging as it is promising. When Apple launched ARkit in 2007, several concept videos emerged on YouTube showing AR’s potential to guide customers through airports and shopping malls. But unfortunately, they were just that….concepts.

One of those videos showed a first-person perspective of a grocery store experience. After typing in a product name, shoppers were guided visually to where the item sat on the shelf. This included the familiar 3D navigation interface of tools like Google Maps, but through a store’s interior.

The reason this was a concept rather than a working product is that it’s hard to build. The front-end UX is one thing, but reliably navigating to a given item in a store requires lots of data. We’re talking product catalogs, inventory, store layouts, and seasonal shelf positions.

XR Talks: The Metaverse Meets Main Street


Back to Dent Reality’s recent funding, it wants to bring the benefits of eCommerce to physical-world retail – starting in the grocery vertical. There are several ways that retail shopping can be digitized in this way, including informational overlays on products and in-store navigation.

Starting with the latter, Dent will tackle the data challenges noted above by integrating data from retail partners. This requires working with stores to gain their shelf-specific data on item location – likely easier with national chains than the fragmented world of individual grocers.

The benefit for retailers is to improve in-store shopping, thus gaining a competitive edge. If a given store can advertise in-aisle AR navigation to save shoppers time, it could be a meaningful hook. That in turn provides incentive to work with Dent and hand over their inventory data.

The appeal of AR-guided shopping could also resonate among “camera-native” gen Z, who continue to grow in purchasing power. Snap’s Alex Dao says that the generation drives $1.5 trillion in annual spending. Put another way, Dent is offering grocers a way to future-proof themselves.

Speaking of future-proofing, Dent has aspirations beyond the grocery verticals. It’s starting there because that’s the best way to stress-test its platform. Indeed, the volume and variance in grocery items are much greater than other retail verticals, creating ample complexity.

The Metavearth

All of the above feeds into 2021’s biggest buzzword: the metaverse. Though it’s shrouded in ambiguity and overuse, the m-word holds legitimate principles. It’s about unlocking digital content and experiences beyond the surface level. The greek root meta literally means “beyond.”

The metaverse is mostly discussed in immersive and multiplayer contexts, often in VR. But the larger and less-discussed metaverse could be that which brings the physical world to life. This “metavearth” is a big part of AR’s inherent promise to blend the digital and physical.

And that brings the metaverse closer to local media & commerce, as we discussed during a panel at Localogy 2020, featuring Epic Games and Foursquare. The idea is to annotate the world with useful data that’s activated “in situ,” or on the spot, to aid commerce or other activities.

If you think about it, this is analogous to what Google started doing 20 years ago by indexing the web. The metavearth could bring that principle to the physical world to create an “internet of places.” And Google naturally is keen on owning a piece of this, given tools like Google Lens.

It will take years for all of this to come together, but use cases could include everything from gaming (a la Pokémon Go) to utilities (a la Google Lens) to shopping and commerce (a la grocery-store AR). We’ll keep tracking all of the above as the pieces continue to materialize.

*Editor’s Note: The author of this article owns stock in NextTech AR Solutions. See AR Insider’s disclosure and ethics policy here

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