How Augmented Reality Can Help You with Remote Collaboration

AR can hook up people with an online platform to connect with a distant expert to assist with whichever task is at hand. Here’s how.
August 2, 2021
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Augmented Reality (AR) is one of those technologies that are set to redefine the post-pandemic world. As the many use cases in the retail, healthcare, manufacturing, and education fields come to show, AR has a vast potential to boost our day-to-day activities. Yet, even for all that untapped power, AR adoption is still slow.

According to a recent IDC survey, only 18% of companies investing in AR are moving ahead with an AR rollout. Meanwhile, 45% of those respondents are in the early development stages. This goes to show that businesses are still wary about augmented reality, maybe deterred by the tech’s cost or its inherent complexities. 

However, there are plenty of quick gains to be had with AR—provided you know how to identify and develop them. That IDC survey gives you a clue as to where to look: 43% of companies say they are using it for remote support, 39% for employee training, and 33% for knowledge capture. In other words, businesses are starting to see AR’s potential when it comes to remote collaboration.

Let’s take a look at what that means. 

Bridging the Digital and Physical Worlds

To put it simply, augmented reality is a technology that overlays digital content and information on physical objects. Basically, this means that you can see and interact with digital elements and information that are digitally placed over a specific object. Thus, for instance, you can check the shipping information of a package through an AR device, such as Google Glass or Microsoft HoloLens.

Some of the most widely known examples of AR’s use are in retail, especially in apps like IKEA Place, which allows users to check how a specific piece of furniture looks in a given space by superimposing a digital model over the actual location. But AR is way more than that. Doctors can use it to remotely assist surgeries. Students can use it to practice numerous tasks, especially in healthcare. Maintenance workers can rely on AR to inspect equipment. There are many more examples.

The goal of augmented reality, then, is to bridge the digital and the physical world, bringing the in-depth look of the former to the concrete surroundings of the latter. While that (and the examples I mentioned above) makes it easy to think of one person using a device to take advantage of AR in any given situation, the reality is that AR can also work as a connection between distant people. 

How? By pairing AR devices such as wearables, smartphones, and tablets with digital cloud-based platforms that bring an extra pair of eyes. In other words, someone with an AR device can hook up with an online platform and connect with a distant expert who can assist with whichever task is at hand. 

Using AR like that could relieve experts from having to be on-site to assist with important tasks, thus reducing the need for travel and the associated expenses. That use can also help reduce downtime during emergencies, limit risks in high-risk operations, and provide a great alternative for educators. 

Collaboration through AR

It’s not like I’m talking about far-fetched uses here. The things I’ve mentioned above are already among us and can benefit many companies and industries. That’s why businesses looking to implement AR should take a look at those uses to check the tech’s possibilities with higher likelihoods of success. 

So, what are some of the quick-win projects of AR when thinking about collaboration?

  • Remote support. Most jobs have complicated tasks that sometimes call for expert assistance. Unfortunately, those experts might not be on-site when you need them. That’s oh-so-true for certain facilities like oil rigs, power plants, or factories in remote locations. Luckily, AR can help by enabling remote support. By using AR devices, workers can ask for remote assistance from experts to access the information they need to quickly solve their challenges (such as repairing critical equipment or troubleshooting certain machines). 
  • Remote QA. Evaluating processes and equipment use is essential for identifying potential issues and improvement opportunities. With AR, QA professionals can analyze operators and how they work in real-time. This allows companies to thoroughly check process implementation, correct issues on the go, and detect problems before they have a larger impact. 
  • Remote Training. AR can help companies put mentors in charge of training programs for other employees. This can work perfectly in 2 situations. On one hand, experts can train workers in real-time, taking advantage of the remote QA process I’ve mentioned above and teaching processes and tasks as workers perform them. On the other hand, AR can boost knowledge transfer, where experts can teach technical skills to remote employees who don’t have them.

Going beyond the Challenges

While the 3 cases I’ve just discussed are quick-win solutions that can provide you with a quick ROI, it’s important to say that you’ll have to face challenges should you embark on AR implementation. One that many companies find the most troubling? How expensive it can be to create and maintain AR models. Integrating AR devices with cloud-based platforms can be tricky, especially if you have to customize the implementation to fit your own purposes. 

Additionally, you have to think about how you’ll customize the AR experience itself. While there might be off-the-shelf solutions for specific tasks and industries, it’s highly likely that you’ll have to personalize AR to get the most value. This implies planning the whole development plan through a carefully designed strategy that takes into account not just the executive’s view but also the feedback from workers, the resource availability, the schedule, and the industry as a whole.

Finally, using cloud-based platforms might feel like opening up vulnerabilities in your digital ecosystem. Many companies have issues with hosting intellectual property in remote servers or storing highly sensitive data in third-party services. 

There’s no surefire way to overcome these challenges, as they all depend on who you are, what you do, and where you are right now. However, there are things you can do to overcome them. For instance, developing the AR solution in incremental sprints can help you better budget for the whole implementation. Working with specialized AR development companies can help in laying down the plan for your AR integration. And using edge computing can help you keep your sensitive data closer to you, reducing the risks of privacy violations. 

While those solutions might not be a right fit for everyone, you’d be doing your company a disservice if you didn’t contemplate them. AR is starting to grow, and while the pace at which it’s doing so might be slow, the implementation you carry out today can make a world of difference later on. More importantly, it can make the right difference in your team collaboration efforts. So, be sure not to rule out AR just yet!

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