Three months into the release of Pokémon Go, there is a good chance you have bumped into one of its estimated 100 million players. The game’s hype may be short-lived, but there is no denying that it has taken the world by storm. What is less commented on is that this represents the first major consumer breakthrough for augmented reality (AR). Indeed, one of the game’s innovations is to layer fictional characters on top of the reality captured by your smartphone camera.
Back in real life, we are noticing an increasing use of augmented reality in industrial settings. In most cases, AR is a cost efficiency play, helping the workforce complete their tasks faster, with less errors and more accountability. Two use cases we are particularly excited about are warehouse logistics and assembly line manufacturing.
The Augmented Warehouse
A Volkswagen factory worker using Ubimax smart glasses (source: sam houd media)
On most warehouse floors, workers still use paper checklists and handheld scanners to keep track of orders to be picked. Locating items in large, complex warehouses and transporting them to the correct loading docks is a time-consuming and inefficient process that makes for 55 to 65% of warehouse costs (or 11 to 13% of total logistics costs, according to a report by DHL). Logistics companies have tried making this process more efficient using pick-to-light, or voice-directed systems. However, these are costly, as they require large hardware installations, and the pay-back time can be long. AR could prove a much better alternative, with the only hardware being the warehouse worker’s headset.
A young company from Belgium, Evolar, is breaking into this market. Working off smart glasses hardware from Vuzix and Epsom, the company has built SmartPick, an application that allows warehouse workers to locate objects to be picked, hands-free, and to sort piles of packages into different bins. With 15 deployments to date, including with TNT, it is gaining interesting traction. A larger competitor, Germany-based Ubimax, has been developing similar solutions for DHL.