Augmented reality — the technology that overlays the physical world with digital objects and information — is expected to balloon into a $100 billion industry by 2020, according to ABI Research. Most of that growth is likely to come from applications of the technology in the business world.
Utilities are among the first group of businesses that are trying to figure out how to make use of the technology. The Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit focused on and funded by the electric utility industry, has begun a large-scale experiment with some of the biggest utilities around the world to see how AR could fit into the industry’s workforce.
Participants include big utility players Duke Energy DUK -0.85%, Consolidated Edison ED -0.99%, UK-based EDF Energy and Korea Electric Power Corporation. There are two other utilities involved that haven’t been named yet. EPRI hopes to have 15 total utilities participating by this summer. EPRI expects the study should last around 18 months and the outcome will be a series of papers and recommendations around the technology.
The study is designed to see how the technology could improve efficiency and reduce error rate of its workforce. The electric utility business needs to maintain, repair and build a massive infrastructure. Much of that equipment is expensive, complicated and sometimes quite old. AR could assist utility workers out in the field working on this equipment without having to pull out paper manuals or laptops. If a worker could have a pair of AR glasses, all that information for repairing could be laid out right in front of their eyes.
The AR devices EPRI is looking at are from startups like Atheer and DAQRI. Mountain View, Calif.-based startup Atheer sells a pair of smart glasses along with a cloud-based enterprise software suite for building AR programs. Atheer runs on a tablet version of the Android operating system to show information and data to users. The device picks up hand gestures, so users can navigate through menus by waving their hands. Los Angeles, Calif-based company Daqri makes a construction helmet fitted with an Intel INTC -1.25% computer and a visor for projecting information. Daqri’s smart helmet also comes with a 360-degree camera that scans the environment.
The state of AR technology is still in its very early stages. Google GOOGL -0.09% kickstarted the public’s awareness of the concept with its blundered public release of Google Glass, but others have been working on it for quite a while now. San Francisco-based ODG, for instance, has been selling AR glasses to the military for years and has begun branching to enterprise customers over the past year.
Larger companies and more well-funded startups are putting serious money into AR. Microsoft will be launching a developer edition of its HoloLens device for a hefty $3,000 price tag sometime in early 2016. Secretive Florida-based startup Magic Leap has raised a monstrous $1.4 billion in venture capital for an AR device (or what the company likes to call “cinematic reality”), despite not having a product out on the market yet.
Despite how early it is, the utility industry thinks it’s the right time to figure it out, saidJohn Simmins, a technical executive at EPRI. “If we didn’t think good enough, we wouldn’t be doing these tests,” he said. “Is going to get better? Absolutely. This technology will be as commonplace as smartphones are now. You’re going to see AR everywhere.”
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