Despite being in its infancy, the technology associated with augmented reality has matured to the point where it can deliver significant productivity benefits in industries such as construction and property maintenance where workers typically spend large amounts of time in the field, a new report from a leading research organisation says.

Augmented reality (AR), consists of the overlaying of a view of a physical real-world environment with computer generated sensory input which allows in construction, for instance, computer generated images of a structure to be superimposed into a real life local view of a property before the physical building is constructed there.

In a report titled Innovation Insight: Augmented Reality Will Become an Important Workplace Tool, international technology research firm Gartner Inc. says technology associated with AR has matured to a point where organisations can use it as an internal tool to enhance business processes, workflow and employee training by enabling real-time decision making through visualisation of content.

In its report, the research firm says AR is particularly powerful for:

  • Discovering things in the vicinity — for example, enclosed objects generating heat.
  • Presenting real-world objects of potential special interest — for example, detecting and highlighting objects generating higher than normal levels of radiation.
  • Showing a user where to go or what to do — for example, helping a worker make a repair in a hazardous environment where visibility is low.
  • Providing additional information about an object of interest — for example, distance, size or level of danger.

Gartner research analyst Tuong Huy Nguyen says the potential for AR is being driven by improvements in location services and image recognition. He added the tool is particularly useful when used in conjunction with other technologies in mobile work environments. Precision of indoor location services, for example, allows businesses to use AR location features for vehicle, campus and in-building navigation and identification. Firefighters, for example, could use the technology to find out ambient temperature or a building layout so they know exits and potentially dangerous areas.

“AR leverages and optimizes the use of other technologies such as mobility, location, 3D content management and imaging and recognition” Nguyen said. “It is especially useful in the mobile environment because it enhances the user’s senses via digital instruments to allow faster responses or decision-making.”

Potential for the use of augmented reality on construction sites has been the subject of some attention in recent times.

Sydney-based architect Rana Abboud, who last year was awarded a scholarship to conduct research into how AR will reshape the industry, says the technology’s potential within the building sector was not yet widely appreciated but would allow for an initiative way of working.

Abboud said the system combines the 3D architectural layout of a building with GPS data of the user’s location, allowing the user to put on goggles or hold up their iPad and get a three-dimensional concept of where things need to go relative to where they are.

This could be useful for example, when performing an excavation, whereby the iPad or goggles will know how deep the user is and show them in 3D whether or not they need to go deeper or how close they are to underground pipes or utilities.

Despite its optimism, however, Gartner warns AR encompasses adoption risks as with other technologies which are relatively new and warns enterprises must identify clear goals and benefits prior to AR’s deployment.

It says, however, that such risks will diminish over time as implementations and use cases mature.