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New realities are becoming a reality

Alastair Eilbeck
21 Nov 2019 · 4 min read

Our Creative Technology Consultant Alastair Eilbeck was recently invited to be a speaker at AWE (Augmented World Expo) in Munich, on a panel discussing Extended Reality (XR). He found some significant progress being made in this exciting area.

The title of our panel discussion was “XR goes mobile” and I was joined by experts from Audi, Holoride and Deutche Telecom. We discussed future mobility and the impending shift in the automotive industry from car manufacturers selling cars to selling services. 

This is the area I am probably most excited about: how technology is fuelling a myriad of transformational changes in how we traverse our cities and countries.

My perspective is two fold. Firstly, developments in immersive technology and 5G will enable completely new and creative ways for people to engage with their journeys and locations. Secondly, this shift into service and shareable mobility platforms means new creative possibilities that offer valuable differentiation to brands who offer very similar services.

Enterprise is where it’s at

AWE gave a valuable insight into the current state of XR/AR/VR, where the market is and where the money is being spent. I went to a mix of talks at the main stage and across the sub strands of Enterprise, Developer and Creator. It was clear from the sizes of the audiences that Enterprise was where the biggest buzz was happening. Unsurprisingly, ROI and Use Cases were hottest topics. 

I have since spoken to people in the immersive sector who reiterated that this has been true of several big AR/VR conferences this year.

It was easy to draw comparisons with what the big corporates were doing with the technology and where the investment community was looking to fund. Training and engineering are the biggest growth areas and it was interesting to see the dynamics in play here. Following trials of generation 1 XR headsets like the Hololens, corporates are now preparing for a large adoption of generation 2 devices (Hololens 2, Magic Leap, currently employing 1700 people) alongside newer devices from Lenovo and others. 

The benefits are just too great to ignore.

Making a difference

Boeing and Centrica reported very similar stats relating to 2 XR trials. The important metrics are in productivity and error reduction. Both reported a 20% increase in the speed it took engineers to undertake tasks (from fixing and installing home boilers or the complex electrical systems in aircraft). More importantly, especially for Boeing, was the reduction in errors by approx 80%. This offered even greater savings than the simple productivity increase of engineers working faster. A long line of supplemental administrative and remedial tasks could be drastically reduced. 

Breaking down barriers

There was another layer of less tangible but strategically important benefits being discussed within other industries: the reduction in what is termed employee “tribalism”. 

This is how engineers, throughout their working lives, develop their own personal practices, habits and knowledge and how this is lost at retirement. AR will be able to mitigate this as engineers will rely less on their own instincts and process and instead be choreographed via a combination of scripted work packages or remote telematic assistance from a central pool of experts. 

Highly contextual and standardised visual cues will be overlayed so that they all approach jobs consistently, completely removing this human dynamic. If a worker falls sick half way through a job, a colleague can instantly takeover without having to unpick what has and has not been done.

However, this does have an unsettling and obvious knock on effect to the future of work, as augmented lower skilled workers compete with their higher skilled and paid senior unaugmented colleagues. This is likely to cause serious political and social upheaval in many industries.

Beyond the conference call

Another theme at the conference was how companies like Spatial (recently received $8 million seed investment) are looking to reinvigorate the teleconference market using AR.

They eventually want to remove the need for pre-defined meetings. Instead, they see a near future where AR glasses are worn permanently at work (replacing desktops and desks). This will remove the line between remote and local co-workers with all of us collaborating in a hybrid mixed reality.

Not long ago a videoconference company would have been happy promoting the idea of using shiny technology to improve on the traditional 2D skype call. Now they are promoting themselves as fundamental disruptors of how we work.

On the one hand we had this amazing almost science fiction reality being played out in the enterprise zone. A reach for the top offset by an opposite reach for the bottom in the creator strand. It felt like the difference between approaching transformation and a slightly tweaked today.

Personally I love AR/XR/VR for its potential for meaningful and revolutionary new ways to interact with our world and each other.

— Alastair Eilbeck

VR for all

Poplar epitomises this for me. They are a great innovative company with a really interesting business model, but felt a million miles away from what was happening in the enterprise zone. 

Their mission is to reduce the cost of AR and make it more accessible to brands, potentially removing the need for a digital agency. A plug and play of AR content. At the centre of their proposition is a platform that connects brands with freelance developers and creatives who can produce simple AR activations, using lenses and animated packaging takeovers. 

Typically these projects will cost  £5k - £7K and the main market is labels who want to promote artists. In this context it works really well. The artist already has social influence and acts as a catalyst to significantly increase the reach of the activation.

It was also interesting how they automate the creative brief-making process for the brand (so they understand the medium and can easily provide the information in a familiar format for the freelancers)  . Significantly, this simple type of AR is also now becoming well supported by the browser removing the need for an App download.

Although I really liked their approach and innovation, I felt it was really an extension of the status quo. A new toolbox for digital marketing that relies on novelty and pushes the lowest common denominator.

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