Google Glass

Augmented reality (AR) technology has matured to become a valuable business tool despite its enterprise adoption being in its infancy, according to analysts Gartner.

Although the adoption of augmented reality (AR) in the enterprise is still in its infancy, AR technology has matured to become a valuable business tool, says analyst Gartner.

AR is the real-time use of information in the form of text, graphics, audio and other virtual enhancements integrated with real-world objects. Google Glass headsets are a prime example of AR technology.

Gartner said organisations can use AR to complement and enhance business processes, workflows and employee training. Gartner said AR facilitates business innovation by enabling real-time decision making through virtual prototyping and visualisation of content.

Gartner analyst Tuong Huy Nguyen said: "AR leverages and optimises the use of other technologies such as mobility, location, 3D content management and imaging and recognition. 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."

AR services use various device sensors to identify the users' surroundings. Current implementations generally fall into one of two categories - location-based or computer vision.

Location-based offerings use a device's motion sensors to provide information based on a user's location. Computer vision-based services use facial, object and motion tracking algorithms to identify images and objects.

Gartner said the business potential for AR has increased through improvements in location services and image recognition. The precision of indoor location services has "increased significantly", it said, and this greater accuracy allows businesses to use AR location features for vehicle, campus and in-building navigation and identification.

Image recognition capabilities in AR solutions allow user organisations to use these AR capabilities in processes that require staff to visually identify objects and parts and for real-time decision making. For example, fire-fighters can use AR to find out ambient temperature or a building layout so they know exits, and potentially dangerous areas.

Gartner expects to see "moderate adoption" of AR for internal business purposes over the next five years, as "the availability of handheld devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and more portable, convenient and affordable head-mounted displays is making internal AR applications more widely available".

Nguyen said: "AR is most useful as a tool in industries where workers are either in the field, do not have immediate access to information, or jobs that require one or both hands and the operator's attention."

Prior to deploying an AR solution as an internal tool, said Gartner, companies must identify a clear goal or benefit for the deployment, such as improved access to information or to provide training, and assess how the organisation can use AR to reach this goal.