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What is Augmented Reality and Why is it Important to Integrate it into Sustainability Advocacy and Strategy?

The SSC Team December 26, 2017 Tags: , , , , , , , Strategic Sustainability Consulting No comments
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While the technology for augmented reality is still in its infancy, the capabilities are proving that AR could be key to helping bridge the gap between data and understanding data.

While reality is three-dimensional, the incredible amount of data we now have available to us to help inform our decisions and actions remains trapped on two-dimensional pages and screens. This gulf between the real and digital worlds limits the ability of many to fully take advantage of the incredible depth of information provided by billions of smart, connected products (SCPs) worldwide.

In “Why Every Organization Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy” Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann examine what AR really is along with it’s evolving technology, how companies should deploy AR, and the critical choices that they will face when it comes to integrating AR into strategy and operations.

So what is augmented reality? It is a set of technologies that superimposes digital data and images on the physical world in a way that can release untapped and uniquely human capabilities. More broadly, AR enables a new information-delivery system, that could profoundly impact the way data is structured, managed, and delivered online. While the internet has dramatically impacted the way that information is collected, transmitted, and accessed, its model for data storage and delivery—pages on flat screens—does have limits: It requires people to mentally translate 2-D information for use in a 3-D world.

This is not always an easy task — think about that Ikea direction sheet you had to work with the last time you put together a dresser and you understand the challenges.  But by superimposing digital information directly on real objects or environments, AR can provide people with the opportunity to process the physical and digital simultaneously, eliminating the need to mentally bridge the two, improving the ability to rapidly and accurately absorb information, make decisions, and execute required tasks quickly and efficiently.

AR is poised to enter the mainstream with one estimate putting spending on AR technology at $60 billion in 2020. AR will affect companies in every industry and many other types of organizations, from universities to social enterprises. In the coming months and years, it will transform how we learn, make decisions, and interact with the physical world. It will also impact how enterprises can assist their customers, train employees, design and create products, and manage their value chains, and, ultimately, how they compete. While challenges in deploying AR remain, pioneering organizations including Amazon, Facebook, General Electric, Mayo Clinic, and the U.S. Navy, are already implementing AR and seeing a major impact on quality and productivity.

So you get the basic concept, but might still be uncertain as to why AR will be necessary? Take this example from The Guardian about climate change and how people have a very difficult time making long-term decisions (or even accepting it’s reality) because they do not see it happening right in front of them and therefore don’t see a reason to worry. Scientist and artists have already come up with some super creative ways of using augmented reality to help people see and feel the future if we don't do something today. Including the app After Ice which helps may help those who don’t understand the dangers of climate change experience the impact from wherever they are standing making it “real” for them in a way that reading or diagrams hasn’t been able to do.

Other interesting uses of AR include White Noise, an installation that pits realtime data on consumption against conservation — consumption almost always wins. Or artist and designer Catherine Sarah Young collaboration with scientists from Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Northwestern Switzerland, last year to develop the exhibition The Apocalypse Project: House of Futures which speculated about the future of our environment through a the lens of high fashion. The interactive projects allowed visitors to discuss their ideas about what makes a sustainable planet and a desirable future.

While AR won’t be a part of every business tomorrow now is a good time to get ahead of the game and start to think about how this incredible technology could help your business better tell its story of serve it’s customers or employees. It may seem like the future, but it is going to be a part of our every day life before long. 

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