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The Augmented Reality Boom

Augmented reality is a way to enhance the consumer experience by bringing context and utility to the real world. The technology overlays digital content into real world environments, engaging consumers in an interactive and memorable way. The use of AR is gaining traction in everything from retail to education, with major brands like Ikea, L’oreal, Converse and American Apparel all utilizing the technology to drive consumer engagement and boost sales.

RETAIL Retail brands are leveraging augmented reality to engage with their consumers with proven success. According to Event Track, 65% of marketers say that augmented reality and experiential marketing positively correlate with sales. Ikea may be the most famous example, as the brand created a mobile app whereby consumers could test Ikea products in the comfort of their own spaces. The app allowed users to take products, like a piece of furniture, and virtually place it in their own living room setting. Wayfair introduced a similar app to enable their customers to visualize their products before purchasing them.

American Apparel took a different approach and developed an AR app that allows customers to scan their favorite products and see the different color options and customer reviews in real time. The functionality is meant for use in their retail stores in order to bring the endless aisle to the consumer.

L’oreal and Converse introduced augmented reality as a means for consumers to digitally test products on themselves before committing to a purchase. The L’Oreal “makeup genius” app went a step further by automatically adding products used during digital makeovers to consumers checkout bags so that they could purchase the items seamlessly.

INDUSTRIAL Augmented Reality has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing. Many enterprises are exploring wearable technologies such as head-mounted AR devices to build products more efficiently and to increase productivity.

Lockheed Martin is an example of how efficiency can increase in the warehouse with the use of augmented reality. Select Lockheed Martin engineers have been equipped with AR glasses that use cameras, motion and depth sensors to overlay images into their real working environment. Assembling a component using AR has increased productivity by 30% and accuracy by 96%.

Evolar is focused on creating AR based applications to increase productivity and quality of work for manufacturers in different fields. Their wearable smart glasses are an innovative technology that allows the expertise of one person to be distributed to many. They recently partnered with Vuzix using their Smartpick App to allow factories, retail operations, and warehouses to work more efficiently with less error. So far it’s been proven to work with 30-50% more efficiency in production.

EDUCATION Over the last couple of years, augmented reality applications in the education field have been growing exponentially. Given the fact that our brains do a better job processing images vs. words, AR brings new dimensions to learning and provides captivating interactions and content for students. Contextualizing something in the real world is more effective than reading out of a book and there are a variety of apps like Quiver, Elements 4D, and Arloon Plants that offer AR applications for students.

Quiver provides engaging experiences for students by going beyond the textbook. The app leverages AR to allow students to color and interact with three-dimensional objects.

Elements 4D focuses on AR in chemistry by allowing students to digitally combine elements and see reactions come to life.

Arloon Plants uses AR to allow users to bring plants, flowers, fruit, leaves and roots into the real world. Users can go outdoors and study plants in the natural world, taking photographs to compare with the application’s 3D models to make a field notebook.

HEALTHCARE Augmented Reality has benefits for both professionals and patients in the healthcare industry. From placing vital health information over the patient's body during a procedure to showing nearby defibrillators during an emergency, AR has countless applications in healthcare.

Accuvein is a handheld scanning device that projects over the skin to show nurses and doctors where veins are in patients’ bodies. The device is used in hospitals around the country and has been estimated to be successful on over 10 million patients. This is making it easier on both nurses and patients to give IVs and draw blood, benefitting healthcare substantially.

Research has shown that you can change the way the mind works through immersion and augmented reality can have a positive effect on changing moods, energy levels, and things like depression, self image, and phobias. Akili is using augmented reality to help people overcome phobias and disabilities.

DOING AN AR PROJECT We’ve seen how prevalent the use of augmented reality is in a variety of markets. So how do you incorporate AR into your brand experience? Here are the most important steps when planning to create an AR experience:

1. Define the reason for using augmented reality and make sure it will help land your brand's message. Don’t create an AR experience for the sake of doing something cutting edge. It has to make sense based on your overarching brand strategy.

2. Find a good partner and make sure they know what they’re talking about. A lot of companies will claim they are creating augmented reality experiences because it is a hot topic and they think it’s something their clients want to hear. Do your homework and make sure your partner understands the difference between devices (mobile, screen based, headset), triggers (image recognition, machine learning object recognition, three-dimensional spatial analysis), and content (2D, 3D, animated).

3. Once you choose a partner, work with them to create wire frames of the user experience. Make sure you are involved in this process so that your brand identity and core messaging are present throughout the experience.

4. Develop the experience and test it with a sample consumer group. Don’t rush to market with an experience. This is a new technology and you will learn a lot by testing with a small group of consumers. The knowledge you will gain during the test phase will be invaluable.

AR is a technology that will grow in importance in the coming years as more applications are developed and users get increasingly accustomed to the functionality. Brands should be experimenting as a consumer and producer of AR content to fully understand the features and benefits of the technology. It is not a matter of if, but rather when we will be living in an augmented reality world.

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