AR and mixed reality: A view of the use cases driving change in industrial operations

In TBR’s recently published report Digital Transformation: Emerging Technologies: AR/VR, we discussed the AR, mixed reality (MR) and VR ecosystem and various applications of the technologies across industries such as automotive, healthcare and consumer. The report outlined key solutions being deployed today across the device spectrum, covering augmented, mixed and virtual reality headsets, which are characterized by how they manipulate or transfix virtual images on a physical environment, in addition to smartphone, tablet and heads-up displays in automobiles. This report’s focus will center around the Head Mounted Device Spectrum and the leading use cases that are being deployed within operational and industrial environments.

In the above graphic, as you move from AR to VR, the level of immersion a device provides to its user increases. For instance, monocular and binocular AR devices are typically providing a fixed image over the physical environment, while MR and VR devices are capable of superimposing images on the physical environment and allow the user to manipulate those images. While MR and VR devices offer similar capabilities in regard to layering virtual information on the real world, a VR device closes the user off from the physical environment, providing a completely immersive experience for the user.

MR devices, such as Microsoft’s (Nasdaq: MSFT) HoloLens 2, rely on a digital field of view to place virtual images over the actual physical environment, providing users with a better field of vision compared to their VR counterparts. Further, leading VR devices in the market today, such as the HTC VIVE, require a tether to a high-powered PC as they do not contain onboard computing like the HoloLens 2 does, increasing their cost over device counterparts and limiting their appeal among customers.

TBR believes these form-factor constraints limit the addressable market of VR headsets to consumer industries, such as gaming and entertainment, as they create significant challenges regarding user safety within industrial environments such as aerospace as well as in operational use cases such as field servicing. While VR devices will find traction in enterprise and industrial settings for use cases such as training or productivity, this report will focus on AR and MR devices supporting operational use cases in industrial environments today, and the market dynamics that are keeping the technology from reaching mainstream adoption. 

Understanding industrial use cases

AR technologies have been tested in industrial settings for years, with the majority of these early trials centered on monocular AR devices. For instance, dating back to 2016, the AR device specialist Vuzix (Nasdaq: VUZI) has worked with clients such as Airbus, General Electric (NYSE: GE), ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and Merck (NYSE: MRK) around deployments of its M100 Monocular device. These early pilots largely focused on low-complexity use cases such as remote support and component assembly. The top challenges cited in these pilots largely centered on the immaturity of device form factors, with basic aspects such as device comfort, battery life or overheating limiting their appeal to customers.

Further, early devices contributed to the market perception that AR devices were highly futuristic yet unrealistic. For example, Google Glass, which was largely targeted at consumers, was piloted unsuccessfully by industrial customers due to form-factor challenges. While these early pilots did not reach mainstream adoption, they provided customers with a glimpse into the technology’s potential as they offered tangible ROI metrics, including error reductions during the assembly process and an increase in units produced, but would require significant maturation to the underlying device hardware for organizations to successfully deploy the technology.

It is easy to get lost in all of the marketing hype related to AR and mixed reality (MR) devices and solutions. In this report, TBR explores the leading use cases that characterize the near-term opportunities within industrial environments today, while also taking a closer look at the market challenges that technology suppliers and industrial customers are grappling with. Though end-user intrigue around AR and MR in industrial settings is high, the market has yet to develop and may require greater involvement from IT services vendors to push the technologies out of niche deployments and toward mainstream adoption.

Device market disruptors

AR, VR, smart speakers and AI chips are part of the digital transformation story

New technologies have driven growth in the consumer device market. Smart speakers are ubiquitous, and adoption of these devices has grown faster than for any new product since smartphones. AR and VR adoption is growing more slowly but the technology is important in entertainment and gaming. Most new smartphones include specialized AI chips. TBR believes all of these technologies are beginning to affect the enterprise and that their influence is growing. Join Ezra Gottheil as he discusses how these new technologies are playing an evolving and growing role in the commercial market.

  Don’t miss:

  • How the conversational interface of smart speakers will drive data utilization          
  • How AR and VR will improve training and performance
  • How new AI chips will spread machine learning in business

TBR webinars are held typically on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. ET and include a 15-minute Q&A session following the main presentation. Previous webinars can be viewed anytime on TBR’s Webinar Portal.

For additional information or to arrange a briefing with our analysts, please contact TBR at [email protected].

Cost of ‘intelligent connectivity’ must decline significantly for intelligent world to unfold

TBR perspective

Realizing the intelligent world presented by the mobile industry at Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2019 (MWC19) will require a fundamental change in how networks are architected, including a radical reduction in the cost of providing connectivity. It will also require business transformation for companies tied to the old world, namely communications service providers (CSPs) and their incumbent vendors.

It was readily apparent at the event that technology is advancing at a much faster pace than the establishment of business cases that economically justify deployment of the technology. The reality for the mobile industry is that the cost of building, owning and operating networks is too high and networks are too inflexible to support the business realities of the digital era, whereby connectivity is relegated to a commodity service and the value lies in the platforms and applications that run over the network. The industry has known this for years, but changes have been minimal, until maybe now.

The entrance of Rakuten to the mobile industry could be a game changer and provides a glimpse into what a digital service provider will look like. In what could arguably be the most important takeaway from the entire event, Rakuten’s approach to building and operating a network could signify a paradigm shift in the industry. Not only will Rakuten’s network be agile, flexible and dynamic to provide digital services, it will also enable a dramatic reduction in the cost of connectivity.

The theme of MWC19 was “intelligent connectivity” and centered on how 5G, IoT, AI and big data are coming together to enable the intelligent world. Against this backdrop, Rakuten stole the show with the evangelization of its end-to-end virtualized and cloud-native network, which is being deployed across Japan this year. Rakuten’s network provides a glimpse into what the intelligent network of the future will look like.

The makings of the telecom edge compute market

Insights from TBR’s 2Q19 Telecom Edge Compute Market Landscape

Edge compute will be required to enable and support new use cases of the network, such as augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) and autonomous transportation, as well as will provide significant benefits, such as cost savings, for communication service providers (CSP). The build-out of these edge compute environments will create opportunities for the vendor ecosystem. Join Telecom Principal Analyst Chris Antlitz for an in-depth review of TBR’s first edition of the Telecom Edge Compute Market Landscape.

Don’t miss:

  • The key reasons CSPs will build out edge compute environments
  • How much CSPs will invest to build out edge compute environments
  • Which vendors are likely to outperform in this nascent market

TBR webinars are held typically on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. ET and include a 15-minute Q&A session following the main presentation. Previous webinars can be viewed anytime on TBR’s Webinar Portal.

For additional information or to arrange a briefing with our analysts, please contact TBR at [email protected].

It’s time to stop calling IoT a technology

Yes, we all do it. Every analyst, vendor and customer has referred to Internet of Things (IoT) as a technology. I have done it countless times, and so have my extremely talented and informed peers. However, it’s a misnomer, a shortcut, and a cop out, and if we actually think of IoT as a technology, it’s ultimately harmful to the adoption of IoT. IoT is actually a technique for solving business problems using a combination of technology components and services, rather than a technology in and of itself.

No one vendor does IoT alone ― it’s not a deliverable, self-contained technology solution. Rather, it often involves a “leader” company, generally a consulting company or an ISV, assembling a solution sourced from software, services and hardware components from partner companies. My colleague Ezra Gottheil likes to use a construction analogy. A general contractor will shop at Home Depot (the wide and increasingly saturated IoT marketplace) for all the components he or she needs to build a structure. The general contractor will also hire subcontractors (partners and specialized vertical ISVs) who have certain expertise. Even as we move closer to prepackaged IoT or shrink-wrapped solutions, multiple vendors will continue to be involved in delivery.

Some of these components can be grouped into the “new technology” bucket. As TBR closely monitors use cases and fills our use-case database, which currently has more than 360 entries, IoT projects are increasingly linked with augmented reality/virtual reality, blockchain and analytics. All of these new components, including IoT, are enhanced when used in cohesion.

But many of the components, such as servers, routers, mobile devices, sensors, connectivity, IT services and business consulting, have existed for decades. IoT is a new shiny label slapped on a technique IT companies have been using for decades: pulling together IT components to build solutions and help customers achieve their goals.

TBR believes when a vendor tells a customer “you should adopt this new transformational technology,” it is usually met with eye-rolling. IoT is no different. As soon as the “new technology” discussion comes to the table, customers instinctively rock back on their heels. It sounds like a large and long-lasting commitment, which leads to rip-and-replace cost fears, technology lock-in consternation due to a rapidly evolving market, and a general lack of understanding about the benefits.

TBR believes vendors should change the message. Begin with discovering what a customer’s business problems are, then suggest using the technique of IoT to begin strategically solving them in a stepwise manner. It’s not a rip-and-replace approach; it’s seeing where improvements can be gradually made to increase connectivity throughout an organization and ultimately deliver improved insight. It might mean adding sensors to legacy equipment, using IoT components and new analytic tools to tie together legacy data and create new insight, or implementing tangential technologies such as blockchain to better inform customers on their supply chain. Eventually, it could mean all of these combined.

At a recent vendor event, the CEO of a Boston-based IoT solution vendor asserted that IoT is now passe. True customer evolution, including problem solving comes from the bigger picture ― using the technique of IoT, tangential technologies, and internal and external data sources to supercharge efficiency and gain insight.

IoT as a technology is a lazy oversimplification. Let’s start messaging how the technique of IoT ―a new way of thinking about and applying technology ― can help solve current business challenges in an agile and cost-effective manner.