AR dragons, psychedelic displays at Coachella, and other digital gizmos made possible with XR technologies are fun and all, but Mark Sage, founder of AREA, is on the more pragmatic side of the table; he loves it when XR technologies can solve real-world problems for businesses. Mark and Alan sit down to discuss how to do that, and how that creates a better ecosystem for enterprise XR to thrive.
Alan: Today’s guest is Mark Sage. Mark is a product owner, creator, marketer, innovator, business development professional, evangelist, spokesperson, strategist, program and project manager, and mentor across a range of AR, mobile, B2B and B2C technologies and products in an international context. Mark is currently the executive director of AREA: Augmented Reality in Enterprise Alliance; the only global, membership-funded, non-profit alliance dedicated to helping accelerate the adoption of enterprise augmented reality, by supporting the growth of a comprehensive ecosystem. AREA members include Exxon Mobile, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NVIDIA, PTC, and so many more. You can learn about The AREA at theAREA.org. It is with great honor that I welcome AREA executive director Mr. Mark Sage; welcome to the show, Mark.
Mark: Thanks so much, Alan. It’s great to be here to speak to you, and to those who listen out there, as well. I’m really excited. Thank you.
Alan: Thank you so much for joining me. We’re really excited; let’s get right into this. I’m going to start — just, dive right in here — what is one of the best XR experiences that you’ve ever had?
Mark: Oh, wow. Gosh.
Alan: I know, I’m going right in there.
Mark: You are, aren’t you? And in the kind of role I’ve got, I have a huge opportunity to go around the world, experiencing all sorts of different experiences. I guess, when I first started, one of the first things I was amazed about was the DAQRI Helmet, back in the day. I remember first wearing that, probably about three years ago, thinking this would be amazing. It didn’t quite end up as it would be. So, they’re still working on some of the areas there. What I’m really thrilled about is the experiences that really solve problems. Being focused on the enterprise space, I love to see things that are solving real-life problems, here and now. So anything from the simple-yet-effective remote assistance services and applications, I love seeing those; the way that you can engage with an expert, and get real detailed information of how to fix things.
I always love trying those things out. I love some of the simple things; I remember being at a shipyard in Finland, and just using a tablet, they were showing me how they look into a new container that had been built, and how they could check what was going on, and using in an eight hour experience to make sure it was all correct. They were cutting down — literally, by hours — the amount of time it took to review things, and make sure it was all set up and stuff like that. Right into the step-by-step innstruction, I always remembered RealWear, when they did their first step-by-step instruction. Doing it in a brewery, and showing how they were moving taps and pipes, and doing work there. So to be honest, anything–
Alan: Do you think they did it in exchange for beer?
Mark: Well, I hope so! I absolutely hope so. So you know, Alan, anything that shows some real benefit… I love some of the kind of cool stuff, but certainly, my experience in the enterprise AR stuff that actually solves a problem, and creates real benefit for enterprises, is really cool for me.
Alan: It’s interesting you mentioned that DAQRI smart helmet, and for the people listening: the DAQRI helmet was this incredible, futuristic helmet — it was white with his blue lens in the front — and I had the opportunity to try it a couple years ago. When you put it on, you had a beautiful heads-up display. It wasn’t quite like the demand Magic Leap or HoloLens, where the holograms were in a positional space; it was more this heads-up display to give you almost, like, superpowers. You can have all this information, just right in front of you when you need it. One of the things that I also noticed was it got really hot.
Alan: You were pushing a lot of computing power through that thing, and so I think they’ve moved to, now, a pair of glasses, instead of the full helmet thing.
Mark: Yeah. Correct. And I think it’s probably an example of just being a little bit too early with the technology. But I’m sure in the future, we’ll see those types of devices. I know in the first responder, firefighting bit, they’re looking at having that heads-up display, and showing maybe simpler information; infrared or heat sensing, and guidance, and things like that. We’re on the start, as you well know, of this industry, this technology, and I think I’m looking forward to seeing what will happen in the future. I think everybody is, and I’m sure we’re going to see some amazing, cool things in the not-too-distant future, as well.
Alan: You mentioned that we’re going to start to see these different iterations. And we’re already seeing that with the launch of HoloLens 2, and Microsoft really listening to the customers and saying, “hey, we understand that everyone can use this a little differently,” so they had a huge contract — a half a billion dollar contract — with the U.S. military, and the U.S. military just released a little sneak peek of how they’re using it. They’ve taken the regular HoloLens and they’ve added an infrared camera on the top, for giving soldiers a view in the dark. I think that’s really interesting, and I think it’s intriguing to see how other people are using that. And then, if you look at Trimble is another company — I believe those guys are members as well of AREA — they made a custom helmet out of the HoloLens 2, called the “X1.” I think that’s really interesting.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. And again, focused on the enterprise space, HoloLens 2 is great, but it needs to be safe and being used in those kind of more difficult environments; I don’t know… dirty, damp, and potentially dark, and all those things. I think having [worked] with companies like Trimble, and being able to support those requirements, is really important. And I think you’re right; Microsoft are listening, and they’ve got lots of requirements coming in. But I’m kind of excited where they’re going, and looking forward to them — and the other wearable device providers — driving forward on that. You know, there are other companies out there. Vuzix and Magic Leap. And then also the assistive technology guys — the RealWear and stuff like that. But I guess I’m…
Alan: So for the people listening, let’s break it down a little bit, from a hardware standpoint, and then we’ll dig into software. Because I think this is where people get caught up. They say, “oh well, VR is just for gaming,” or “AR is Pokémon Go.” But let’s break down the different types of glasses. On the mixed reality side, you have HoloLens and Magic Leap, and those can give you full spatial computing. But a lot of times, you don’t need that; maybe you’re in a warehouse, or maybe… maybe break it down as to what the different glasses are doing.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely, and I’ll start with the other end. I remember listening to the guys at Upskill presenting, and they kind of coined the term “assisted reality,” and I was like, “wow, actually; what does that mean?” But it’s very simply just taking basic content and delivering it to the individual. My basic content, I mean it can be as simple as a PDF or a video; something which isn’t augmented, but really helps that worker in their environment, and gives them contextual and relevant information when they need it. RealWear is a good example; the Google Glass, that was, and will probably come back again. But these kind of solutions, quite often I see them is almost AR 0.1 — your first movement or foray into the AR space, and simpler (potentially) to deploy. They bring a huge amount of benefits, and just allows — certainly, bigger enterprises who’ve been looking for solutions — rather than having to go to look at a desk, or look at a PC and come away from their work station, or come away from the work that they’re doing, to be able to give them that information there and then. And especially, keeping their hands free, which is the crucial part.
Alan: It’s interesting, I had a chance to try the RealWear helmet; it’s like a little arm that attaches to your hard hat or your own glasses, and the arm comes up, and it’s like having a 70 inch TV available in one eye when you need it. It just folds up when you need it; you can pull up instructions, it’s all voice-driven. I had the opportunity to also try Kopin’s new Whisper technology, where it can be jackhammers all around you, and you can talk to the headset, and it will understand you and only you, and bring up that information. So what they were showing with the RealWear was something very simple, but very very essential. It’s that just bringing up PDFs of work plans, or instructional information; that, in a hands-free environment, can save hours of time not having to go back and look something up on a computer. You just pull it up as you need it.
Mark: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more, Alan, and I think it works well in the kind of cases where you have infrequent and complex tasks, as well. It’s a real sweet spot there for enterprise, is to say if you’re working on that type of work — it doesn’t happen that often, or it’s more complicated than, I don’t know, just putting a tire on, or something simple — these kind of solutions can really help, and I’m a big fan of getting companies started on AR journey by using something like this. The price point could be slightly cheaper as well. And it gets that worker working hands-free and cuts out a lot of wasted time of going to search things, and looking up computers, logging in, or looking at diagrams which come with that slight risk that they’re out of date and stuff like that as well. So yes, I think it’s really exciting and interesting space. It’s part of a continuum, if you like, of going into the full augmented area as well, where there’s still a number of different use cases that enterprises can benefit from. The important message, I guess, is be very clear on what problem you’re trying to solve, and make sure you’ve got the correct solution to do that. I’ve had a few phone calls where people have called me and say, “hey Mark, what do I do with these HoloLenses, or Vuzix Blades,” or whatever the device is. You know what, guys: go back to really understanding your business, and understanding what problems you’re trying to solve. That’s your first crucial step in all this.
Alan: Yeah, I think companies — like everybody — they get excited. They’re like, “hey, we just bought 25 HoloLenses — now what?” And one of the things that, I think, we need to just get back to basics as well, is that everybody’s got a phone in their hand. And a lot of power can be delivered directly from just a mobile device. It doesn’t need to be a wearable. Wearables are obviously preferable when you need hands-free, but AR in context can be used just from your mobile device. And I think a lot a lot of people have mobile devices — almost everybody. That’s the easy way in for companies, to say, “hey let’s start using some of this technology.”
One of the things I want to bring up is, you mentioned Upskill. Upskill is a company that’s raised an enormous amount of money — I think in the tens of millions — and one of the demonstrations that they’ve done was with Boeing, and they showed a complex wiring harness. A worker with a printed manual beside them — like, right beside them — working on this wiring harness, versus a heads-up display of their Upskill platform showing the same information as the printed book, but in a heads-up display. And they showed, I think it was something like 27 percent faster task completion, using the heads-up display versus a paper.
Mark: Absolutely. It’s actually 36 percent, and the reason why I know is because I use it a lot when I’m explaining the benefits of AR to, particularly, to enterprises. It’s real simple, and often the use case is that you’re trying to maybe fix something for the first time, or set something up, and those wiring boxes are quite complex. And just being able to… you see one guy, he’s kind of moving from side to side. He’s doing a piece of work and going to check the diagram, going back up again.
Alan: Yeah I think one of the companies that’s really pushing the boundaries of this technology; Boeing. Boeing is a great example, because they’ve been working in this space for quite some time now, and they’ve got a lot of examples. Maybe you can talk to some of the specifics of how Boeing is using this technology?
Mark: Yes, certainly, and I’m lucky enough to have the president of The AREA, is a gentleman called Paul Davis, from Boeing. One of the many people we have working with The AREA. Also, they chair the Safety Committee as well. So we have a few other gentlemen there: Greg Ehret and Brian Laughlin. So they have multiple different use cases. In fact, one of the pieces of research that we’ve done, they’re actually using to evaluate new AR projects. And it’s great to see a company that have gone out to their workforce and say that, “here’s what AR is, what you can do with it. Please propose projects and ways that we could use AR to improve your work and become more effective.” And they’ve really taken that on board. The wiring diagram and the harness is one big one they’ve been working on a while for. They’ve actually created a kind of a platform. I think it’s called BARK [Boeing Augmented Reality Kit], which allows them to be quite flexible in setting up new AR projects. They’ve done a whole bunch around training and things like that, and I’m sure to be honest Alan, there is a number of projects going on that they’re not keeping secret, but they’re working on internally and stuff like that.
So I think anything they can do to improve their performance, they’re focusing a lot on trying to keep some of the skills, or understand some of the skills that their key workers, or longtime workers, have had, and use that from a training and guidance bit, and then solving some of those real complex problems. You know, the wiring within an aircraft is very complex, so rather than having to mock that physically up, they’re using it to be able to show all the wiring, take different elements out, work out how to put new wires in, or reroute the wires, and stuff like that. So yes. Paul talks a lot about, they were one of the — well, the company — that come up with the term “augmented reality” back in 1989. They are one of the leading companies in this space, and it’s always great to engage with them to see what they’re doing.
Alan: That’s incredible. So they’re really the pioneers of this. There’s other main companies you know we’ve… NASA has been using this technology as well. Boeing. I think Ford has been using VR/AR for a long time; we had Elizabeth Baron on the show earlier, talking about how they’ve been using it for design, but also for sales and marketing as well. So I think it’s very interesting, and it’s funny, because we had somebody on the show recently, talking about the aviation industry, and how they’re using it. And it wasn’t from the wiring harness, and enterprise side; it was more from the marketing side. How they’re taking airplanes that won’t be built for another three years, creating virtual models of them, and using them as sales tools to show people what’s coming. And I think that’s really cool.
Mark: Yeah, I think on that, Alan, and it’s a question I get asked a lot; which kind of industry is leading, certainly the AR space — and to a certain extent the VR? And I always say, “actually, in my experience, it’s not really by industry. It’s about the use case, or the problems that’re being solved.” I mentioned some of them, like remote assistance, or step-by-step guidance; they’re relevant across a whole bunch of different industries. So if you have that kind of problem, or there’s something you need to solve, then AR is a solution regardless of what industry you’re in.
Alan: I agree, and I think one of the things that sticks with me is that, it’s not… people see AR, and they’re just, “oh, we’ve gonna make AR, or we’re gonna make VR, or something!” It’s not about that. We’re past that kind of kitschy point of this technology, where it’s like, “hey it’s cool; I can make a Pokémon jump out of my desk!” I think the real world applications are starting to really become clear, and something that we discussed offline was how companies, up until now, have been doing a lot of POCs (or Proof of Concepts), and trials, and prototypes. But we’re kind of past that now because the technology is there. We know what it does. We know how to make it. It’s showing real benefits.
One of the things that comes to mind is, and I can’t remember the company offhand, but they started using augmented reality for heads-up, kind of… not remote assistance, but training, and they had a 25 percent increase in retention rates, but a near zero error rate. How do you… as a company, how do you not do that? How do you go to your CEO and go, “by the way, we did this trial, and it increased our productivity by 25 percent and decreased our error rates to almost zero. Can we have a budget for it?”
Mark: You are absolutely right, in that the industry is still… I’d say “littered” is probably the wrong word, but there’s still many trials and pilots and proof of concepts going on, and it’s something within The AREA we’ve been focusing quite a bit on. To help those organizations move to that next stage. So, there’s a few themes we see through that. The first one — and we’ve actually delivered this through The AREA research capability — is a kind of an ROI calculator. So is there a way that you can show, justify — especially from a neutral organization like The AREA — what the ROI is on your project? It’s, again, for members only, but it’s a really great way of… we’ve spent a lot of time speaking to different companies about the sort of benefits, mainly tangible ones — but again, we do want to talk about some of the intangible ones. They can use this calculator put information together, include it within the costs, in some other currency, and other factors, to pop out an ROI. So that’s really important. One of the things I always say to companies thinking about doing an ROI — sorry, an AR project — is think about and measure how you do things to start with, before you start on your prototype. And then measure it when you’re doing your prototype.
Quite often, what people do is crash straight into the prototype and haven’t always captured that previous information. So I think there’s a bit about being ready within your project to show the financial benefits, is one thing. The other issue, or the theme we see, about going from prototype into full deployment is some of the business issues that are often not sorted out. I mentioned before that Boeing chairs The AREA safety committee, working with the safety managers and being able to deploy these solutions into the organization. It just need some kind of pre-thinking; it needs to understand, and you need to work with the safety managers so when they’re deployed on a wider scale, they’re aware of it. They’ve been involved in the business decision-making process, and they’re happy to deploy it. You don’t come along and say, “hey look we’ve got these new devices, wearables, and tablets; we need to start working on them.” Safety is one factor. Security is another one — obviously, we have some members that have real security issues and want to keep things safe. So again, involving in those security people in there.
So I guess in summary, Alan, one of the things that we advocate a lot, from moving from pilot to full deployment, is treat it as a change management process, as well as a technology one. Locate the part of the business that need to be involved, and work with them at those early stages. Hopefully, that should allow to move from this pilot into a full project, overcoming some those business issues at the earliest stages.
Alan: I think you touched on something that’s you know I want to explore a little more. Because we’ve talked about how the use cases of remote assistance and safety/security/training — all of these things we’ve talked about — proof of concepts, and how we’re kind of moving into the real ROI that’s measured by real, defined key performance indicators (or KPIs). One of the things that people always ask me as well is, “what are the benefits of AR?” And it’s one of those things where you’re like, “oh. Well… okay? When you break it down that… so in your opinion, what are some of the main benefits of this technology?
Mark: I will break this down into two high-level segments. The first one is about improving the performance. So that could be about having the most relevant, up-to-date, contextual information, when you need it. Okay? So we’re going back to that bit where people are wandering off, trying to find information; if you can have it when you need it, at the right context at the right time, it’s perfect. The second one in the performance areas is managing your resources. We mentioned one of the key use cases — and probably the biggest use case at the moment — is remote systems. It’s a good example of being able to manage your resources much more effectively, not having them out on the road, or travelling everywhere in the world and stuff like that. So that’s another key performance improvement.
And the third one is real-time compliance. So, being able to capture, record, certify processes — if you’ve got the kind of policies to do that. I know, certainly in the aircraft industry, everything that is done needs to be registered and stuff like that. So all of those are about by improving performances, which actually kind of means that you’re increasing your efficiency. You’re improving the efficiency in frequent and complex tasks. You’re minimizing errors (and preventing, to a certain extent, human errors is miscalculation), and lowering the impacts of task interruption and errors, and stuff like that. So, from an increase in efficiency, it’s about reducing time, minimizing error, and lowering costs.
Alan: Absolutely, and I think you nailed it there. You said improving performance by providing relevant, contextualized information. I think this is going to become more and more prevalent when headsets like the HoloLens and Magic Leap become real enterprise tools. And that’s happening now. But I mean, it’s just going to get better and better and better. But one of the things that people do understand is that even a mobile phone now can look at a machine, and it can understand in context where your phone is in relation to that screen. And if it’s a pair of glasses like HoloLens or Magic Leap, you can look at this machine, overlay an entire digital version of that machine on top, and then step-by-step, walk somebody through this.
And why that’s important is, you know, it’s becoming more important, because the aging workforce in manufacturing and oil and gas and electrical… the aging workforce is starting to retire. And the young people coming into these fields, they don’t have time to catch up on a decade’s worth of experience. Maybe you’ve got somebody who’s got 30 years experience on an oil rig, and maybe they’re ready to retire, but you could say, “hey listen, rather than retire and just throw away the 30 years of experience you have, why don’t you just stay home, work a couple hours a week, and be the remote assistance for those young guys out on the rigs, or traveling around the world, or whatever, and you can be their eyes and ears?” So when they put these headsets on, they can look at the machine, have somebody back in home base see what they’re seeing, and annotate instructions on top of it. So that remote assistance being, able– imagine having Skype with the world’s expert of anything you want, at anytime you want. That’s incredible.
Mark: It is incredible, Alan, I think. And just taking on your theme there, actually — and I’ve been thinking about this a lot — we use the term “training,” and it has a particular emphasis to it. You wonder if a worker in the future will be guided to do their work, so it doesn’t have to be a connection with a remote assistance, but someone virtually or augmented, shown on what to do….
Alan: AI is coming for us!
Mark: It enriches the job role to a certain extent, in that the workers in the future, by using AR technology, can do a whole raft of different tasks, and use not only the remote expert, but use the guidance of the content and the augmented content to do whole sorts of different things. So I can see where somebody — I take a simple example — they can be fixing in a washing machine one day, but the next day, they can be fixing the TV, and the day after, a computer, and a day after, a car. Because they’re using the content that the organization able to provide in a contextual and relevant way. I think it’s kind of an exciting [time]; we still need people to do it. But it allows them to do wider kinds of stuff.
It just plays on one other point, Alan, that I’d like to add, because this goes back a little bit to setting your projects up for success. Quite often, at the moment some of the projects — especially when you’re talking about step-by-step guidance – are a little bit standalone from some of the enterprise systems. So one of the things we talk about is actually connecting into the core enterprise data. Whatever systems it’s captured in, and using that. And if you should see a better way of doing it, you can update it, and then everybody benefits from it. So there’s there’s certainly a theme, I think, in the future where we need to plug in and connect to the content, or the assets, of the enterprise, and use AR not only just to read it, but updates as well.
Alan: Yeah, it’s interesting. We’re working with a company right now who’s taking BIM models and CAD models, and overlaying them real time… basically, the blueprints of a building, overlaying them real-time using AR in context, and then they have a two-way feedback mechanism. So, when they point their device at a building that they’re working on, it’ll show the HVAC system or the electrical system — whatever they happen to be working on — and it shows it exactly where it should be. You can walk around and see it from every angle. But when there’s an error, they can annotate it and it automatically will update the head office and say, “there’s an error here.” They can add a little note and it’ll stay positionally fixed, and it will stay on the blueprints, on the live blueprints. I think this is something that we’re only scratching the surface with this, and it’s going to be a huge thing. The industry that they’re going after is the construction industry, and it’s a 30-billion dollar error problem. Rebuilds and rework in construction is a massive problem! 30-billion dollars lost every year, rebuilding things because somebody put the HVAC system in six inches to the left instead of to the right.
Mark: I didn’t really realize it was such a big number. But I can… yeah I can see it’s huge.
Alan: That’s not including residential; that’s only in commercial buildings. So it’s a big [loss].
Mark: Yeah. Well I think the use of AR to visualize that BIM data will be huge. I always look at the people digging up the roads (which, unfortunately, they’ve been doing a lot of recently from where I live), and it seems to be a trial and error. Or they build it so big, that everything has to close down anyway. So there’s a whole bunch of efficiencies and greater performance we’ll see in the years to come that we probably don’t even think about now. Or even thought about.
Alan: Yeah, there was a company called Esri – E-S-R-I — and they’re using GIS data to be able to overlay… you can actually download the app and play with it. You can sit there, and in your street, look at all the pipes that under your street.
Mark: It’s amazing.
Alan: It’s so cool. I mean, the data is there, whether it’s right or not. I mean, the city plans are as accurate as you can get, and you kind of have to go with it. But being able to overlay that data for people just going to replace a pipe in the street., exactly what you said; don’t dig out the whole damn street. Just put these glasses on, figure out where to dig, and dig there!
Mark: I understand, and I’m a big fan of some of the marketing side of that. But lots of the writers talk about enterprise AR as being certainly the leading kind of space in the immersive technology, and it’s because the ROI, or the benefit, is a lot more tangible at this stage. You can measure the kind of savings, whereas the marketing part, it’s part of a number of different factors which influence the purchasing decision. All of it together is awesome.
Alan: One of the things that we’ve noticed on the marketing side — and that’s kind of where we play — is that the ROI is hard to measure on typical marketing. Like this weekend, for example, Coachella launched their AR app at Coachella, and you could see spaceships flying through the concert venue. And then HBO launched a Game of Thrones AR experience. And they can measure the number of downloads, but there’s really no way to measure, “hey, 16,000 people watched the show because of that.” It was just more of a marketing thing.
One of the things that marketing people are starting to realize is that 3D product views on a website, and being able to try on a pair of glasses or shoes or whatever — virtual try-ons — does directly contribute to sales. So that is an industry use case that I would say is more on the enterprise side. It’s marketing, but it’s direct benefit and ROI.
Mark: Yeah, that’s cool.
Alan: Speaking of benefits and ROI, I wanted to talk to you about some of the direct benefits of member companies joining The AREA. Because you guys are first in class with regards to thought leadership, use cases; you have your ROI calculator, tons of research articles. So maybe speak to each one of those points, and explain to them – to potential members — why they should join AREA. Because I think it is a very valuable organization.
Mark: Yeah. Thank you, Alan. That’s very kind. So I think, simply put, we were focusing on four things.
The first one is about helping to develop and create, curate, and deliver thought leadership content. So, the idea behind this is that business decision makers at the moment just do not have enough information to make informed decisions on investing in AR. There’s obviously lots of competing technologies out there, and they’ve also got to run their business and stuff like that. So anything we can do to focus on the use cases – so, what problems can be solved, providing them with case studies, examples of those use cases being solved in real life, what technologies are needed, and what the return on investment is — to me, is really important. So we’re very keen to listen to case studies, and deliver that content, and focus on those business decision makers. So a lot around thought leadership.
The second benefit of an AREA membership is around networking. It always amazes me that, when companies get together, how similar some of their problems are. And I don’t just mean the technology problems, but their business problems of trying to deploy AR, or even the problems they’re trying to solve. We ran the annual AREA workshop, which for the first time, we did it in the UK a few weeks ago, and someone came up to me afterwards and said, “you know, Mark; that was like group therapy.” It’s an opportunity to meet with like-minded people, to understand some of their challenges, what they’ve been doing to overcome them, and enable them to think about and learn from other companies, as well. So it’s really important to be able to network with like-minded people, and also to build those partnerships. If you’re an enterprise looking to deliver AR solutions, or are providers looking to work together with the startups that we have, networking is really important.
The third element is around what we call educate, but we’re already beginning to get a bit concerned about the availability of skilled workers in this space. Now it’s a huge and growing industry, and companies — even The AREA members now — are struggling to get workers that come out of university with the correct kind of skills. I don’t only mean technical skills; I mean some of the business skills as well. We’re working with educational organizations and universities, to help them define courses, to work with them on, I think, from guest lecturing to outplacements, to setting challenges, and anything we can do to help educate and connect universities with organizations that are developing or delivering AR solutions. That’s been a really interesting journey as well; a lot more universities are beginning to use The AREA, work with The AREA to do that.
And then finally, and probably the biggest strategic pillar we have at the moment, is overcoming the barriers to adoption. I mentioned before, things like safety and security; we have a monthly committee meeting that talks about those kind of areas. I’m really delving into the detail and looking at delivering deliverables that really benefit the members. We also have a requirements committee; we’ve been developing a set of requirements, and actually extended that to capture the use cases in the different scenarios and the different types of workers. The aim being that any enterprise can come along and say, “hey, I’m in the automotive industry — I’m interested in remote assistance.” By the press of a couple of buttons, they can get a set of requirements downloaded (of course, which they can add to and supplement and things like that), but it allows them to fast forward their AR projects and potentially go for RFPs [request for proposal] RFIs [request for information] and stuff like that. And we’re connecting the providers of AR technology to the companies looking to deliver or understand a set of requirements. So that’s requirements committee. We’ve set a committee up on human factors. So, looking at some of the UX and UI issues, and design issues, because that again, is a slightly “Wild West” area, and we want to help bring companies together and define some business best practice. We have a marketing committee, which is about promoting the ecosystem as well, and see that a lot of our social media stuff is driven through that marketing committee. And then finally, the Research Committee. We’ve touched on a few things; the ROI calculator was delivered through the Research Committee. And it’s real simple, we say to all of The AREA members, “what do you need to research? What kind of applied research would help you in your business?” Every AREA member gets an opportunity to make a proposal. We have a little pitching session, then every member gets an opportunity to vote, and whatever research gets the most votes, The AREA then funds and delivers that research. We’re actually just kicking off our fifth research project. The first one was around security and wearables, which we’ve actually made available to everybody now; they can go to the website and download that research. We felt, after a year, that probably it was something that we should make available, because we’re moving on our thinking and work in that space. And the second was the ROI calculator. We’ve done a piece on human factors and safety; a kind of reusable framework. We’re just finishing off a deep dive into the manufacturing industry, and some of the barriers to adoption, and a framework to help companies overcome them. And we’re just kicking off a piece now; it’s basically looking at IoT [internet of things] AI and AR, and how those technologies work together — helping again, business decision leaders — to understand and bring all that stuff together, so they can make informed decisions.
So there’s a huge amount of stuff going. I’m really excited to be able to lead this, and work with all The AREA members. It is very much driven by The AREA members. And you can go to The AREA dot org, or drop me an email at mark at The AREA dot org, to find out more, as well. Thank you, Alan, for giving me the opportunity to talk a little bit about The AREA’s work.
Alan: No. It’s vital. The work you guys are doing is absolutely essential to the success of our industry, and I want to just say, thank you for joining me on this show and sharing your information.
So, Mark, is there anything else? What do you see as the future of XR, as it pertains to business, in your opinion?
Mark: Thank you, Alan. And before I say that, I just want to thank you as well, for the great work you’re doing evangelizing our industry. I follow all the stuff that you’re talking about, too. Thank you, as well.
As for the future, I think we’ve there’s improvements on all fronts, really. I’m sure the technology will improve; we need to deliver technology that can be used in the environments that we’re talking about, oil and gas being one. It’s very difficult to have some of the technology used when you’re out on a rig somewhere in the North Sea. So I can see improvements on all fronts. I think a better understanding of deployment, better business understanding, and at the moment, I always think of the enterprise AR ecosystem as a little bit like an iceberg. We have a few companies and a few enterprises – say, at the peak — and you can see them at the top. But there’s a huge amount underneath the waterline. Not that I want the water to drain away in our environment, but to get more people understanding what benefits they can get, and being able to really master it and become more efficient. I think it’s a steady movement.
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