Monday 25 July 2016 2:30 am

Prepare for the augmented reality workplace: The tech behind Pokemon Go will be in offices sooner than you think

Tom Welsh is City A.M.'s business features editor.

Tom Welsh is City A.M.'s business features editor.

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With the launch of Pokémon Go in the UK this month, augmented reality (AR) – the technology behind the game – has successfully broken into the mass-consumer market.

But right now very few people are thinking about the applications of the technology beyond the world of gaming. Our 2016 Tech Trends research reveals that the biggest impact AR will have on our daily lives is in the world of business.

It’s not just a gimmick that is entertaining (or distracting) for your fellow colleagues – it’s a technology that is going to dramatically change the way we all do our jobs.

AR gets to work

AR can overlay contextual information onto a user’s view or it can go further and blend digital components into the physical environment, which is also described as mixed reality (MR). Both of these types of AR can provide organisations with a number of potential uses. AR can offer remote support, hands-free training, and the visualisation of pictures, data, text and other information.

AR technology can give task-specific information to workers on demand. It can overlay a jet engine’s service hours, component temperature and service panel details onto aircraft mechanics’ vision as they work. It could help an engineer to perform highly technical tasks step-by-step, using 3D models overlaid on the actual equipment, as well as displaying system-status details, such as maps of live pipes or wires.

It even has applications for the office worker. AR could provide hands-free training and education to employees, providing instructions on how to respond to real life situations as they happen. It also offers an engaging way of giving presentations, or to have virtual meetings connecting colleagues from across the globe.

It could even create “screenless” offices – where users only need a keyboard and head device to work. This would be particularly useful for those who frequently work remotely on public transport during their commute, but still need privacy when working on confidential documents.

Traders or developers who need to work off multiple screens at once could flit between projections with a slight turn of the head. This might save on hardware costs.

Marketers could find innovative ways to engage with customers using AR, such as linking physical merchandise to special features only available on smartphones. In retail, sales representatives could show shop owners super-imposed images of how their product stands look in stores. Similarly, architects could bring their clients’ plans to life.

Making it a reality

While we believe virtual reality (VR) is also likely to have a dramatic impact on the workplace, AR has fewer barriers and could become mainstream much faster. The key reason being that AR doesn’t always require a fully immersive headset; it simply imposes useful information onto your real-world vision, and it already works well with existing devices, such as smartphones and tablets.

To some, the idea of working with AR might seem like a distant fantasy. But even five years ago many office workers wouldn’t have imagined that video conferencing would now be the norm; that tablets are an essential tool in many businesses; or that you could order a taxi to your next meeting instantaneously using your phone. Technology moves at unprecedented speed.

When it’s implemented in the workplace, AR has the potential to increase productivity, revolutionise training and improve customer service. Organisations which can step back and see its potential have a chance to lead the way.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.