Business in Two Worlds

February 9, 2011 by Daniel Hardt

Augmented reality is revealing many new things – including business practices (source: YouTube)

Augmented reality is revealing many new things – including business practices (source: YouTube)

Augmented reality (AR) is a fairly new term that describes the process of using various devices to project virtual objects onto a real-life environment. For more than 10 years, researchers have been investigating possible ways to apply this technology in various industries. Display-equipped goggles are now set to make the work of surgeons and mechanics easier, while online shoppers can try on clothes virtually on-screen and examine other items without ever having to tear open a package.

AR has been garnering increasing attention since the first related smartphone apps came to market. Our article “Merging Worlds: Augmented Reality” reveals more of what AR offers private users of iPhone and other mobile devices. That’s hardly the whole story, however; the benefits of augmented reality are just as apparent in the fields of manufacturing and production, medicine, marketing, and sales. For its part, SAP has already outfitted the free app SAP BusinessObjects Explorer with an AR enhancement that links data to the user’s surroundings.

In this article, we’ll show you how AR is affecting the following areas:

Next page: SAP BusinessObjects Augmented Reality Explorer

BusinessObjects Augmented Reality Explorer in use (image: Timo Elliott)

BusinessObjects Augmented Reality Explorer in use (image: Timo Elliott)

SAP BusinessObjects Augmented Reality Explorer

The current version of the free app SAP BusinessObjects Explorer also includes SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand and a prototype AR plug-in. In typical scenarios, users upload data records into the app through the SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand platform and then analyze them with various BI instruments.

Also known as SAP BusinessObjects Augmented Reality Explorer, this AR-enhanced program is also capable of gathering geodata on points of interest (POIs) and sorting it – according to a company’s branch offices, for example. These POIs can then be linked to the location-based information iPad and iPhone deliver, enabling users to ascertain not only the sales figures of individual offices, but the distance to them, as well.

Upon calling up the AR view, the app displays information in the form of icons superimposed onto the perspective of the device’s camera. Since iPad does not have a camera in its current form, this view is only available on iPhone.

How SAP BusinessObjects Augmented Reality Explorer works (image: Timo Elliott)

How SAP BusinessObjects Augmented Reality Explorer works (image: Timo Elliott)

SAP BusinessObjects Augmented Reality Explorer is intended to facilitate more varied and convenient use of BI functions. In this video, SAP BusinessObjects expert Timo Elliot demonstrates an early version of the app to offer a glimpse of what’s ahead.

Want to take SAP BusinessObjects Augmented Reality Explorer for a test drive? A prototype is available for download for iPad, iPhone 4, and iPhone 3GS, along with data records you can use to try out its functions (both links require SAP Community Network registration). The app is not currently intended for use in live environments.

For more on SAP BusinessObjects Explorer and SAP BusinessObjects BI OnDemand, check out these articles:

Next page: Digital sales

Enhanced with AR, the world of e-commerce can bring the department store right into your living room (source: YouTube)

AR can bring the department store right into your living room (source: YouTube)

Digital sales

With AR, customers can gain impressions of products without ever holding a material object in their hands. This leads to obvious advantages for manufacturers and, in particular, online shops: Offering more information that is easy for customers to obtain increases sales, lowers return rates, and ultimately raises profits. The only requirements are a webcam connected to the customer’s home computer or a well-placed monitor in a place of business. With customers more willing to try out a new hairstyle, for example, when they can do so without risking a single hair, even service providers can get in on the action.

The toy manufacturer LEGO has already put this principle into practice by outfitting various stores with camera-equipped preview monitors that present a three-dimensional image of the corresponding model when a customer holds up a package. These images can be viewed from any angle and are partially animated.

Online stores, meanwhile, will find it easier to sell clothing and cosmetics. With the app Webcam Social Shopper from the U.S. company Zugara, customers can try on articles at their own computers. Each article has a code that displays it on-screen, and users can even navigate through menus by means of hand gestures.

Japan’s CScout has also developed Video Cosmetic Mirror, which makes it possible to sample a wide variety of makeup. The program displays the user’s face with and without makeup side by side for comparison.

The watch manufacturer Tissot has joined the ranks of those presenting its collection in a virtual format. This requires a “marker” – in this case, a special watch-shaped bracelet the user places on his or her wrist – which tells the accessory software where to project the image of the item in question. The user can then try on various models and see how they look on his or her monitor or smartphone. Common markers usually contain codes similar to the popular QR format.

Next page: Marketing with AR

A shop camera reveals what a box of LEGO bricks can become (source: YouTube)

A shop camera reveals what a box of LEGO bricks can become (source: YouTube)

AR puts words into the mouth of Lena Meyer-Landrut, Germany’s Eurovision Song Contest winner (source: YouTube)

AR puts words into the mouth of Lena Meyer-Landrut, Germany’s Eurovision Song Contest winner (source: YouTube)

Marketing with AR

AR is tailor-made for marketing, offering a modern, innovative technology that turns heads and is often fun to start using. Associating with AR gives brands and products a modern image, as well as the chance to share in the attention the technology is attracting from the general public. The playful aspect, meanwhile, does its part by encouraging customers to give products a try. Numerous campaigns are also adding a viral effect by propagating content through social media.

Here are a few examples of marketing efforts that are making use of AR:

  • Süddeutsche Zeitung: This prominent German newspaper released an edition of its weekly insert – the magazine SZ – in an AR-enhanced format. Users who have the AR browser Junaio on their smartphones can experience additional content that remains hidden to “normal” readers. In the popular photo series “Sagen Sie jetzt nichts” (“Don’t Speak Now”), speech balloons now appear on each image and some graphics become 3D animations.
  • Esquire: This U.S. magazine has also released an issue adorned with AR effects. To experience a talking, animated Robert Downey, Jr., you need only download the Esquire app and hold the quadratic code on the magazine’s cover up to the camera of your computer or smartphone. This is one of the ways AR is bringing print products closer to the digital world and evolving into a meaningful sales tool.
  • BMW: In making the first official presentation of its new Mini Cabrio, BMW cast its lot with augmented reality. By holding up the advertisement on the back cover of a car magazine to your computer’s camera, you can see the Mini Cabrio in all its digital, three-dimensional splendor.
  • Nestlé: Affixed with a special code, some of this company’s cereal boxes can transform into an animated obstacle course. You can maneuver a marble through simply by tilting and turning the package.
3D model of the Mini Cabrio (source: YouTube)

3D model of the Mini Cabrio (source: YouTube)

  • Audi: This German manufacturer commissioned something of a first: a car calendar minus the cars. Each month shows a vehicle-free landscape – at least until you view it through your smartphone.
  • H&M: Sweden’s famous clothing company offered a discount to New Yorkers with the app GoldRun installed on their iPhones. Anyone able to snap a picture of virtual objects located near its stores would receive 10% off their purchases and the chance to win a trip.
  • iButterfly: The advertising agency Dentsu (Japan) released millions of digital butterflies for people to capture with their iPhones. Once collected, the virtual creatures served as coupons for various location-based products and services.
  • Business cards: Genuine Interactive is developing a new form of business card with a code on the reverse side that reveals much more than a name and address. Instead of merely choosing between ivory and eggshell, why not have a talking 3D image of yourself leave behind a lasting impression?

Next page: Manufacturing and construction

Truly personalized business cards can really make an impression (source: YouTube)

Truly personalized business cards can really make an impression (source: YouTube)

Virtual assistance helps prevent mistakes during repairs (source: YouTube)

Virtual assistance helps prevent mistakes during repairs (source: YouTube)

Manufacturing and construction

Having data on-site is now regarded as fundamental in these fields, and augmented reality technology is capable of bringing information right to where it’s needed in various workflows – right before a mechanic’s eyes, for example. In mechanical engineering, the automotive industry is at the forefront of AR development and implementation.

Head-mounted displays (HMDs), also known simply as data glasses, exhibit plenty of future potential. The virtual objects that appear on their tiny monitors show the user what step is next, which makes work easier.

When the task at hand is an engine block, for example, an HMD can use color to highlight the component currently in need of attention. The data required is transmitted to the HMD from a system at the user’s company or a device worn on the body. Stationary monitors or displays attached to work equipment also exist as alternatives to HMDs.

When using this technology in live work settings, the challenge lies in tracking –synchronizing the user’s actual environment with the objects projected. Failure to display these objects precisely with regard to their size and location results in distortion, which hinders operations more than it helps.

That said, AR technology is of interest to more than just the automotive industry. The fields of aerospace, medicine, disaster control, and transport could or already are taking advantage of its benefits.

Example of a head-mounted display (source: YouTube)

Example of a head-mounted display (source: YouTube)

Here are some examples of AR use in the automotive industry:

SAP/Daimler: Along with other companies and the support of the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology, SAP and Daimler are testing the use of the wearable technology SiWear in the area of picking. Pickers are responsible for providing mechanics with parts needed in assembly, which can be a complex affair when working with a large number of variants.

With SiWear, an HMD informs the picker as to which parts are needed and where they are located in the warehouse. Individual drawers are also marked and highlighted. The corresponding data is transmitted from an SAP system to a box worn on the body and connected to the HMD. Printed lists are no longer needed, leaving both of the picker’s hands free. To see the system in action, take a look at the SAP TV video “SiWear – Augmented Reality.”

BMW: For manual stud welding in its prototype engineering, BMW uses AR to reduce its time requirements by 75%. Previously, employees used to have to obtain the positions from a CAD system in the form of printed lists before placing the studs manually for welding. Now their welding guns and input stations are outfitted with additional monitors and measurement data is transferred through a visualization computer directly along each gun’s cable harness. An optical, hands-free tracking system identifies the necessary weld points.

BMW is also testing an HMD that displays the individual steps required to repair an engine.

Audi: In addition to its AR activities in marketing, Audi is using a visualization prototype – Unifeye Prototyping – to test design elements on existing models. With it, users attach a marker to a wheel rim, where it is identified by an optical tracking system. Rim variants created in a CAD system can then be superimposed on the marker.

Next page: Medicine

Operating on a virtual eye with VRmagic (source: YouTube)

Operating on a virtual eye with VRmagic (source: YouTube)

Medicine

Augmented reality is already playing a part in training tomorrow’s medical specialists. The company VRmagic, for example, provides simulators for use in the study of ophthalmology. Equipped with an HMD, students can hone their skills on a three-dimensional model of an eye. The system also includes an extensive case database that can simulate numerous scenarios and clinical pictures.

Since precision is first and last word in surgery, AR has not yet seen use in real-life operations; further research is required to make tracking systems more precise and reduce the probability of error to a minimum. Right now, the obvious goal is to achieve improved hand-eye coordination.

Surgical instruments can currently be outfitted with cameras that display their images to the surgeon on a monitor. However, this requires the surgeon to stop working and turn his or her eyes from the patient. In the future, data from ultrasounds, MRIs, and other examinations will be displayed directly on the patient’s body. This will enable the surgeon to concentrate fully on the patient, thus increasing the precision of the procedure. To supplement the HMDs, AR projectors can visualize operations for entire teams of physicians.

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