Augmented reality, also known simply as AR, is the usage of technology to superimpose computer-generated sensory input like sound, videos, and images, over a person's real-world view. AR applications can help enhance skills, provide real-time data, and offer additional features to help us with everyday activities — all through simple touch or voice commands.
The following are key components of AR devices:
Sensors and Cameras - gather a user’s real world interactions, communicate and scan them, and eventually formulate a digital model for output.
Projection - turns any surface into an interactive environment.
Processors - include of CPU, GPU, microchips, GPS, and other hardware.
Reflection and Scene Visualization - assists image alignment to the user’s eyesight. This is how AR produces a mixed-media visual of real space and virtual content.
More companies have been investing in AR devices in the past few years for different purposes and applications. Some examples include head-up displays for the automotive industry to enhance driver safety. In medicine these can be used to facilitate easier IV injection delivery, and for real-time viewing of a patient’s organs —for the pharmaceutical industry, a helpful alternative to viewing a static image on a screen. The shipping industry has also applied AR. The Port of Rotterdam recently entered into a partnership with four start-ups, including the FEO AR company, which provides glasses for monitoring situations when technical issues occur on vessels.
Handheld devices, Spatial Augmented Reality systems, Head-Mounted Displays, and Smart Lenses are among the available AR devices to date. The possibilities for AR may be endless, but how can this groundbreaking technology supplement and ultimately, improve the existing modern supply chain?
Growth Boom of the AR Market
AR research shows no signs of slowing its progress, and the market is on a trajectory to become incredibly lucrative. According to research analysts, the global mobile augmented reality market is expected to grow by 89% between 2016 and 2020. Worldwide shipments of headsets will reach at least 27.3 million by 2021, almost double from 2016’s 10 million. Revenues will also reach US $46.7B by 2021 compared to US $2.1B in 2016. The increase in product development coupled with lowered prices in the future can make AR technologies a huge asset not only for specific industries, but for supply chain management as well. After all, new technologies impact almost every industry, and logistics is no exception.
Application of AR in SCM
Supply chain management (SCM) involves the flow, storage, and delivery of goods, services and inventory for consumers. Issues such as continuity planning, cost control, risk management, and supplier/partner relationship management impact SCM. According to DHL Trend Research, AR can be applied in the following ways:
Warehousing Operations - Warehousing ops account for 20% of logistics costs, and AR can help curb expenses by simplifying warehouse picking, or the extraction of goods from a warehousing system to fulfil customer orders. AR Vision picking software offers real-time object recognition, indoor navigation, and information with the in-house Warehouse Management System (WMS) to support workers and lessen the time needed for manual operations. AR can visualize any planned rearrangements in full scale, making the warehouse a test bed for future warehouse operation modifications and planning. It can also be used for staff training, eliminating costs and allocating more time for other pertinent tasks.
Transportation Optimization - Logistics technologies have evolved to become more efficient and secure in delivery. Scanners and sensors can help logistics companies and corporations scan and document errors, damages, and product issues for regulations and compliance. Critical information and load instructions regarding cargo can also be available in the touch of a button through displays.
Navigation - AR can help identify buildings and landmarks for more efficient deliveries.
Assembly and Repair - Workers can use devices such as glasses and lenses to provide step-by-step processes for better quality control and costs.
Recent AR Milestones
The HoloLens is Microsoft's offering to the Augmented Reality market. It is a head-mounted display in the form of smart glasses that can be used in conjunction with Microsoft applications such as HoloStudio for 3D printing and Actiongram for staging and recording video clips. Other healthcare-related apps such as an interactive human anatomy curriculum and SketchUp architectural tool were also announced and demonstrated.
According to CEO Tim Cook, “[I think] AR is that big, it’s huge. I get excited because of the things that could be done that could improve a lot of lives.” In early 2017, Apple was reportedly working on several AR products, including digital spectacles that could connect wirelessly to an iPhone and beam content such as maps to the wearer. The company also introduced the ARKit: Augmented Reality for iOS WWDC 2017, a “cutting-edge platform for developing augmented reality (AR) apps for iPhone and iPad.” Additionally, Apple acquired the German computer vision company SensoMotoric Instruments, a provider of eye tracking glasses and systems to possibly bolster AR R&D.
The Future of AR
Augmented reality will surely offer new ways of presenting information and data to make SCM more accurate and efficient. According to DHL, “This will transform supply chains, with more products manufactured close to the point of use and decentralized production networks." It will enable better worker engagement and enhance the sustainability of SCM.