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Augmented Reality: The Future of Facilities Management

Augmented Reality: The Future of Facilities Management

Augmented reality (AR) got its start in the gaming industry, but some of its most ardent supporters today are facility managers. At the moment, about one in five facilities use this technology. Experts predict that that number could nearly quadruple within the next few years. When it comes to keeping buildings safe, clean, and pleasant to be in, augmented reality offers tools that no other technology can. What is it, and how can facility managers take advantage of it?

What is augmented reality?

AR is pretty much "reality plus." It uses the real world as a kind of backdrop -- showing the room or landscape that's in front of you -- with a computer-generated overlay. One of the most popular examples is the game Pokemon Go, which used AR to allow users to capture the animated pocket monsters in their immediate surroundings. Unfortunately for its creators, augmented reality suffered quite a bit from its own hype. After marketers played up its potential, many end-users felt disillusioned once they finally experienced the tech itself. This low point pushed innovators and investors to examine use cases and explore other applications for AR. Right now, AR adoption is growing as it becomes more widely implemented. Industries from medicine, to facility management, to furniture sales and marketing, have all found their own uses for it.

How is it applied to facility management?

There's a pretty big jump to go from catching pokemon to managing a facility. As automation, the Internet of Things, and machine learning become more ubiquitous, the lines between the physical and digital worlds grow increasingly blurred. When you add in complicating factors like the pandemic, and the need for an innovative visualization technology becomes all the more apparent. Since AR gives the user the power to see real-world surroundings -- and see how they could potentially alter those surroundings -- all without any human contact, it's an invaluable tool for social distancing. At the moment, the most common use for AR overall is for marketing, virtual tours, and demos. In facilities management, it's primarily used for automated maintenance, followed closely by maintenance prevention, then training.

What's the future of this technology?

While AR has been part of the gaming industry for a while, its use in other areas is still relatively new. As a result, its cost may be prohibitively high. About 40% of facility managers consider the cost as a bar to entry. AR also doesn't have a lot of customization options just yet. Despite these blocks, the technology is growing by leaps and bounds within the facility management industry. Like anything else, the more popular it becomes, the less expensive and more customizable it will be. Experts already predict that over 70% of facility managers will have adopted it in the next few years, so there are likely to be a lot of exciting, facilities-focused developments in augmented reality within as little as two to three years.

Information technology research firm Gartner says there's more to mainstream adoption than the number of people using AR, however. Instead, they consider a technology to be mainstream when it feels intuitive and "frictionless" to an end-user -- picture how little concentration it takes to pick up a cell phone and send a text message, for example. While AR may have fallen victim to too much hype in the beginning, the discovery of applications outside of gaming has positioned it to go mainstream. As cell phone cameras, virtual reality headsets, and other opticals continue to improve, they, too, will help augmented reality become simple, smooth, and intuitive.

How can facility managers start using it now?

Fortunately, augmented reality is generally unobtrusive -- it can be adopted without having to add any new infrastructure to the facility itself. Headsets allow wearers to access information and instructions in real-time, reducing human errors and increasing efficiency. DAQRI, a company focused on augmented reality industrial and maintenance uses, created a headset that provides 4D images above facility assets, instructions, and a map of the asset's functionality. Facilities that rely heavily on Internet of Things-enabled sensors, HVAC systems, security, doors, or lighting can use AR to create a single virtual interface to streamline and simplify their controls. It all comes down to analyzing where an innovative visualization method like AR can help.

For managers undertaking remodeling or renovation projects, it can provide a way to see how well room fixtures will work in a given space and help preserve an efficient flow. For those struggling to keep their IoT-enabled devices playing nicely with each other, it can make a more usable interface. For those onboarding new employees, it can offer an immersive, effective training experience, and cut down on errors by providing a heads-up display of maintenance instructions. Augmented reality was hyped up by the gaming industry, and didn't live up to expectations. Now that investors and innovators have re-evaluated its potential applications, the tech has found a new home in facility management that experts predict will continue to grow.

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