Accelerating adoption of Augmented Reality in the Enterprise

This post expands on Augmented Reality for Physical Security and explores how to accelerate the adoption of Augmented Reality (AR), in the security industry and beyond.

Seamless integration of real-life devices in AR – a killer app

It will take a couple of years before AR headsets become affordable by the mass market. Some early adopters will buy AR headsets simply to play games or for 3D design. But large companies and mission-critical government agencies are the most able to afford the first wave of headsets, and they will likely have one common objective: to enhance their productivity by integrating their existing stuff in AR: security systems, video cameras, GPS, industrial automation, etc. Think of it as the intersection of two buzzwords: IoT (Internet of Things) and Augmented Reality (AR).

Whipping out a quick prototype integrating a few devices in AR will not be too complicated, so we can expect a lot of companies to dabble in AR, starting from scratch. But Enterprise customers demand proven, advanced features that require years of development and millions of dollars to develop, for instance:

  • scalability to tens of thousands of devices, lots of concurrent users, multiple sites
  • figure out the best abstractions for heterogeneous third-party systems – each with their own limitations, performance tradeoffs, etc.
  • minimize latency, especially for video, Pan-Tilt Zoom (PTZ) control, positioning information, etc.
  • automatic fail-over with no loss of critical data
  • intuitive user interface that can readily adapt to each user’s position and orientation
  • information security, access control, auditability, etc.

Leveraging a proven code base and expertise like Fortem’s could bring considerable competitive advantage, save time and money.

Adapting to a dynamic 3D environment is a big challenge (and opportunity)

AR will be disruptive with high risks, high rewards. Some companies will disappear, others will reach new heights as they become an essential part of the daily life of their customers who are no longer tied to a desk or limited by the small screens of their phones.

To unlock AR’s potential will require sizable investment and vision from today’s large enterprise software vendors. Most typical enterprise software consider maps a minor feature, e.g. they simply slap a component like Google Maps within their old user interface. Their maps are static, i.e. change rarely, maybe once a month. They expect static objects (i.e. that stay in place), so they can get away with manually hard-coding the relationship between objects, e.g. list of cameras for specific alarms.

AR brings with it huge complexity: extremely detailed, dynamic 3D maps that may change within seconds, e.g. whenever a chair is moved. Users and their headsets change position and orientation 60 times a second. They capture 3D data in real-time. Relatively simple features that could easily be implemented by an average software developer in a few days suddenly require understanding advanced 3D math and GPUs, months of careful design and implementation, etc.

To ride this wave and increase their market share, enterprise software vendors will need to get out of their comfort zone. They must train, hire or acqui-hire people with a rare combination of 3D and domain expertise, people who can efficiently re-design and re-implement critical parts of their software, and create new complementary products. It could take several iterations and a couple of years to make the transition and finally unlock real value for their customers.

Fortem’s existing software was designed from the very beginning for a dynamic 3D world and devices, by 3D experts with a passion and track-record for mission-critical software. Fortem already uses AR, albeit in a limited fashion, e.g. overlaying 3D information over video from surveillance cameras. Its patented algorithms can already accommodate the real-time movement of users and cameras. While Fortem’s technology will need additional investment to fully leverage AR headsets, that investment and technical risk will be modest compared to starting from scratch.

AR will require new user interfaces adapted to its strengths and limitations

Many large enterprise vendors will initially discount AR’s importance and wait out until most of the early AR limitations are addressed, before trying to catch-up at great cost… like Blackberry did for touch screens.

Instead of ignoring the upcoming AR revolution until it’s late, better to make careful investments in understanding and working-around the early AR limitations. This will require innovative thinking. For instance, if you need to wave your hands in front of your face every time you want to bring up relevant information or control an object, you’ll get physically tired and frustrated within minutes. AR vendors will of course provide programming toolkits for common operations like overlaying simple information for an object directly in front of you. But what about nearby objects of interest, that aren’t right in front of you?

Fortem’s algorithms can provide the next step: immediately overlay videos from the optimal cameras surrounding the user, e.g. from CCTV or users’ headsets. Automatically redirect and zoom PTZ cameras toward a point of interest, etc. We came up with new ways to address long-standing issues of the security industry, and we’re eager to take on new challenges.

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