What is Assisted Reality – and How Can You Benefit from It?

Recently, AREA Executive Director Mark Sage sat down for an AREA podcast with Jay Kim, Chief Strategy Officer of Upskill and the AREA’s Vice President of the Provider Segment. The conversation focused on understanding what “Assisted Reality” is and its advantages for organizations just beginning their AR journey. The following is an edited transcript of the podcast.

AREA: Jay, perhaps you could begin by giving us a quick update on the progress of Upskill.

Kim: As the person in charge of our product roadmap and product development, I’ve been very busy taking advantage of the advancements that have been happening in this space. Upskill’s flagship software platform for industrial AR applications, Skylight, had been historically focused on simpler, wearable 2D Augmented Reality applications.

However, we’ve been busy over the last year or so expanding our portfolio to include Mixed Reality solutions running on Microsoft HoloLens, for which we announced a partnership with Microsoft, as well as supporting mobile phones and tablets and transforming Skylight into a multi-experience platform. We announced this a week before Mobile World Congress in February, which was very exciting because a number of our customers had already been taking advantage of these feature sets and are excited that they can publicly talk about them. We continue to be doing well on the business front, engaging with customers globally, really being focused on bringing the digital enterprise to the hands-on worker. There’s a lot to do and there’s a lot of growth that’s happening within our business, which is also a microcosm of the AR industry.

AREA: In The AREA-sponsored enterprise track at AWE, you delivered a really interesting and exciting keynote talk that introduced the phrase “Assisted Reality,” a concept that Upskill has brought to the ecosystem. Can you explain more about what Assisted Reality is and how it’s different from Augmented Reality?

Kim: Assisted Reality is a wearable, non-immersive visualization of content that still has contextual awareness. So, what do we mean by non-immersive? A good hardware example would be what Google introduced with their Glass product – a heads-up display that’s in your line of sight and you can glance at the content, but the goal of the user experience isn’t to deliver object tracking or any kind of immersion – no 3D visualizations, object overlays, or the like.

It’s really intended to deliver pre-existing information, text, diagrams, images – maybe short videos – as-is to help the user understand what needs to be done at any given point in time and enhance the person’s situational awareness. The goal is no different from Augmented Reality.

Assisted Reality was born as Upskill was striving to define and differentiate the various user experiences within the broader Augmented Reality context. If you think about Augmented Reality, it can be delivered in mobile forms, wearable forms, it can be even a projected display or an audible experience. The term is actually very broad. So, Assisted Reality was coined to specifically focus on non-immersive wearable experiences that boost the person’s situational awareness. We consider Assisted Reality a subdomain or an experience within the Augmented Reality spectrum.

AREA: What are some of the benefits of Assisted Reality?

Kim: The benefits span several areas. First of all, because Assisted Reality is a wearable user experience, it’s important to talk about the different types of devices that it supports. Generally speaking, Assisted Reality devices tend to be more wearable than their Mixed Reality counterparts. That gap may be closing a bit with the introduction of HoloLens 2, but this has historically been the case. Because Assisted Reality has less stringent hardware requirements, it can deliver a positive user experience when worn for a full work shift, and the battery life is quite good. Assisted Reality devices are simpler and frankly, a bit cheaper. So, the leading vendors in that space would be companies like RealWear, which has been gaining a tremendous amount of traction recently and Vuzix, which is a vendor that invested in the industry very early on, as did Google. These companies have been driving quite a bit of success with this and that’s certainly one benefit!

The other benefit to enterprises is that Assisted Reality often doesn’t require any kind of data preparation or formatting. It’s really focused on being able to deliver content that was historically being delivered to your hands-on workers on the manufacturing floor or out on the field or moving about in the warehouse, on paper forms and PCs.

So, it takes away the need to go and figure out your 3D content pipeline, understand how to convert that into an AR-ready format, and other tasks. Enterprises can focus on leveraging content that exists within their organization, which significantly cuts back on the cost, as well as the time to get that initial return on investment from the solution.

So, it’s a lower cost and faster time to implement. That’s how we’ve been able to steer a number of our customers towards starting the journey, beginning with Assisted Reality and eventually building up their capabilities with more immersive, Mixed Reality solutions.

AREA: What would you recommend to a company reading this blog post; what steps do they need to take to learn more about Assisted Reality or the broader Augmented Reality spectrum?

Kim: Because there’s been so much activity in the marketplace, we’re very fortunate as a community to have a number of very strong case studies describing successful implementations of Assisted Reality, Mixed Reality, mobile phone AR, projection AR – you name it, they’re all there. Chances are, there is another company within your particular industry that has successfully deployed AR solutions and has actually spoken about them at events or published papers about them.

I would highly encourage some peer learning and of course, the impetus is on the people who want to experiment with the technology that’s out there – whether that’s starting with a proof of concept and graduating to a pilot and hopefully getting into full deployments, or making deeper initial investments because you have a better sense of the business case. It doesn’t matter, but being able to get started in any kind of capacity is critical for your learning. There’s only so much that you can learn from research. But you can certainly be inspired by hundreds of companies out there now deploying these kinds of solutions, reading about what worked well for them and what hasn’t worked well for them.

My other advice is to talk to your own end users within your organization to better understand their pain points. AR, like most successful tools, shouldn’t be considered a hammer looking for nails, but rather a solution to a well-defined set of problems.

And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that people who are in the learning phase would actually benefit the most by joining the AREA. The AREA is a global community of organizations that have been doing this for a very long time, whether they’re providers, end users, or research institutions. The formal and informal interactions that people can have as a part of the AREA could really accelerate your learning.

AREA: Jay, thanks to you and Upskill for bringing the term Assisted Reality to the fore because it’s a really important part of the solutions spectrum.

Kim: You’re welcome. We’re very excited for the continued growth of the industry and look forward to working with the rest of the community.

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