Augmented Reality Industry Leader: Bob Meads, CEO iQagent
Today Christine Perey, Executive Director of the AREA, interviews Bob Meads, CEO of iQagent and member of the AREA board. Bob is pioneering the use of mobile Augmented Reality on the plant floor to increase worker efficiency and safety.
Q. What is the level of interest in enterprise AR among people in your company?
The level of interest in this technology is high; however, we don’t like to put technology first. As I have written about previously, AR is a great fit for plant floor challenges. But using AR (or any technology) for its own sake is a flawed approach if you want to sell a product. We identify the problems we want to solve, and fit the best technology to solve them elegantly. The litmus test of a great AR solution is at first you don’t notice it’s an AR solution. Your attention is captured by the system’s usefulness and applicability to the problem it addresses. The realization that it uses AR comes as an afterthought.
Q. How does your company, group or team plan to make an impact in enterprise Augmented Reality?
We plan to bring to the enterprise market mobile apps that solve real problems, in keeping with our “practical” approach to Augmented Reality.
Q. In your opinion, what are the greatest obstacles to the introduction of AR in enterprise?
The three barriers we encounter most frequently are in adequate infrastructure, security issues and resistance to new technology. Using AR technology as part of a plant solution will overwhelmingly be issued on mobile devices. So the barriers to using mobile devices become barriers to using AR on the plant floor. It can be a big investment for a plant to create a wireless infrastructure that covers the plant floor well. Many plants also haven’t fully embraced the use of electronic documents versus paper ones, despite the obvious benefits. Mobile devices also tend to raise alarm bells with IT for many reasons. Then there is concern over ROI, that once the infrastructure is added, these new mobile devices and software will not actually be used or won’t provide a return on investment.
Q. Are you focused on a particular industry? If so please describe it, as well as the customers with whom you work.
While we serve most industries, automotive, chemical/pharmaceutical and food & beverage are where we focus. This is because these plants have lots of automation, and, therefore, lots of data and resources that the plant staff access on a daily basis. The ROI of our product, iQagent, is very dramatic for these kinds of plants.
Q. How do you characterize the current stage in enterprise AR adoption? What will it take to go to the next stage or to accelerate adoption?
In my opinion, AR technologies are still in the trough of the Gartner Hype Cycle, but slowly coming. The potential for enterprise AR concept to help workers visualize data and resources as they relate to real world equipment or processes in enormous. It limits the skillsets needed to perform adjustments or repairs, reduces human error, and lessens the need for training. It’s a giant win-win. So why isn’t it already in widespread use? Because AR solutions tend to be highly customized and developed for specific customers. This approach is expensive, introduces risk and extends the ROI for the customer. This is due, in part, to the lack of standards. The breakthrough for AR in the enterprise will come when there are more off-the-shelf AR solutions that are easy to integrate and deploy and provide obvious benefits and immediate ROI. Right now most AR products are toolkits because there are no AR standards out there. If standards were created and adopted, it would be easier for AR providers to create off-the-shelf solutions. This in turn reduces risk, lowers cost and provides a well-defined ROI for the customer.
Q. We’d like some historical context for your current role. How did you get interested in or develop your role in enterprise Augmented Reality?
I have been in industrial automation software and integration for 20 years, and have always loved technology. iQuest, my automation company, specializes in using different technologies to solve plant floor problems. When the iPad was released, we began looking for ways to leverage it on the plant floor. We started with identifying common problems we could solve with a mobile app, and then developed iQagent and the concept of “practical” augmented reality, or, in the words of Ars Technica, “Just Enough AR.”
Image courtesy of IQagent