AR at work: 5 headsets aimed at business

Augmented reality is finding a place in the office as a driver of collaboration and productivity and for front-line workers, a way to stay connected with fellow employees.

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Once the stuff of science fiction, augmented reality (AR) is increasingly finding a place in the workplace as a driver of collaboration and productivity. Some companies use it as a tool for employee training, others use it to offer remote assistance to field service technicians. There are surgeons now using AR devices in the operating room. 

Though primitive AR systems date back to the 1960s, today it’s used mainly to overlay virtual objects and information onto physical environments, using either a heads-up display built into smartglasses or a smartphone or tablet camera (think Pokemon Go).

As AR has evolved, business interest has grown – a trend that’s expected to continue over the next few years. Combined global spending on AR and virtual reality (VR) hit $16.8 billion this year, according to IDC's Worldwide Semiannual Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide, and is forecast to reach $160 billion in 2023. That’s more than double the forecast from Markets and Markets, which puts the AR market at $61.4 billion in 2023, still up sharply from this year’s levels.

Enterprises are expected to make up a large chunk of that spending, according to IDC, with demand coming from front-line workers who need hands-free computing devices, such as when working on the factory floor. 

For office workers, AR is seen as a boon to employee collaboration; companies such as Spatial expect the technology to allow remote colleagues to communicate "face-to-face" and manipulate 3D objects in real time.

"Augmented reality is gaining share in the commercial market due to its ability to facilitate tasks, provide access to resources, and solve complex problems," said Marcus Torchia, a research director at IDC. "Industries such as manufacturing, utilities, telecommunications and logistics are increasingly adopting AR for performing tasks such as assembly, maintenance and repair.”

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