Augmented Industry: how AR and VR are revolutionising logistics
The global augmented reality (AR) market is on the precipice of an exponential growth spurt. Worth an estimated $16.8bn in 2019, the industry is predicted to comfortably hit $160bn by 2023, as AR tech spreads to touch almost every aspect of our lives, from retail to oil rig repair.
While the most visible examples of AR have been in the consumer sector, from games like Pokemon GO to IKEA’s AR showroom, Place, industrial adoption is (albeit more quietly) spreading like wildfire. Here’s Gigabit Magazine’s breakdown of some of the most promising industrial and logistics applications for AR (and VR).
The UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is a colossal logistical operation with high costs for supply chain failure, disruption or shortages. Since a successful pilot program in 2018, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has partnered with supply chain solutions company Scandit to use AR and machine learning technology in order to capture, track and collate inventory and patient data. The trust reportedly “saw a 95% improvement in cost and time efficiency when it implemented Scandit software in 114 departments as part of the UK Government's Scan-4-Safety initiative.”
Now, this September, IT solutions provider Ingenica has announced that it is partnering with Scandit and the NHS in order to integrate AR solutions into the entire organisation.
“Workers in the healthcare sector, particularly in the NHS, are incredibly time poor and new ways are needed to free up staff from inefficient tasks,” said Samuel Mueller, CEO at Scandit. “Our partnership with Ingenica Solutions will help transform inventory management across NHS systems.”
The ability for AR to help logistics personnel collect, process and record data with added accuracy and speed is a massive efficiency driver within the supply chain and logistics space.
The ability for AR to provide everyone from BMW engineers and food bloggers to soldiers and astronauts with a heads up display, a visual overlay providing information ranging from vital signs to a heatmap of nearby enemies in the field (just think Iron Man) has been a core promise of the technology from the get-go. The idea has been alive in science fiction for decades.
The next major beachhead for the AR heads up display may be the logistics and supply chain sector. Reportedly, “in the automotive logistics sector, a number of vehicle-makers and logistics service providers have been prompted to investigate the potential of technology such as glasses or goggles that can overlay a heads up display onto a normal view of the world.”
BMW is leading this charge (in addition to giving its mechanics heads up display rigs for maintenance and allowing customers to preview different models and configurations of car in their driveway) at a pilot project in Munich.
Nela Murauer, head of the Smart Glasses Project, explained to Automotive Logistics, the company is trialling glasses like those from ODG, Vuzix and Google, which are “technically used like a monitor worn on the nose” to display picking information in the worker’s field of vision, while interaction with the warehouse management system is achieved via barcode scans.
The ability for workers to be directed in the field by digital overlays may become a crucial aspect of logistics work, as picking plants become a larger source of employment.
Another key application for AR tech is providing immersive, comprehensive training with zero risk - and without building expensive simulators. Again, BMW is working hard to be an early adopter of the technology. In April 2019, the company announced that it was increasing its focus on using AR at its Production Academy. According to the release, “the BMW Group trains managers, production planners, process leaders and quality specialists on the principles of lean production. As key communicators, training participants then pass on this knowledge on the shop floor.”
Who Will Be the Next Tech Giant to Back Bitcoin?
PayPal was the first truly major tech giant to throw its weight behind Bitcoin, unveiling a cryptocurrency buying-and-selling service in October. Next was Tesla, which shocked onlookers in February by announcing the purchase of $1.5 billion in bitcoin, as well as plans to accept the cryptocurrency as payment.
Since then, things have calmed down as far as Big Tech and Bitcoin are concerned (although a number of banks have rolled out cryptocurrency investment services for their wealthier clients). This raises the question: when will another significant tech firm take the plunge and back bitcoin?
This is a difficult question to answer, if only because the bitcoin market is in something of a funk right now. At the same time, regulators worldwide are looking to restrict crypto in the name of curbing money laundering and other illicit activities. Nonetheless, rumours continue to swirl through the sector that a few other important names in the tech industry may be on the cusp of embracing bitcoin, with Apple being the most notable.
Is Apple Buying Bitcoin?
If you tend to spend any amount of time on Crypto Twitter, you may be aware of rumours to the effect that Apple has recently bought something in the region of $2.5 billion in bitcoin.
Such rumours were almost certainly a desperate attempt to boost the price of bitcoin. And given that the market didn’t witness a sudden, dramatic rise (but rather a steep loss), it seems pretty clear that Apple didn’t buy a substantial quantity of bitcoin in the past few weeks or so.
That said, there remains a good chance that Apple will enter the cryptocurrency sector at some point, even if it won’t be adventurous enough to buy crypto for itself. Back in May, it placed a job ad for a business development manager for “alternative payments.”
Such a manager would be tasked with cultivating partnerships with “strategic alternative payment providers,” implying that Apple may be weighing up the possibility of launching its own cryptocurrency-purchasing service (à la PayPal) via Apple Pay.
Needless to say, it would be huge for Bitcoin and cryptocurrency if the Cupertino company were to follow through with this.
Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook?
Rumours have also revolved around possible bitcoin interest from Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, although there’s a little less substance to most of these rumours.
Back in October former Goldman Sachs hedge fund manager Raoul Pal predicted that Microsoft (along with Apple) would buy bitcoin in five years. Unfortunately, a CNN interview with Microsoft’s Brad Smith in February (shortly after Tesla’s bitcoin purchase) revealed that the company had no plans to purchase crypto, although Smith vaguely hinted that it might one day change its collective mind.
More interestingly, Amazon purchased three cryptocurrency-related domain names back in 2017: amazonethereum.com, amazoncryptocurrency.com, amazoncryptocurrencies.com. Nothing has been heard since then, while a job listing from February of this year revealed that the retail giant may be planning to launch its very own digital currency.
Facebook is another tech firm with plans for its own digital currency (Diem, formerly known as Libra). As for whether it’s likely to turn to bitcoin, a few relatively respected figures within the cryptocurrency industry (e.g. Alistair Milne) did spread rumours in April that the social media company would disclose bitcoin holdings on its Q1 financial statement. This didn’t happen, although Mark Zuckerberg did reveal in May that one of his pet goats is called “Bitcoin,” fuelling further speculation as to his and his firm’s interest in the cryptocurrency.
Risks and Rewards of Cryptocurrency
Again, it’s arguable that some or most of the rumours are generated largely to pump crypto prices. But if bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies do continue to appreciate in value and attract more adoption, it will become increasingly harder for large tech companies to ignore them.
But at the moment, it’s likely that most major tech firms will shy away from actually buying bitcoin, if only because it remains highly volatile and unpredictable as an asset. And as we saw with Tesla, buying a massive chunk of the cryptocurrency effectively turns you into a hedge fund overnight, something which can adversely affect your stock price if bitcoin goes down.
Even so, there’s clearly a considerable amount of money tied up in the cryptocurrency market. And with numbers of holders growing every year, it’s only a matter of time before other big tech firms attempt to siphon off some of this value for themselves.