Augmented reality (AR) is one of those technologies that inspire futuristic visions of the world. AR blurs the line between the real and the digital worlds by allowing users to view the environment around them through a data-rich lens, literally seeing a digital interpretation of their physical surroundings. Using cameras and screens, or AR glasses, people can view the digital information associated with any object or structure, they can see air quality and other elements that would otherwise be invisible, and they can even see through walls. Like many futuristic technologies, the potential of AR is vast and undefined, but the technology is advancing quickly and adoption is already growing in the buildings industry.
“The digital transformation many industries experienced at the turn of the century never slowed down for facilities management (FM). New tools emerge and evolve every day to support today’s FM professionals, including computer-aided facilities management, building information modeling, and sophisticated property maintenance software platforms,” reads a recent Resonai report. “In 2021, AR represents the next step in the world of digital opportunities. A growing number of facility managers and technicians already leverage AR tools for development planning, real-time reporting, daily maintenance, and much more. More importantly, AR can build on the capabilities of existing digital tools to help facility managers leverage them more effectively.”
According to the Resonai survey, hospitals and medical facilities lead the AR adoption race with 30% of buildings in that vertical already applying the technology in some way. Manufacturing (26%), education (25%), offices (23%), and retail (22%), round off the adoption levels in other major building verticals. The 8% difference between these top five verticals demonstrates the widespread nature of the technology’s emergence, suggesting huge potential for the use of the technology across the buildings market. The survey reports that an impressive 73% of respondents who don’t currently use AR, intend to implement it in the next two years, suggesting we are on the cusp of an AR revolution in the buildings industry.
The use cases of AR in buildings are still evolving but some front runners are already emerging. Current uses for the technology include marketing (20%), industrial manufacturing (18%), and smart maintenance (12%), according to the report. However, the maintenance segment is showing the greatest promise with 49% of respondents perceiving maintenance automation as the primary benefit and preventative maintenance (45%) as the next. AR-enabled training systems (38%) are seen as the third biggest reason for AR adoption, with retail giants like Walmart already implementing AR staff tutorials. The events of the COVID-19 pandemic are also driving use cases that support the safe and healthy return to the workplace.
“With the global COVID-19 pandemic top-of-mind for most respondents, many FM professionals are focused on solutions that can help ensure their facilities remain operational and that guests feel safe whenever they’re able to return,” the report continues. “The promise of smart maintenance and repairs (45%) that can help cut down repair times while keeping health & safety prioritized for both visitors and maintenance teams see the greatest anticipated adoption. In the same vein, tenant & visitor services (40%) and indoor navigation & wayfinding (38%) follows shortly thereafter.”
There are barriers to AR adoption too, of course. As much as 40% of the respondents believe that AR platforms are too expensive to acquire and set up, and 38% worry they don’t have the internal skills to manage the technology, according to the survey. Other obstacles, including low demand, high complexity, and the lack of specific use cases are also mentioned as issues that could hold back AR adoption. There is also the unknown element of the legal environment this new technology would operate in, in this case it seems likely that AR adoption would be followed by issues that would force a legal framework to be retrospectively applied.
“The elephant in the room is what you can and cannot do with AR, and that rolls into the legal world. There are no specific regulations dealing with AR per se; there is no play book. Having the answers is not where we are; most of us have not even thought of the questions,” says Darren Williamson, head of real estate at Freeths. “If you own a building, how do you monitor what people are doing to it in the AR world? Do you care? If you do care, what can you do about it? Those who look to get ahead of these questions now will be those that benefit the most from such technology. It is important to be quick, as it is not going to be sci-fi for much longer.”
The foundation for AR in buildings has already been laid by the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), which provides the sensory data that AR can feed off. So, for the many smart buildings that are already sensor-rich and equipped with advanced network infrastructure, AR is only one technological step away. These smart buildings with AR aspirations will be the pioneers of the emerging technology, reaping the competitive advantages while also unearthing the unknown pitfalls. The next few years will see the early stages of the AR story unfolding in smart buildings and, if the technology lives up to the hype, any barriers will quickly be overcome to create this unprecedented bridge between the real and physical worlds.
“AR has come a long way since its first implementations in gaming and entertainment. As buildings become smarter and the digital and physical worlds become one, building owners and facilities managers are turning to AR and AI for everything from improved maintenance to indoor navigation,” said Emil Alon, CEO and founder of Resonai. “AR is on the rise, and its use by facilities managers and property owners to streamline their operations, boost tenant experiences and improve their businesses in other meaningful ways will increase rapidly in the very near future.”