How to Start an Augmented Reality Business


Augmented reality, or AR, has been making its way into our lives in recent years.  You might be wondering how to start an augmented reality business, in order to take advantage of this trend.

To start an augmented reality (AR) business, you will need a problem that can be solved with AR, a solution method, and a way to develop your solution.

Before we get into all that, let’s start off with the basics: what is AR, how is it being used today, and what are some potential uses of the technology?

What is Augmented Reality?

Before we get to augmented reality (AR), let’s think about how two parts come together to make a whole.  Close your left eye, and keep your head still.  Take note of the object furthest to your left that you can see.  Now, open your left eye, and close your right eye.

You should still be able to see that object, but also further to the left of that.  Thus, each eye presents a different view by itself.  Putting them both together yields a more complete picture.  So it is with AR.

You might also think about tinted lenses.  If you put on both blue and yellow tinted glasses at the same time, you should see things in a shade of green (blue + yellow = green!).

AR and Layers

The key to understanding augmented reality is to think in terms of layers.  The base layer is reality itself – that is, what we can see without a computer or screen.

A computer can then generate one or more layers of information or images to put on top of the base layer (reality) to create an “augmented” version of reality.

Example

First, you look at a half-finished building, where the first floor is completed but the second floor is bare frame.  This is the “base layer”, or reality itself.

Then, you look at the building through some type of AR device, and you see the completed building.  The AR system creates a layer to complete the second floor, and then adds this layer on top of the existing building.

This shows you what the building might look like in a few months, after construction is complete.

As you can imagine, this type of technology can be applied to many real-world situations, to give you a preview of what things will look like before you spend the time and money to build them.

What about Virtual Reality?

You might call virtual reality (VR) a cousin of augmented reality, but they are not the same thing.

In a virtual reality experience, you wear a device (usually a set of goggles) that completely blocks out the real world.  Instead, the goggles show you computer generated images, presenting you with a simulated, or virtual, reality.

On the other hand, augmented reality does not block out the real world, but instead builds upon it.  You could say that augmented reality is only partially simulated, while virtual reality is fully simulated.

Current State of Augmented Reality

Currently, augmented reality is used in many areas of our lives.  You may be aware of some of them, and others might sneak by unnoticed.

The following should give you an idea of the current uses of AR.  It might also provide you with some inspiration for your own business ideas!

Sports

Augmented reality has been hiding right under your nose (maybe in your beer) while you were watching NFL games!  Think about the yellow line you see on the field when you watch the game on television.

This yellow line denotes the “first down line”, which the offense needs to reach or surpass to make first down.  The football game, including the field, players, and ball, make up reality, and the yellow line is computer generated, augmenting the reality of the game.

Teams have also used virtual reality applications to put players into situations that they could normally only experience in a real NFL game.  They can then think about what they would do in that situation if it ever came up, and reduce reaction time in real life (a rookie quarterback being blitzed comes to mind!)

You can imagine MLB using AR technology to show the strike zone for different batters.  Will this type of tech replace umpires?  At the risk of being ejected from the game, I would say that it is quite possible!

Social Media and Games

There are already some applications of AR in social media and games.  For instance, you’ve probably seen one of the many filters (or lenses) available on SnapChat.  As with any AR application, these take a real image or video and create an overlay to make the image or video look different.

Pokemon Go is another recent example that took the world by storm.  Again, you look at the real world through your phone, and the game creates an overlay that shows you a Pokemon that you can try to capture.

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset developed by Oculus VR, a company that was acquired by Facebook.  It is mainly a gaming device, although as stated earlier, VR is not exactly the same as AR.

Shopping

Of course, AR has seen its share of applications in the world of commerce.  I’m sure you’ve heard of IKEA, but have you heard about their AR app?  Ikea Place is an AR app that allows you to “preview” furniture in your home before you buy.

This can help you to avoid items that are too large to fit into an area.  It can also allow you to check for matching or clashing colors, and to see how much space you will have left if an item fits your space.

Not to be outdone, Amazon has gotten into the AR game as well.  Amazon AR View allows you to shop for all kinds of items, and see how they look in your home before you buy.

Amazon and IKEA may have incurred some cost in developing these applications.  However, they will likely more than make up for it in improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.

What’s more, as time goes on, these kinds of AR applications may become commonplace, meaning that consumers will come to expect them.  Instead of companies that offer AR apps gaining an advantage, we will see a shift to an environment where not offering an AR app is a nonstarter.

Case in point: both Home Depot and Lowe’s have also developed AR apps to help customers to see how a purchase will look and fit into their homes.

Other Applications

Google Glass, which had some public relations issues when it was first released, has been rebranded to some extent.  It is being used, in part, to help hands-on workers (assembly line employees, for instance) to work more safely and quickly.

Microsoft produced something similar with the HoloLens, a holographic computer and head-mounted display.

Look for these and similar items to be incorporated into training for employees, either on the job or at home.

Potential Uses of Augmented Reality

In addition to the existing uses of augmented reality, mentioned above, there are tons of potential uses for the technology.

Some of these are in their infancy, and others are barely established.  Either way, you might be able to build a business around one or more of these ideas.

Training & Education

The internet has revolutionized the way we deliver and participate in education.  (For more information, check out my article on the benefits of distance learning.)

It stands to reason that augmented reality could have a similar impact on training and education.  For example, think about all the ways you could change how material is presented.

Instead of being boring and two dimensional, you could immerse yourself in the educational experience, using AR and VR technology.

One potential use is in medical training.

Example

In a nursing or medical classroom with a human skeleton, you could use an AR app that can overlay the circulatory system, nervous system, muscles, tendons, ligaments, organs, skin, and any other systems you want to isolate.

You could check off a box to decide which overlays you want to see, and view any possible combination at a given time.

Seeing all of this in 3D would help to give students a better sense of where everything is located in the body, rather than a “textbook” idea.

In addition, students could isolate a single system to study it more closely, or look at two overlays at the same time, to see how they interact.

Another potential use is in training for contractors and professionals such as masons, ironworkers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and HVAC contractors.

Example

On a job site with an empty lot (or a partially constructed) building, an app could show an overlay for each of the parts needed to construct a building.

Apprentices in each of the trades could then learn about how their work fits into the bigger picture, and how it will progress.

The masons can see where the brick will be laid down, and what the finished product will look like, before they even begin.

The ironworkers and carpenters can see where they will need staging to do their work.

Electricians, plumbers, and HVAC contractors can see where they will need access during the project, and communicate this to carpenters and others.

All of this would allow the project to progress more smoothly, since a frequent hang-up is when one group (e.g. carpenters) needs to wait for another group (e.g. electricians) to finish their work before proceeding.

In addition to seeing a “finished product”, the AR overlay could show various stages of completion for each trade, also giving a time estimate for completion of each stage.

Real Estate

Augmented reality could change many aspects of real estate, including buying, selling, renovating, and renting.

Example

A buyer or renter could see what a house or apartment would look like with his furniture inside, without the need to visit the apartment or even take measurements!

A new home buyer or renter could also decorate with an AR app.  First, he would scan items into his phone.  Then, he would place items around the room within the app, to get the perfect setup – without all the hassle of moving things around to make minor (or major!) adjustments.

Another idea: an AR app for home “staging”.  A smart businessman could make quite a bit of money in this way.

First, he scans high-end items into a phone or computer to get digital 3D images of these items.  Next, he develops an AR app that will overlay these items into a person’s home.

Then, he charges the home seller a small fee to license each digital item for an AR home staging.  A home seller can then stage his home for a fraction of the cost of buying or renting such items.  When buyers walk through, they will see the home as the base layer, and the staged furniture as the virtual layer.

On the other end, a home buyer who likes what he sees can order these same high-end items, earning an affiliate commission for the AR app developer.  You could earn income from both buyer and seller on the same home sale – not even banks or real estate agents can do that!

You could even hire a home staging professional and contract his services to any home sellers who are not confident in their own abilities.

As far as renovating goes, you could create an app that shows an overlay of what each room will look like when completed.  This would depend on the materials used, but you might be able to work with manufacturers to partner on this idea.

You can also add an app feature that helps to make sure that a particular fixture or piece of furniture will fit in a newly renovated room.

Product Assembly

Are you annoyed by “some assembly required”?  Well, augmented reality may be able to relieve some of your frustration.

An AR app that can create an overlay of what a finished product looks like, along with the intermediate steps for assembly, can help even the most clueless craftsman to put the pieces together.

Store Catalogs

As mentioned before, Amazon, IKEA, Home Depot, and Lowe’s have already started to get into this game.

An AR app for an online store catalog would allow a consumer to see how an item will look in his home, without the hassle of buying and returning.  In addition, a consumer could make sure that the item will fit, and make sure he is buying the right size for item in the first place.

This type of catalog could have multiple overlays, so that you could pair two items together to see if they match, or even more items to decorate an entire room.

This app would also allow someone who wants to work as a home staging professional to practice his art (remember the real estate staging example above?)

Military

The military could use AR for various applications, including overlays to show enemy combatants and buildings.  These AR displays could also show the best way to approach an enemy position, based on available cover and the enemy’s capabilities.

Soldiers could also see various overlays of their equipment to get a better sense of how it is made, how it works, how it could malfunction, and how to fix it.  If the government is going to spend millions and billions to develop technology, they are going to make the investment to teach people how to use it properly!

In addition, AR overlays could also be used in training exercises for drivers, divers, and pilots to prepare them for the real thing.

Virtual Meetings

Instead of ordinary Skype calls, you could use an AR app to see a colleague in the same room as you, sitting in a chair or standing right next to you.  This could be rendered from previously stored images and video of the person, or an AR image created by the app that takes video from Skype.

On the other end of the call, the person participating in a remote meeting will feel as if he is in the meeting room.  Cameras in the meeting room could send data to the app, which could then render an overlay that would look like the meeting room when viewed on a smartphone or tablet screen.

How to Start an Augmented Reality Business

To start an augmented reality business, you could use some of the ideas above, or apply AR to some of the ideas discussed below.  Remember that all you need is a problem and a way to solve it.  The tricky part is to develop your solution – you might need to learn some new skills, hire some people, or both!

Restaurant/Club/Bar

There are really two possibilities here: bring the person to the club, or bring the club to the person.

In both options, people could choose from various overlays:

  • a classic 50’s diner
  • a hippie 60’s hangout
  • a disco 70’s dance club
  • an awesome 80’s bar
  • a 90’s club scene
  • use your imagination!

Visitors could choose the volume level, music, and even decide how crowded the bar is by adding or removing virtual patrons!  If you get tired of one scene, you can switch to another without even driving!

Marketing & Advertising

Many aspects of marketing and advertising could be customized and optimized.  This would improve return on investment for advertisers, and improve the experience for audiences.

For example, if a customer is looking at a billboard through a smartphone or tablet, an overlay with a customized advertisement would appear.  The advertisement would be targeted to the customer, and would include some type of coupon or incentive.

At movie theaters, audience members would receive a set of “eyes and ears” (glasses and headphones) so that they could see and hear customized advertisements and offers before the show.  Everyone would still watch the same movie, but advertisers could reach the right audience by asking questions and tailoring their approach.

Therapy

A big part of some therapy is helping people to face and overcome their fears.  One method is gradually increasing exposure to the thing that causes fear or anxiety.

An AR app would be perfect for this.  For someone with arachnophobia, you would present an overlay that shows a small, harmless, dead spider to begin with.  You could then work your way up to bigger spiders that are actually alive and moving.

The whole time, you would know that you can’t possibly be harmed by the spider.  This would prepare many people for the real thing when the time came.

Another possibility is to create an overlay with an audience for people who are afraid of public speaking and presenting (many people fall into this category!).  By simulating an audience, without any risk of embarrassment, would-be orators can practice until they become comfortable in front of a virtual crowd.

Museums

Museums could also create astounding displays by showing various overlays to add new dimensions to old exhibits.

For example, an overlay could show what an ancient animal might have looked like, instead of just the bones that are left behind.  This would be much more economical than creating a scale model, both in terms of time, money, and physical space in the museum!

Another exhibit could create an overlay that shows how ancient humans or other creatures interacted with their environments.  Museum patrons could adjust the time of day, season, and other factors to see how things changed over time.

Libraries

Every library could have an AR app that would read the Dewey Decimal code on a book, and show an overlay that highlights what people enjoyed about the book (such as their favorite chapters), what other similar books people read (like Amazon’s suggestions), and how long it takes to read each chapter.

Training and Simulation

Augmented reality could have some very interesting applications in simulations to train police, firefighters, paramedics, hazard cleanup teams, and other emergency personnel.  Using AR instead of real-life simulations would significantly reduce training costs.

For example, an AR app could create an overlay to simulate various situations: hostages, drunken or aggressive people, and even routine traffic stops.  As officers complete basic training, more overlays can be added to increase the challenge of the situation.

Investor Pitches

Augmented reality could make investor pitches easier – even remote presentations!  An entrepreneur could easily present images of the products that his business produces, showing various overlays to show how the products are made, and what each part costs.

He could also show statistics in the form of charts and graphs, to answer investor questions about business performance.  This would make it easier for the entrepreneur to walk investors through the details of the company.

Medicine

There are many potential uses of AR in medicine.  As mentioned earlier, students can study the human body and its systems more easily.  They can also see overlays to show how surgery works at different levels.

In addition, researchers could use overlays to gain a better understanding of chemicals or drugs and their molecular structure.

Landscaping

Both homeowners and landscape designers would benefit from an AR app that shows an overlay with various plants, shrubs, and trees in the yard.  This app could also have a time lapse, which would show how quickly the trees and shrubs would grow over the years.

Maps

AR could make maps come alive, with several layers that can be added separately or together on top of a base map.

Additional layers could include things like:

  • restaurants (with symbols for well-known ones in 3D above the map!)
  • grocery stores
  • roads that are closed, congested, or under construction
  • parking garages
  • storage units
  • available houses and rental units
  • historic sites and buildings
  • landmarks
  • national, state, and local parks

The potential is limited only by your imagination!

Ways to Develop Your Augmented Reality Solution

There are already many tools out there to help you develop your AR solution.  Some of these are listed below, with a brief description of each.  Note that some are general-purpose AR development tools, while others are for a specific purpose (e.g. LiveTour for 360-degree tours).

LiveTour

With this app, you mount your smartphone on a rotating platform.  The phone then captures an image of everything around it, and the images are combined to create a 360 degree tour.  You can check it out on istaging.com.

This could be used to create 3D tours of restaurants, museums and historic sites, and of course, real estate!  Note that this is more of a “VR” than an “AR” application, but it might be a starting point if you are looking to get into the real estate tours space.

Zapworks

This is a more general AR development tool, from the company Zappar.  Zapcodes, similar to QR codes, allow users to experience your AR creations.  Zapworks also offer a studio where you can customize your AR project using a scripting language (Javascript-based).

If you are not comfortable with your technical chops and don’t know where to start with hiring someone, don’t worry!  Zapworks has an in-house team that can work to bring your vision to life.

ARCore

With Google’s ARCore, you can develop in Java, Unity, Unreal, and iOS to create your augmented reality experience.  This is probably only for you if you want to get very technical and into the weeds.  However, this also means that you would have more freedom to customize your solution.

Amazon Sumerian

This platform doesn’t require technical skill like ARCore would.  You can create AR experiences that can run on devices like the Oculus Rift (mentioned earlier), Oculus Go, and iOS or Android mobile devices.

Apple ARKit

Apple also has a tool to build AR experiences – are you really that surprised?  You can get some inspiration for your own AR app on the app store before you start brainstorming and building.

Conclusion

I hope this article gave you some ideas for getting started with your own augmented reality business.

If you are ready to go and need to hire some help, check out my article on how to hire remote employees.

Please leave any questions or comments below.

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