Through the enterprise looking glasses: SAP integrates with augmented reality startups

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by Mark Bünger

Lux Research recently spoke at the SAP Startup Focus on Augmented Reality (AR) in Palo Alto, California. The SAP Startup Focus program provides expertise and software to 3,000 startups in fields ranging from consumer products to military, utilities, and energy. At the event, four AR startups pitched to a panel that included Nestle’s VP of Digital Services, Goran Kukic; as well as three SAP executives responsible for sports and entertainment; manufacturing, energy, and natural resources; and mobile applications. SAP told us that each of the four startups are “current members or are in discussion with SAP Startup Focus to bring SAP HANA into augmented reality product architecture and ultimately bring that new capability to SAP’s enterprise customers.” While response time is important in any application, it’s obviously critical in the real time environment of AR; addressing this need for speed, SAP added that as an in-memory platform, SAP HANA “can quickly provide users with immersive insight ‘in the wild’.”

Among the AR startups pitching to the panel were:

  • NGRAIN. NGRAIN claimed that AR/VR leads to 2x knowledge retention, 30% faster maintenance completion, and 90% correct first-time activities by augmented workers. As an illustration, the company demonstrated how an AR device (goggles or tablet) can compare what the object before them looks like to a reference diagram based on CAD files, and thus quickly identify deviations that require attention. The company is building augmented reality applications in manufacturing with Boeing, connecting the wearable device with enterprise systems to facilitate automated inspection.
  • Blippar. Blippar is a “visual discovery platform” started in the U.K., with the goal of becoming the leading visual browser to “give you more from the world you see.” She called it not the internet of things, but the internet on things – a layer of digital information overlaid on the real world. By that, it means to augment visual experiences and data sources, like looking at consumer product packaging – and cited work with Pepsi, Perrier, and Jaguar as examples. The software is device agnostic, and can use a smartphone’s camera and screen as well as a wearable interface like AR goggles. As a compelling example, she launched the app on her phone and pointed to audience members, her computer, and even a piece of pizza from the appetizer bar before the presentations started. In real time, the interface overlaid a live, bubbling word cloud – overlaying the live image of the audience with dozens of words like many people, or the pizza with food, delicious, and meat. She even showed how an anatomical drawing of a heart could call up a 3D model that she could rotate, and see blood flow. As an example of branded interactivity, she pointed the camera at the Star Wars logo, which launched an AR game in which she could shoot at TIE fighters and x-wings as they flew around the room. Blippar is working with SAP to integrate the real-world interaction they capture with HANA enterprise data, for purposes like interpreting customer behavior in a retail setting.
  • Atheer. Atheer AiR ran demos of its augmented reality gesture and visual interfaces, before and during the presentations. CEO Alberto Torres talked about AR as the future of the interface, trumping virtual reality but integrating with voice. He gave examples of EPRI and Duke Energy in industrial, Zurich in insurance, Flex in construction, and Masimo in health care (claiming to have reduced the cost of complex surgery by $1,500 per operation, and enabled faster task completion, with reduced downtime and errors). As a simple example of a time-saving action, he demonstrated how the glasses can detect a user making a “picture frame” gesture with their fingers, and use that as a trigger to take a photograph. He also talked about how passively documenting activities through the glasses’ camera could help one of his clients improve inspector productivity by 30%, based on the reduced amount of time the people spent writing up the results of an inspection. He called his target market the 110 million “deskless” professionals in a variety of industries; the company is starting with high-end personnel repairing complex equipment, gradually expanding into fields like appliance repair.
  • Zugara. Zugara is working on linking electronic, mobile, and physical retail; it cited statistics that conversion rates for a customer in a physical dressing room are as high as 70%, while online conversions are single digit. The company makes kiosks that allow consumers to try on virtual garments, as well as other in-store and mobile applications. The company’s clients include Aramark, Major League Baseball (MLB), Coach, and Crayola, and it counts Samsung, Intel, and Microsoft as partners. With Aramark and MLB, Zugara set up kiosks in storefronts that allowed potential customers to “try on” articles of clothing that were located in the back of the store, where casual browsers might not have found them. For Crayola, the company devised a system whereby children used crayons to draw pictures of clothing; then Zugara converted the drawing into a virtual model that the children could try on and “wear.”

Although AR devices have struggled to find traction with consumers outside of entertainment applications like gaming, the opportunities are easier to see in enterprise systems. 2016 will be a watershed year in AR, as today’s relatively isolated islands integrate with enterprise data and other wearable and ambient user interfaces, such as gestures, haptics, and voice. In the years beyond, we expect AR to become even more useful and mainstream by integrating still more abilities: edge computing will bring artificial intelligence to the device, improving image recognition and natural language processing. Those systems in turn will feed even bigger data to enterprise systems like SAP HANA, advancing intelligent manufacturing initiatives like Industrie4.0 and distributed manufacturing.

Despite Google Glass’s evident failure, astonishing visualization still dominates AR hype, with Microsoft Hololens and Magic Leap stealing most of the glory. But clients looking to improve worker productivity in factories, oil fields, and stores should look beyond the stunning user experience of the novel AR technology: that novelty will taper, and when it wears off, soon, companies will need to have succeeded in enterprise integration to reap business benefits.

Mark Bünger is a Vice President at Lux Research.  Lux Research provides strategic advice and ongoing intelligence for emerging technologies. Leaders in business, finance and government rely on Lux to help them make informed strategic decisions. Through their unique research approach focused on primary research and their extensive global network, they deliver insight, connections and competitive advantage to their clients.