Augmented reality gives physical world a virtual dimension

Screengrab of bus-stop augmented reality animation People who thought they were looking through a bus-stop window were treated to fantastical animations

For some it seems, the world is not enough.

Technology of Business

Physical objects are often static and dumb, offering little interactivity to the curious observer. Which is why the potential of augmented reality (AR) - virtual enhancement of the physical - is getting business excited.

Retailers, advertisers and industry are all now using the technology, which overlays computer-generated content - video, graphics, text, sound or GPS data - on to real-world images captured by smartphones, tablets and hi-tech glasses.

The results can sometimes be startling.

Pepsi Max's recent "Unbelievable" ad campaign, devised by agency AMV BBDO, made people waiting at a bus stop think they were seeing marauding giant robots, charging tigers and flying saucers in the street beyond.

The trick was achieved by rigging up a bus shelter in London's Oxford Street with a full HD screen and a camera on the opposite side to create a see-through effect. A live video feed of the street beyond was then overlaid with the animations.

Waiting passengers were amazed... and sometimes a little alarmed.

"The brief was simply to create an unbelievable experience in a public space," says Gregory Roekens, chief technology officer at AMV BBDO.

"The stunt was made possible using augmented reality technology and indeed we can say that in this instance AR opened up new creative possibilities."

Screen grab of Pespi Max video People saw flying saucers, rampaging robots and tigers supposedly coming towards them in the street

But Mr Roekens says that while AR will spread in advertising, it will never replace a good marketing idea.

"The key to this technology is that you've got to put the user at the centre of the experience, not the technology."

Virtual furnishing

So is AR just a gimmick? Retailers would seem to think otherwise.

Home furnishing giant Ikea, which has been blazing a trail in augmented reality catalogues, is so pleased with the customer response so far it has decided to expand its range of AR-scannable products.

Customers can flick through the 2014 catalogue, scan a product they like with their phones, then point the phone at where they'd like the furniture to sit.

A scaled image of the product is then virtually projected into the space - as seen through your camera viewfinder - so they can see if it's suitable.

Cameras show Ikea's augmented reality at work Ikea shoppers can see what furniture might look like in their homes

"The response to the catalogue's augmented reality innovations, particularly in the UK, has been tremendous," says Peter Wright, marketing manager for Ikea UK and Ireland.

"We started with 90 of our best-loved products, but due to overwhelming public demand we are more than tripling this number to 300 in our new catalogue."

And recently "clicks-and-bricks" retailer Argos introduced 300 pieces of AR content into its catalogue. Customers who have downloaded the Argos app on to their smartphones or tablets can scan the relevant pages to launch videos, 3D models, games and competitions.

Bertrand Bodson, chief digital officer at parent company Home Retail Group, says: "Building a bridge between our physical and digital channels remains a key priority for us."

The eyes have it

AR also has obvious potential in clothes retailing - being able to try on outfits, glasses and makeup virtually could save a lot of time and money.

Total Immersion's TryLive, for example, uses face-tracking technology to let consumers "try on" glasses virtually using their laptops without even having to visit a shop.

Promo pic of girl trying on virtual glasses Total Immersion's TryLive software enables shoppers to "try on" virtual glasses

The computer webcam displays your face on screen and the glasses are overlaid on the image in 3D, says Kamal Rassool, Total Immersion's sales director for the UK and Northern Europe.

Similarly, Fitting Reality offers a virtual changing room that allows shoppers to see on a TV or laptop screen what clothes might look like on their particular body shape.

The future of advertising?

According to Ori Inbar, chief executive and co-founder of AugmentedReality.org, AR is useful in marketing as it drives "deeper brand engagement than traditional advertising".

"Instead of just clicking on a link, liking a Facebook page or watching a commercial, customers interact with the actual product itself," he says.

For example, Blippar is an app that lets you scan products, posters or adverts with your smartphone to trigger interactive experiences on the screen.

Blippar app on smartphone Blippar's app brings inanimate images on products to life on your smartphone

"Blipp" your Oyster card and you get real-time travel updates; blipp a Pepsi can and you can play an interactive game incorporating the packaging; blipp a press ad and you get product information and purchasing options beamed back at you.

Ambarish Mitra, Blippar's founder and chief executive, says that AR apps can yield a huge amount of useful data for firms.

"Traditionally most marketing was 'spray and pray' - no-one could tell exactly how much traction an advertising campaign had.

"But with Blippar you can see exactly how consumers are interacting with a campaign. It's a key differentiator for marketers."

The factory floor

AR is also being used to make businesses run more effectively and efficiently.

VW XL1 viewed through tablet camera Volkswagen is using augmented reality techniques on its new XL1 hybrid car

Volkswagen, for example, has introduced its "mobile augmented reality technical assistance system" (Marta) - a tablet-based application to help mechanics, developed with AR technology firm Metaio.

By overlaying scaled 3D graphics on to a live camera feed, Marta takes you step-by-step though mechanical procedures on VW's XL1 hybrid car. It also lets you know which tools to use, labels parts, and even lets you try out new components, such as different-coloured hoods.

"Before, employees tended to be trained very narrowly on specific tasks," says Angela McIntyre, research director at technology research firm Gartner.

"But AR will allow workers to be trained and use several different types of equipment on the job as they go."

Hands-free AR solutions could make work even easier, as experiments by the software firm SAP and smart glasses provider Vuzix demonstrate.

At a trial at a Bosch warehouse in Germany, real-time information is made visible right before a worker's eyes as they go about their jobs.

This allows them to know where to pick inventory, receive alerts and instructions to handle maintenance, and to get safety messages to avoid accidents in blind spots, says SAP.

Point of view of warehouse worker showing on-screen instructions Bosch warehouse workers wearing augmented reality glasses can see instructions overlaid on their field of vision

Such technology could also make assembly, field installation, testing and machine tooling safer and more efficient. But Ms McIntyre stresses that most uses of AR technology in industry are still in their infancy.

"I think it could take three to five years until we see them used in manufacturing in a larger scale way."

AR asks an awkward question of society, too: will workers accept solutions that do so much thinking on their behalf?

Blippar's Mr Mitra is unperturbed. "AR is actually enhancing people's decision making, which is making them more efficient," he maintains.

"That has been the whole job of the consumerisation of computers over the last 30 years; our lives are becoming easier and faster and this is just the next step."

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    08:55: RBS RESULTS

    The chief executive of RBS, Ross McEwan, has told reporters that further branch closures are "inevitable", but he has not set a target number for closures.

     
  2.  
    08:44: RAIL RIP-OFF
    Rail Prices

    The Telegraph has been investigating the price of rail travel, and says it's uncovered a scandal. Passengers using station ticket machines, it claims, are offered widely varying fares by different train companies, and routinely denied the cheapest option. In some cases, a single journey can cost them more than £100 extra.

     
  3.  
    08:26: MARKETS UPDATE

    Predictably, the major European markets have opened with a spring in their step, thriving off the Bank of Japan's announcement earlier.

    • In London, the FTSE 100 is up 0.9% at 6523.07
    • In Frankfurt, the Dax is up 1.6% at 9261.44
    • In Paris, the Cac 40 is up 1.4% at 4198.96
     
  4.  
    08:24: RBS RESULTS

    Ross McEwan says RBS is in talks with regulatory authorities to settle investigations into the foreign exchange rate scandal. Traders at several banks are suspected of colluding to manipulate foreign exchange rates.

     
  5.  
    RBS RESULTS Via Twitter Adam Parsons Business Correspondent

    tweets: "RBS: "Realisticaly we still have some work to do" before paying a dividend"

     
  6.  
    08:15: AIRLINE UPGRADE
    British Airways

    International Airlines Group, the conglomerate made up of British Airways and Spain's Iberia, has reported a 30% rise in profits, and has upgraded its forecasts for the year. The company said it had been successful in controlling costs, helped by new fuel-efficient planes.

     
  7.  
    08:09: RBS

    Trading has just started on the markets in London. RBS shares are up about 2.7% so far.

     
  8.  
    08:02: RBS RESULTS BBC Breakfast
    Breakfast

    Kevin Doran, fund manager at Brown Shipley, says we could see the government sell some of its 80% stake in RBS within the next 12 months. The bank's current value is "very close to fair value", he says, so maybe a sale before the general election?

     
  9.  
    Via Twitter Jamie McGeever, markets correspondent at Reuters

    tweets: "One of the BOJ side-effects - gold falls to a 4-year low of $1,168"

     
  10.  
    07:48: JAPAN STIMULUS

    Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda says Japan is at a "critical moment" in its bid to conquer years of falling prices. "We can say the Japanese economy is now at a critical moment in its process of getting out of deflation," he told reporters in Tokyo. "The (easing) measures this time show the Bank of Japan's unwavering determination to exit deflation."

     
  11.  
    07:43: WWI DEBTS

    We've put a call in to the Treasury, asking them to whom the WWI repayments are being made. Do you know anyone who holds National War Bonds (or 4% Consols, as they were called after a refinancing)? Get in touch by emailing bizlive@bbc.co.uk or tweeting @BBCBusiness.

     
  12.  
    07:40: SONY SLUMPS

    Another important fact from Sony's results. The company is packing up its smartphone business in China.

     
  13.  
    07:35: WWI DEBTS
    South Sea Bubble

    Some of the debt being refinanced by the Treasury dates back to the 18th century, including the "capital stock of the South Sea Company originating in 1711", the collapse of which led to the South Sea Bubble financial crisis of 1720 - depicted by William Hogarth in above print. It's also paying for bonds issued in 1752 and used to finance the Napoleonic and Crimean Wars, the Slavery Abolition Act (1835) and the Irish Distress Loan (1847).

     
  14.  
    RBS RESULTS Via Twitter Douglas Fraser Business and economy editor, Scotland

    tweets: "RBS CEO Ross McEwan: "Still have a long list of conduct + litigation issues + much, much more to do to restore customers' trust"

     
  15.  
    07:27: WWI DEBTS BBC Radio 4

    Simon Jack on Today says paying off the WWI bonds will allow the chancellor to say he's paying off some of the UK's debt, but its pretty insignificant in terms of the overall debt pile. "It's looks good and sounds good," he says.

     
  16.  
    07:23: WWI DEBTS

    The Treasury has announced it is paying off some long-standing debts - dating from WWI, no less. It will redeem £218m of National War Bonds, issued in 1917, with a 5% interest rate. Around £2bn worth of the WWI debt will remain, but the government says it is "looking into the practicalities" of repaying it all.

     
  17.  
    07:17: RBS RESULTS
    RBS

    RBS warns that much more money could be paid out to cover things like the foreign exchange scandal: "Ongoing conduct and regulatory investigations and litigation continue to present challenges" it says, "and are expected to be a material drag on both earnings and capital generation over the coming quarters". It adds that the timing of further settlements or redress "remain uncertain and could be significant".

     
  18.  
    07:09: RBS RESULTS

    RBS has set aside £400m to cover potential fines for manipulating foreign exchange markets, and a further £100m to cover more PPI compensation claims.

     
  19.  
    Via Twitter Joel Hills, business editor at ITV News

    tweets: "Treasury to repay £218m of war debt + look at 'redeeming the entirety of...£2bn of outstanding First World War debts, in due course'."

     
  20.  
    07:05: RBS RESULTS

    RBS also confirms it plans to keep its Irish subsidiary, Ulster Bank. There had been speculation that the company was seeking a buyer for the division.

     
  21.  
    RBS RESULTS 07:02: Breaking News

    RBS reports pre-tax profits of £1.27bn for the three months to the end of September. It has also set aside £780m for litigation costs, including costs related to the foreign exchange rate scandal still being investigated by regulators.

     
  22.  
    06:57: DONUTS BBC Radio 4
    donuts

    Dunkin' Donuts is back in the UK after a 20-year break, Today reports, with five outlets opened this year. The chief executive Nigel Travis tells Simon Jack that its donuts are an "affordable indulgence". He says they offer things like low-fat ice cream and coffees for those who don't want the high-calorie stuff, but most people don't go for it.

     
  23.  
    06:52: SONY SLUMPS
    PS4

    Despite a whopping net loss, there's one bright spot for Sony: Sales of gaming devices are up 83% compared to last year, driven by the popularity of the PS4 console.

     
  24.  
    06:46: SONY SLUMPS
    Sony

    Amid all the jubilancy on the Asian markets, one Japanese company continues to have a rough ride. Sony reported a net loss of 136bn yen (£800m) for for the past quarter, up from a loss of 19.6bn yen (£110m) in the same period last year. The struggling electronic giant says this was largely down to an "impairment of goodwill" in its mobile communications division - that is a decline in the value of intangible assets, such as brand recognition, reputation and intellectual property.

     
  25.  
    06:41: JAPAN BOOSTS STIMULUS BBC World News

    Martin Shulz, a Japan analyst from Fujitsu Research, tells World Business Report that "Abenomics" - the economic policies of prime minister Shinzo Abe - isn't working. "Abenomics is in trouble, the economy isn't improving enough," he says.

     
  26.  
    06:40: RBS BBC Radio 4
    RBS

    Simon Jack's back presenting the news on the Today programme this morning, looking ahead to the RBS results later. Filippo Alloatti from Hermes Investment Management says the bank will probably announce more money set aside to cover PPI claims plus something like £300m-350m to cover fines or expenses relating to the foreign exchange trading scandal.

     
  27.  
    06:24: HALLOWEEN BBC World News
    Rico Hizon

    The Live Page's favourite business reporter Rico Hizon is sporting a black-on-black jacket and shirt combo with an orange tie this morning to celebrate Halloween. "Nothing is spooking the markets", he quipped on Radio 5 Live earlier.

     
  28.  
    06:22: ASIAN MARKETS

    The markets in Japan have now closed, and investors are grinning from ear-to-ear.

    • The Nikkei 225 index surged 4.9% to 16427.06 (highest since November 2007)
    • In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng rose 1.2%, ending at 23990.24

    Stocks in mainland China, India and South East Asia are also up.

     
  29.  
    06:15: JAPAN BOOSTS STIMULUS
    yen

    Here is how the yen reacted to the news from the Bank of Japan - down against the dollar to a six-year low.

     
  30.  
    06:07: JAPAN BOOSTS STIMULUS Radio 5 live

    The Bank of Japan's decision is an attempt to "recharge a fragile economic recovery" and it seems like Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "is getting desperate", our very own Rico Hizon tells Wake Up to Money. He adds that the move "weakened the Japanese Yen against the US Dollar to a level not seen for six years".

     
  31.  
    06:00: JAPAN BOOSTS STIMULUS
    Bank of Japan

    This will give you a sense of how surprising the Bank of Japan's decision to pump more money into the economy was. Bloomberg reports that only three of the 32 economists it had surveyed expected the Bank to ramp up its stimulus programme. In its statement, the BoJ says it was worried about "downward pressure on prices" - or lacklustre inflation, to you and me.

     
  32.  
    06:00: Edwin Lane Business reporter, BBC News

    We're also looking forward to results from Royal Bank of Scotland at 07:00. In May the bank - still 80% owned by us taxpayers - reported profits of £1.6bn, but warned of a tough year ahead. Get in touch with us on bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk or tweet us @BBCBusiness. You email it, we'll publish it. Probably.

     
  33.  
    06:00: Joe Miller Business Reporter

    Good morning. The Bank of Japan has unexpectedly announced a boost to its monetary stimulus programme, in an effort to revive the country's flagging economy. The decision caused Asian markets to soar, with the Nikkei reaching a 7-year high. More on that, and the rest of the morning's business headlines, to follow.

     

Features

From BBC Capital

Programmes

  • Francis Rossi, co-founder of band Status QuoHARDtalk Watch

    Status Quo's Francis Rossi explains how alcohol led him to take cocaine

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.