"Augmented reality... will transform the global enterprise and the way work is done in the future, in nearly every imaginable way," said Atheer Labs CEO Alberto Torres in a recent email interview. "From the warehouse floor to the operating room," augmented reality "will unlock human productivity and enable faster, safer, and smarter workflows for everyone."
Augmented reality is a direct or indirect view of a physical environment whose elements are "augmented" or enhanced by computer-generated input such as audio, video, graphics, or locational data.
In the near future, added Torres, "users in the industrial workforce will leverage powerful technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, IoT (Internet of Things), and the Physical Web to enhance their capabilities well beyond those of an unconnected worker or a standalone machine."
Based in Mountain View, Calif., Atheer Labs provides a 3D augmented reality platform with gesture-based interaction for enterprise customers in the medical, oil and gas, and industrial verticals. Atheer's platform consists of its AiR Smart Glasses and AiR OS. The company also provides a developer kit, the AiR DK2.
Also, in this Q&A, Torres shares the company's take on the demise of Google Glass in the consumer market, talks about industries in which augmented reality is seeing traction, and what led him to accept the CEO post at Atheer Labs in 2014.
TechRepublic: What potential does augmented reality technology have to disrupt and transform enterprises? What changes could we possibly see within five to fifteen years?
Alberto Torres: Augmented reality — and in particular, Augmented interactive Reality (AiR) — will transform the global enterprise and the way work is done in the future, in nearly every imaginable way. From the warehouse floor to the operating room, AiR will unlock human productivity and enable faster, safer and smarter workflows for everyone.
In a warehousing logistics scenario, for instance, workers equipped with AiR devices could optimize the workflow of every pallet build, from picking order to item stacking, regardless of past warehousing experience. In an industry such as oil and gas, where human error can lead to disastrous consequences, equipping field workers with AiR devices while performing safety checks could mean the difference between life and death. AiR devices utilized for medical applications will enable professionals to take the next step in patient care. Doctors equipped with AiR smart glasses will have unprecedented access to patient data and unfettered access to communications, enabling smarter, timelier, and more impactful patient care.
This is not some futuristic scenario. This is a reality today.
Looking forward five to fifteen years, the power of smart glasses really shines as the world becomes more connected and coordinated. With the AiR system of the future, users in the industrial workforce will leverage powerful technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, IoT and the Physical Web to enhance their capabilities well beyond those of an unconnected worker or a standalone machine. For the coming generations, AiR technology is poised to completely change the way we interact with all types of computers, our peers, and the connected environment at large.
TechRepublic: Why is it that Google Glass did not fare well in the consumer marketplace, and what can a B2B-oriented firm like yours learn from that?
Alberto Torres: The arrival of Google Glass was a turning point for augmented reality — one that signaled a promising future for smart glasses, a technology which had previously been considered by many as "aspirational" or "ahead of its time" at best. When a company like Google announces a project like Glass, the future appears much closer all of a sudden.
However, introducing the world to an entirely new class of technology is no easy feat, especially if your initial target market is mainstream consumers. Long story short, consumers have remarkably high expectations and — as Google found out first hand — meeting them, universally and on day one is nearly impossible. In this case particularly, those expectations were amplified by the considerable hype surrounding Glass, making customer expectations an even higher bar to meet. Then there was the $1,500 price tag.
The result: earlier this year, Google shut down the Google Glass Explorer Program. When this happened, the team at Atheer wasn't the least bit surprised.
While we firmly believe that smart glasses will be widely adopted by consumers in the long run, we recognized these challenges early, and identified the enterprise as the most natural starting point for smart glasses technology adoption. Just as mobile phones arrived on job sites more than a decade before replacing landlines, we saw augmented reality through smart glasses as a technology that would be following a similar trajectory.
The lesson learned is that when it comes to introducing an entirely new device category — especially one that requires behavioral changes like smart glasses — finding high-value use cases is the key. As we have discovered since launching Atheer, these use cases can be found at every corner of the enterprise, because there are a variety of mission-critical job functions that are not able to fully leverage today's digital technology in a matter that enriches their work.
TechRepublic: In what industries do you expect to see mobile 3D platforms have a more immediate impact?
Alberto Torres: While the applications for AiR are limitless, we are seeing considerable traction in the industrial, medical and oil & gas segments. These are areas where high-value assets need regular attention and AiR can provide an immediate impact with high returns.
Doctors in many of today's modern medical facilities use tablets for everything from triage to surgery in order to access information; however, touch-screen devices like the iPad are not practical in the many situations where medical professionals wear gloves and are in sterile environments. Atheer's hands-free gesture platform allows healthcare professionals to access vital medical information without physically touching a screen or interface. Not only does our technology improve workflows for healthcare professionals, but it also prevents contamination and eliminates the downtime of scrubbing in and out to access information on a computer.
In the industrial sector, Atheer's large, natural interaction display allows users to more easily view and complete tasks, as well as access step-by-step instructions, analytical data, instructional videos, images, emails, and more. Atheer's precise, mobile-optimized gesture recognition software allows the user to interact with things like 3D blueprints of structures and equipment. Users can also live-stream their point-of-view to get expert support and receive feedback in real time. All of these applications are highly valuable in construction, heavy machinery, and other industrial workplaces that place a premium on workers' hands being readily available, and on enabling the worker on the ground to get the job done right the first time.
In the Oil, Gas and Petrochemical industries, having the best tools to minimize down-time of high-value assets is critical. Atheer AiR delivers the compelling benefits of productivity and safety to the mobile Oil & Gas workforce. Workers in this industry typically wear gloves, drill mud, have greasy hands, and other issues making it impossible for them to efficiently use a tablet. Atheer's hands-free gesture-based platform allows workers in these fields to work more seamlessly and safely by allowing them to access critical data without having to physically touch a device.
TechRepublic: What are the things are really define Atheer Labs' technology? How to do want to innovate over the next several years?
Alberto Torres: Atheer is the industry's only mobile, gesture-based AiR computing platform, designed with the enterprise customer in mind. Enterprises and the mobile workforce of today require portability, natural data interaction, immersive displays, and extensive ecosystem support. We believe that the Atheer AiR platform stands alone in uniquely delivering on all of these requirements.
Our smart glasses are the industry's only mobile, gesture-controlled see-through smart glasses. Users can see critical workflow information overlaid onto the real world, interact with it in a natural way, and collaborate with peers like never before.
Currently, the AiR platform is available to companies and independent software vendors around the world developing applications for the enterprise in these sectors. We are continuing to expand our platform by working directly with our enterprise customers to create a product that has practical, real-world implications.
TechRepublic: What attracted you about the opportunity to become CEO at Atheer Labs last year?
Alberto Torres: Having spent many years in the mobile space, including my time with Nokia, I was most attracted to Atheer Labs, because I believe that hands-free, AiR computing is going to revolutionize the world of computing. It is a game-changing paradigm shift in human-computer interaction and mobility. Adding rich digital information within the context of real-world scenarios, opens up possibilities for unprecedented collaboration and knowledge.
AiR promises to be a powerful enabler of true change across many different industries. Atheer is at the forefront of the industry from both a technology development and vision standpoints. We are in the right space, at the right time.
TechRepublic: Having secured a new round of funding in February, what are your main goals for the remainder of 2015?
Alberto Torres: We've spent the past few years developing the ground-breaking AiR platform, refining our patented gesture technologies, and conducting pilots with Fortune 500 companies within the Medical, Industrial, Oil & Gas fields. For the remainder of 2015, we are continuing to expand our AiR Pilot program, creating next-generation productivity applications, and working towards a wide commercial release of the Atheer AiR Smart Glasses.
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Brian Taylor is a contributing writer for TechRepublic. He covers the tech trends, solutions, risks, and research that IT leaders need to know about, from startups to the enterprise. Technology is creating a new world, and he loves to report on it.