AR is set to revolutionize how we work, where we work, and who can work, and the office is set to be forever transformed.
Unlike virtual reality (VR), which often has a higher barrier of entry due to its price and technology requirements, among other things, augmented reality (AR) has been the more accessible virtual world-related tech. More often than not, your smartphone is all you need to engage in an AR experience - think Snapchat filters, Pokemon Go, and Google Lens.
To recap, AR is the technology that uses a camera to capture the real world, after which computer images are superimposed over footage of the real world. With this mix of the real world and virtual images and models, we are able to interact with this hybrid of both.
With the global AR market projected to reach $3.6 billion by 2026, from $849 Million in 2019, at a CAGR of 27.6% during 2020-2026, we are seeing the technology take its first steps to becoming a venerable force in the tech industry.
Implementations are quite diverse. While we often associate AR with video games and social media filters, the technology has actually spilled over to many other fields. Among the most common of those at the moment involve where we work. While the tech is still in its infancy, it holds great potential for the future, and we already see startups like Spatial innovating its use in the office.
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Let's look at the recent Iron Man films, for example. In those movies, we see the main character controlling his entire lab by interacting with holographic images floating in the real world. Now picture this same scenario, carrying it over to the office.
First off, holographic projection is still not there yet, so to accommodate a virtual interface in the present day, you'll need to wear smart glasses connected (wired or otherwise) to a laptop to allow you view the AR imagery. With a combination of input tools like a keyboard, mouse, and even voice recognition and hand gestures, you'll be in control of a flexible, expandable workspace that you can shift and rearrange to your liking, even if you managed to get the short end of the stick when management assigned desks and offices.
With AR, you can upgrade your tiny cubicle into a virtual office worthy of a CEO.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Aside from a boost to productivity and an expanded workspace, think what this could mean for remote workers and employees with mobility challenges. Just as high latency internet speeds made telecommuting a feasible reality these past few years, improvement in VR tech will also provide a boost to employees opting to work from home. After all, being able to bring your office with you anywhere, and at a moment's notice, by simply booting up your laptop and connect a pair of smart glasses to it, could spell great change for how we work, where we work and who can work.
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Additionally, this will prove a boon to employers too. Just as we see companies cutting down on office space to cut costs as people work remotely during the pandemic, AR-deployable offices will further drive this trend, making many physical workspaces across the world obsolete. Twitter, for example, has already told its employees that they can work from home "forever."
While this technology certainly has some groundbreaking merits, there are some downsides to it. Already, we are seeing the problematic mental health issues that come with working remotely for extended periods of time. Loneliness and depression are just two of these issues.
While we often tend to complain about noisy or obnoxious coworkers at the office, we can forget the positive biological feedback that we subconsciously receive when interacting with our boss, colleagues and overall team, i.e. when socializing in general. There's a reason why water cooler chats and lunch breaks are such a staple of the corporate world, after all. Employees need a common space to rest and socialize, which is why some companies outright ban employees from having lunch at their desks.
Going forward, AR holds great potential, and will likely change the way we work forever. We just need to be wary about what we'd be losing in the process in terms of human contact.