Augmented reality, sometimes confused with virtual reality, is a solution more and more willingly used in major – and even traditional – industries such as manufacturing, construction, automotive, energy, pharmaceutical, machinery, chemical, and many others. Together with virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT), AR is mentioned as one of the fastest developing technologies (see its practical applications).
To make the most of augmented reality, you’ll need an AR device, most commonly referred to as AR smart glasses. The solutions available vary in terms of their look, performance, compatible accessories, and, naturally, price. Their multitude helps to answer market needs as various companies perform their processes in diverse conditions. Which features will be key in your business?
Won’t a smartphone or tablet be enough?
Before we move to the core aspects of AR glasses, let’s answer one pertinent question: why can’t we simply use widely available mobile devices? The fact is smartphones and tablets can support augmented reality applications and platforms, and as such, are a good way to start and check out whether augmented reality is what our company needs.
However, to fully benefit from the potential of the technology, AR glasses will be indispensable. With handheld devices, you can access some augmented reality functionalities but they don’t provide an immersive experience and can’t be operated hands-free, which is crucial for example when working in the field. Additionally, the most common phones and tablets are more vulnerable to damage, e.g. being dropped on the ground (some AR glasses undergo 1- or 2-meter drop tests on concrete) and aren’t designed to withstand high temperatures, dust, high humidity – so their usage is limited.
5 things to consider before making an AR device investment
The decision on which model to choose depends to a large extent on the work environment conditions and planned scope of work. Unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all device, perfect in every way. Some glasses are more suitable for prolonged use than others, while particular models stand out with their robustness, attention to detail, or fine camera. What should you know before taking the final decision?
1. Where will the AR glasses be used?
Not all models available on the market are designed for working in the most demanding conditions. If you’re going to use your glasses outdoors, in high humidity (or even rain), loud noise, low light, high or low temperature, or potentially explosive zones you should consider industrial-grade AR glasses. Only some models meet the highest standards or are water and dust-resistant. If that’s your case, consider the RealWear device family, especially the newest RealWear Navigator 500 or HMT-1Z1 that presents no ignition risks in hazardous areas per Class 1 Division 1 and ATEX/IECEx Zone 1 certifications. It can be used in the presence of explosive gases in the atmosphere, such as mines.
2. What will it be used for?
Will you use the glasses for training, remote support, or remote service procedures? If you need exceptional image quality, where the tiniest details are visible, check out HoloLens 2. It offers an unrivaled experience with 3D holograms and interactions between the virtual and real world, making the device ideal for training and working in moderate industrial conditions.
If your uses will be limited, you can always try a much cheaper option – Vuzix M300 Smart Glasses, more suitable for indoor use in less demanding surroundings but still excellent for training purposes.
3. For how long?
Will the device assist you or your employees in daily work and it needs to be on for the whole 8-hour shift? Or will it be used sporadically, for remote support or training only? This might be a crucial feature, hence the devices vary in terms of the time they can work non-stop. For example, RealWear Navigator battery life is 6-8 hours, RealWear HMT-1 8-10 hours, and Vuzix M300 Smart Glasses up to 12 hours. If you need it for daily assistance, look for a hot-swappable battery (found in RealWear Navigator 500 and Vuzix M300) that allows you to change it without disturbing your work. Yet another thing is AR glasses’ weight. The heavier, the harder they will be to wear for many hours. RealWear HMT-1Z1 weighs 430 g, RealWear Navigator 272 g, whereas Epson MOVERIO BT-40 96 g only.
4. Have I got any special needs?
What is particularly important, industrial-grade AR glasses do not interfere with safety equipment, like protective glasses, gloves, or hard hats. However, their users might have other needs, such as left and right eye compatibility (RealWear HMT-1/1Z1, RealWear Navigator 500, Vuzix M4000, Vuzix M300 Smart Glasses), an option to wear corrective glasses (Magic Leap 1, Epson MOVERIO BT-40), LED light to strengthen the vision (found in RealWear), languages or even their dialects supported when you use voice control (e.g. English – American, Australian, and British supported by the newest RealWear glasses). If you plan to record every action taken by you or your employees for further use or analysis, look for internal memory, for example, 16 GB storage in RealWear HMT-1Z1, 64 GB in RealWear Navigator 500, Vuzix M4000 and Microsoft HoloLens 2, and 128GB in Magic Leap 1.
5. How much am I willing to pay?
Last but not least, the budget may play a major role in your AR device choice. Do you need to serve a lot of employees at the same time to assist them daily or a few good pairs of AR glasses will be enough? Among the most popular and trusted wearable devices, the price ranges from $579 (Epson MOVERIO BT-40) up to $5250 (RealWear HMT-1Z1). So it can make a considerable difference, especially when you need to equip the whole team.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors to be considered before choosing an AR device to support your or your employees’ work and training. See the exhaustive comparison of the above-mentioned devices, with all specifications and prices.