Printed headline: Refining Augmented Reality
Augmented reality (AR) provider Atheer’s AiR Enterprise software has only been on the market for about two years, but the Silicon Valley-based company is looking to dominate the AR software space by integrating with as much technology as possible. Atheer has recently announced a range of collaborations with technology and hardware providers aimed at making AiR Enterprise one of the most hardware-agnostic AR software on the market.
In addition to working with Cisco to integrate AiR Enterprise with the company’s Spark communications and collaborations tool and a joint project with Design Interactive to create an AR troubleshooting application for the Microsoft HoloLens called Augmentor, Atheer is working with major manufacturers releasing new AR glasses. Toshiba, which just launched its DynaEdge AR smart glasses in March, approached Atheer about making AiR Enterprise available on the new product. “We believe that this relationship will provide a huge boost for enterprise customers who have been waiting for exactly this kind of Windows 10-based enterprise AR solution from a world-class hardware manufacturer,” says Soulaiman Itani, co-founder and CEO of Atheer.
Meanwhile, Flex has licensed Atheer’s technology for its new Flex AR platform, which was shown at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show. The platform is set to launch this summer and will ship with a 30-day trial of AiR Enterprise.
According to Amar Dhaliwal, Atheer’s senior vice president for sales and marketing, all of this collaborative activity is to ensure that the company’s AR software is largely supported on all devices on the market.
“What we have found is that there is no one piece of AR hardware that is going to be ideal for every use case, even in a moderately complex enterprise organization,” says Dhaliwal. “If there are going to be lots of glasses out there and companies are using more than one type of smart glasses in their business, it’s important for us to be able to have the same single piece of software running across all of these different platforms.”
He adds that there are many options available now because the market is young, but Atheer expects that in a couple years’ time it will be able to zero in on the companies that will become dominant providers.
Dhaliwal says the focus on AR platform ubiquity is part of what sets Atheer apart from competitors and, in an increasingly crowded market, a focus on the interaction approach is also important. “We don’t believe there is one interaction model that is perfect,” says Dhaliwal, pointing to examples such as shop-floor noise interfering with voice commands or tools in hand interfering with gesture suggestion and device touchpads.
These real-world concerns are something that is not always easily tested in a Silicon Valley tech environment, but Atheer recently had the chance to put AiR Enterprise through the paces at this year’s Aerospace Maintenance Competition (AMC) at MRO Americas. American Airlines, which co-sponsored an AR event at the competition with Atheer, approached the AR provider about putting together an event at the competition. Dhaliwal says Atheer jumped at the chance to get its software in front of end users—especially workers with a very low tolerance for any technology that gets in the way of their job.
Consisting of an MD-80 central control panel and a pair of AR glasses equipped with AiR Enterprise, the event tested a technician’s ability to create step-by-step guidance to help a colleague through a task, place a video call to a remote expert and send a photo for remote collaboration. Competitors ultimately had to use the AR technology to collaborate on setting switches on the MD-80’s panel in the right place and sequence. According to Raj Vashist, Atheer’s senior director of product management who was at the AMC, Atheer and American Airlines’ representatives at the competition quickly walked competitors through how to use the glasses before they officially started the event. Although some older technicians were hesitant about the new technology, Vashist says most teams were able to seamlessly complete the task in the allotted time and perform more quickly what they would have accomplished without AR glasses.
“This was a great way for us to validate our design approach, which was about making this as easy as possible to use for somebody that’s in a workplace,” says Dhaliwal. “Things are not the same as they are in an office. There’s noise; it’s dirty; it can be dangerous—so it also allowed us to validate a lot of those things.”
Dhaliwal says Atheer is confident the American Airlines team was very encouraged by the potential of AR technology based on the results at the AMC, and the company has received a lot of interest from other airlines as well. He adds that moving forward, Atheer will be applying what it learned from the AMC to its product and go-to-market strategy, especially now that there are real use cases for the technology and clear ways to measure return on investment. Dhaliwal expects that by next year’s competition, Atheer will have more aviation customers with AiR Enterprise deployed across their operations.