Our Industry's Brand-New Bag: How companies are latching onto Augmented Reality

This article was originally posted in Kitchen & Bath Business.

A New Superpower For Brands: Kitchen Brands Love The All New Medium Called Augmented Reality | Dream Kitchen Builders

I first experienced augmented reality (AR) when my 29-year-old daughter sent me a snap. In it she and my grandson were wearing virtual sunglasses. It looked so real that I did a double take, the sunglasses moved in sync with the two of them. When augmented reality is done right the experience can be magical and Snapchat does it really well. 

What really got me thinking about AR was the worldwide developers conference last May in the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino California. Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said that iOS 12 and AR had “awesome new features that would impact the world.” Apple introduced it's own AR measuring app called ... Measure. Measuring and recording real world images and spaces in real time and to scale is a game changer for the design and construction industries. That’s what disruptive technology does, it changes the game. 

AR is a brand new kind of media that builds on that of the past like radio, TV, digital and mobile technology and add a unique new superpower – the ability to combine the real world with the imagined world. I recently used AR to place a virtual range in my Kitchen in real time and to scale. Combining real time experiences with virtual data is profound. The history of computing has been 100% text input up until now but computers can now use images and video to “see.” That’s called computer vision.  Computer vision means you can point your smart phone camera at something and it can obtain data like location, dimensions, context and of course capture an image.

 

How companies are using AR

Trying to understand the power of AR, I asked Dr. Helen Papagiannis, author of Augmented Human, her thoughts about its use in the design and construction industries. 

“Designers, marketers and merchandisers can harness AR’s unique visualization ability to showcase their work and products to scale and in-situ and in customers homes, offices and even on their bodies with a try–before–you–buy experience“ she said. 

Some major corporations like Mercedes-Benz, are engaging customers in ways that seem almost science fiction like. Point your mobile device at whatever it is that you want to know about your car – like your dash control panel – and virtual data like images and video are uploaded to your mobile device to assist you. Simply put, virtual data is shared to your real time experience. That’s AR.

GE Appliances, a leading kitchen industry brand, is another early adopter of AR. According to Shawn Stover, the company's Vice President of Smart Home Solutions, engagement is the big differentiator. GE Appliances wants to engage customers throughout the buying cycle with quality interactive experiences.

“The kitchen industry is at the beginning stages of augmented reality“ he said. “We are now into utility; we want AR to enable showrooms to show more about appliances in less space.“

GE’s premium finishes can be displayed (superimposed by a mobile device) on top of the physical floor model, in real time. This means customers gain more product visualizations, and more personalization with AR. Kitchen and bath brands can now interact with customers in the discovery stage of a buying cycle – when customers might not even know something like a custom finish exists. 

   

New & Future AR Applications   

AR experiences in every stage of a buying cycle will help us when we need something whether it’s in the shopping stage or post purchase. Like getting more finish options for appliances in the shopping stage and learning more about your new car after you drive it off the car lot. Stover also brought up using AR to replace a water filter on a refrigerator. Homeowners can now access real time instructions using AR to assist with changing a water filter on a refrigerator.

There are new kinds of services popping up where we can access a live person for service. Remote Expert is an AR app where a  repair person can diagnose issues remotely using AR in a shared experience. I recently remodeled a kitchen and my client asked if my company could change a door swing on a wine cooler which made me think that instructions for reversing appliance door swings would be a good application for AR.

Jeff Wolfe, Director of Marketing for Wood-Mode Cabinetry is very upbeat about AR from a brand marketing perspective.

“I love that AR is about getting content when and where we need it“ he said. “This allows brands to connect with us in more ways and with more personalization. At some point, virtual reality and AR will become part of a show room experience.“

With AR I see a whole new kind of storytelling that enables us to merge our physical worlds with virtual worlds. Leading kitchen and bath industry brands are showing us how to do it.  Designers already use lots of design technology, so I'm interested to see my colleagues explore new avenues of creativity and storytelling using AR. 

A Superpower For Designers

A superpower for designers  |  Dream Kitchen Builders

Augmented Reality could transform the design/build industry.

If any industry could benefit from technology, it’s construction, but we have never been known to be early adopter or even mainstream users of technology. But the design/build world is ripe for tech innovation; we design and built in front of our buyers, and we work in diverse, mobile and typically scattered teams of professionals. 

We need the technology in our industry to be mobile, image oriented, simple and inexpensive. Designers and builders are now integrating products and technology from all over the world -- since consumers are now shopping in a global marketplace -- and we need the latest and most creative tools to manage this.  

 

What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is a composite of real-world and virtual data like images and videos and can include perceptual data like audio, measurements, depth perception and geolocation. AR can help designers automate processes and build prototypes easier and faster by using virtual images that are scaled correctly. It can bring teams together in real-time design meetings even though they may each be in remote locations. 

The top AR-use cases for designers and contractors:

  • Shared Experiences by Apple will be available this fall through Apple’s ARKit 2 on Apple devices. Multiple users such as clients, designers, builders and architects will be able to collaborate on the same virtual image superimposed on a real-world image in real time — on different devices. 
  • On-site job management and record keeping via mobile apps will speed things up and keep the team on the same page and will also automatically update your records. 
  • AR can be used on a jobsite to measure, scale, notate and share via chat.
  • Video conferencing with real + virtual images in the real world (live on everyone’s screen in real time) can be helpful for design meetings, change orders and troubleshooting.


Helpful AR Apps: 

-  Augment. The Augment app allows designers to scan content and import it for AR applications. Let’s say you’re at a plumbing supply house and you find a beautiful but very large chef’s faucet, and you’re not sure if it’ll fit in your client’s design. Using the built-in AR camera, you can shoot the image and then save it. Back at the project, you can upload it into an AR app and superimpose it in the real world to check scale. You can add text and save the composite image to your files, and you can share it in real time with everyone involved in making the decision.

-   Measure. Measure will be released by Apple this fall as part of iOS 12, and it may become the new standard for measuring in the world of design and construction. Apple, with iOS 12 and Measure, has made jobsite measuring so much easier, and at the same time its AR capabilities will be especially useful to designers. Will Measure replace the tape measure and become the standard for measuring in the construction industry? Maybe. Its superpowers are that you will be able to measure almost anything with your iPhone. Point, measure and save real-world, real-time images and related data. It will even measure a person. It’s going to be easy to measure LxWxH  on your iPhone, as it will recognize rectangles automatically and measure all sides of the rectangle at once. One of the biggest assets for designers using this new app will be something that Apple calls “Level.” Designers and builders will be able to keep objects level in any space using this feature from the app.

-   Chalk. With the Chalk App, remote teamwork and collaboration become better and easier. You’ll be able to take a real-world image of an item that has just been installed at your project and superimpose a virtual image on top of it to share with your team – even on numerous different devices. Virtual images, like a manufacturer’s CAD image of a faucet, can be superimposed in the real world to create a composite and perfectly scaled image. The composite image can then be saved and revisited later by the whole team with the virtual elements still in place. This is called “Persistent AR.” The Chalk app is coming out this fall and will be an awesome new tool in a designer’s bag of tricks. It will be helpful in online meetings and for troubleshooting, and it’s an excellent way to collaborate remotely.

AR isn’t new, but the democratization of it is definitely new because Apple just made it mainstream with ARKit and ARKit 2. Design tools that were once too expensive for independent small and medium business to purchase are now free. The power to merge the real world with imagination is a superpower that designers down through the ages would have died for.