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In the years since Pokémon Go swept the nation, the world of AR has grown way beyond gaming and entertainment. Today, AR is finding very practical and, in some cases, downright disruptive applications in retail, healthcare, transportation, education, manufacturing and other fields.
The research firm VR Intelligence found that approximately two-thirds of companies working on augmented reality are focused on industrial applications, as opposed to just one-third focused on consumer products and services.
If there is one industry that figures to be the most impacted by augmented reality in the coming months, however, it is facilities management.
AR and Facilities Management
Not that facilities managers weren’t starting to embrace AR already.
With more than 1.5 billion AR-enabled devices in the market, plenty of building owners and operators had capitalized on AR to reap benefits ranging from cost savings and operational efficiencies to improved tenant/visitor relationships. But these were the early adopters; for the industry at large, the technology had yet to really take off.
Meanwhile, the groundwork for AR was being laid by emerging trends in facilities management such as the increased adoption of internet of things (IoT) devices and the deployment of smart building strategies. As more of a building’s systems and devices could talk to one another, the buildings themselves began to take on a bit of intelligence, which opened the door to a number of AR applications.
That’s where things stood before the coronavirus struck. When state and local governments started shutting down businesses in March and forcing everyone to shelter in place, the industry was immediately thrown for a loop. Facilities managers were scrambling to figure out how they could reopen their buildings safely and what the “new normal” might look like once they did.
As the country begins to open back up again, facilities managers are on the front lines of ensuring the safety and health of everyone in their buildings. Any responsibilities they had before now take a back seat to initiatives that help protect against COVID-19.
It goes way beyond implementing a more rigorous cleaning and disinfecting program, too. In order to reopen their buildings safely, facilities managers must focus on priorities such as:
- Limiting the number of people in their buildings
- Reducing the physical proximity of people in their buildings
- Decreasing the number of things that must be touched
- Avoiding unnecessary travel and trips
The reason why augmented reality and 3D visualization hold the key to helping facilities managers ensure their tenants’ safety in the post-COVID-19 world is that they enable them to accomplish all of the goals above with a minimum of fuss and resources.
Limiting the Number and Proximity of People
In the pre-COVID-19 world, it was common for a number of people to visit a building for facilities-related functions on a regular basis, whether technicians were there to inspect the equipment, leasing agents to show the property to prospective renters, or owners to walk the site when planning a redesign.
But with the threat of COVID-19 now hanging over us, any visit poses potential health risks, and managers are looking to restrict both the amount and the duration of such visits.
Merging a building’s physical structure with digital data and making context-aware insights available in its digital twin enables many tasks that previously required on-site visits to be handled remotely. Not only can a technician inspect issues with, say, a building’s electrical or HVAC system, but thanks to the data and awareness that 3D visualization provides, they might even be able to diagnose the issue without ever stepping foot on the premises.
Another benefit that will make AR so crucial to facilities managers as we create the “new normal” in the post-COVID-19 world is its ability to conduct so many standard tasks completely contact-free.
For buildings that have their lights, thermostats, security cameras and other smart devices connected to the IoT, AR enables them all to be controlled through AR-enabled apps. Users simply point their smartphone or tablet at any connected device and the physical devices can be managed through virtual interfaces.
Now, tenants, vendors and visitors can call for the elevator, ring the doorbell and lower the window shades, all without having to touch a single thing and potentially expose themselves to dangerous viruses.
On top of going contactless, AR can help reduce or eliminate proximate human-to-human interactions as well.
One such way it does so is through digital concierge services. Facilities managers can replace the information desk representative with a digital concierge app that can not only show visitors how to get to where they’re going, but even use advanced indoor navigation technology to guide them throughout the building. Along the way, the app can provide access to AR content that is overlaid at points of interest as a user navigates the space.
Most likely, augmented reality was going to come to facilities management one way or the other. Due to rising investments from players like Google, Microsoft, Facebook and many others, the market size for augmented reality is expected to grow at a CAGR of 46.6% to reach $72.7 billion by 2024.
The technology offers so many benefits for property owners and facilities managers – some obvious, some unexpected – that it’s only a matter of time before every building has a digital twin and offers a number of AR applications.
But sometimes, new technologies need a little nudge to reach their tipping point toward mass adoption within a specific industry, the way Pokémon Go did for AR in gaming. Because the COVID-19 pandemic has made us all more aware of the need to provide remote access to physical spaces, automate operational processes, and support location-based services while minimizing contact with public surfaces, augmented reality holds the key to facilities management in the post-COVID-19 world.
Galia Rosen Schwarz is VP of Business Development of Resonai, an AR and AI company that is powering machines to understand the physical world.