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Augmented Reality Said to Offer Unique Brand-Consumer Interaction

There was almost consensus at the London Technology Expo that Augmented Reality is now far from a gimmick. Used properly, it is seen as providing an on-going dialogue with consumers in a way that was previously never possible.

Photo: Engine Creative’s Augmented Reality work for Tesco’s homebook.
Engine Creative's Augmented Reality work for Tesco's homebook.
Photo: Engine Creative’s Augmented Reality work for Tesco’s homebook.
Engine Creative's Augmented Reality work for Tesco's homebook.

Augmented reality (AR) is now transforming the way brands interact with their customers and the manner in which people of all ages absorb information, at least according to exhibitors at the recent London Technology Expo. The event, designed to showcase these emerging technologies, also highlighted the growing maturity of the Internet of Things (IoT), as well as giving a sneak preview of the next generation of wearable devices.

AR – a means of overlaying information 'on top of' real world objects when viewed through mobile devices – was a key talking point at the expo, with several seminars and exhibitors focussing on this particular technology. The general view among the tech experts was that AR was moving from being seen as a gimmick to becoming more of a genuinely useful communication tool. To this end, programmers, brands and educators are all learning how to unlock its potential and provide real benefits beyond the novelty 'wow' factor.

Highlighting the potential of the system, Marnix Kickert, a Creative for Twinkls, a Dutch AR company, said: "The augmented reality field has been around for a while. You've probably seen it used on posters or to make things jump out of your milk carton. We feel that those are augmentation for augmentation's sake. What we try to do is take the field in a little bit of a different direction, using augmented reality to add value.

"One example of our work here is a new way of visualising solar panels. Previously, you'd have to have a salesman eyeball your roof and guess 'that's about four or five panels', then he would have to go up, and measure it.

"So what we did was offer the salesman a way of very accurately measuring the roof and instantly being able to show how it's going to look. It's also helped them get orders."

Another proponent of finding better ways to use AR was Andy Wise, Strategic Director for Engine Creative, a UK-based brand creative agency. He said: "For Lacoste, we've developed something that is basically a virtual 'try on' for shoes. When you are in the store you can quickly put on virtual shoes and flick through the range, so you can see how they look in 3-D. You can even take a photo, share it and then you can buy directly through the app. We are using AR that is relevant to the particular brand – so that is right for Lacoste."

The marketing sector has been an early adopter of AR – in the UK at least. DocuMobi, an interactive print company based in the north of England is a prime example of 'old world' technology making the transition into newer ways of interacting with customers. Lucille Pickering, the company's Digital Marketing Manager, said: "We deliver personalised content because we take the UUI [user to user information] of the phone. It's all contextual, so if it's raining we will give you an umbrella deal, if it's sunny we will give you an ice cream deal.

"Married in with a database, we start to build up that personalised relationship from the brand to the consumer. So, second time around, we can say: 'Hey, Lucille, we gave you 40% off last time, you referred a friend, so have another 10%.'"

Wise also sees developing a two-way relationship between brand and consumer as a key benefit of AR. He said: "We're doing something quite novel with Black & Decker. When you are buying quite a technical product, you want to find out a bit more about it. The AR on the packaging talks you through the product benefits. It shows you how to change the filter. Put simply, if you are having problems it can help you.

Photo: Wearable tech from UpDownLeftRight.
Wearable tech from UpDownLeftRight.
Photo: Wearable tech from UpDownLeftRight.
Wearable tech from UpDownLeftRight.
Photo: Eurotech’s Internet of Things kit.
Eurotech's Internet of Things kit.
Photo: Eurotech’s Internet of Things kit.
Eurotech's Internet of Things kit.

"Obviously it's great as a consumer, but Black & Decker now has a two-way conversation generated by the product that you have bought. Normally, they wouldn't really know what happens after the purchase has been completed. This way, after six months, they can ask how it's going and would you like a warranty extension or whatever. In this way, you start building up that two-way connection between consumers and brands."

While the marketing sector has been an early adopter of AR, its potential as a teaching and training tool has also been gaining ground. Ciaran Carrick, a Software Developer for Amplified Robot, a London-based virtual reality software company, said: "We do a lot of education and training and 3-D experiences that aren't aimed at consumers. Instead, they are intended for in-house training purposes.

"I think with medical it's a lot easier to visualise certain things using augmented reality. A lot of the time it's not about hard science, it's just about getting a message across.

"There is some research that suggests that you retain more if you're interacting rather than just passively watching. There is a form of virtual reality where you are just watching, but we try to add interactivity, giving you choices to make which, ultimately, helps you to retain information."

Children as well as adults, apparently, can benefit from improved learning through AR. Stella Setyiadi, Marketing Manager for Octagon Studio, an augmented reality children's teaching card company, based in Indonesia, was in London to promote her company's AR animal card packs for children. Explaining the system, she said: "When you download the application, your device will automatically display the animated animals on top of the card.

"You can also interact with the animals. When you place a banana card next to the monkey, it will automatically eat it. We want to make the learning experience fun. Since we launched the animal cards, we have sold approximately 100,000 packs in Asia. Now we're trying to get into the UK and European market."

Another maturing tech niche represented at the event was wearables. Alim Jaffer, Head of Developer Relations for UpDownLeftRight, a California-based wearable technology company, was attending the show as part of the launch of the Fwd wearable fitness monitor for kids. Explaining its appeal, Jaffer said: "There is a dirty little secret in the wearable tech world – approximately 50% of devices are abandoned within six months. You buy a Fitbit and it gives you the same data every day. There's really nothing to it.

"What we are trying to do is incentivise daily usage by rewarding the wearer, as they accumulate points through activity that can be connected to games. The concept is go out and be active, then, when you are on the football pitch, you will work just a little bit harder because you know you're earning points to beat Ronaldo or Messi on FIFA [soccer console game] – that is our end goal. We are looking at under £100 here and under US$100 in the US."

IoT was another common topic of conversation at the event. This, too, is showing signs of maturing, as customers and vendors learn where its true strengths lie.

Ian MacLauchlan, IoT Business Manager for Eurotech, an Italian computer hardware maker, said: "Anybody who has existing legacy assets installed and wants to connect them, we are finding that they are far and away the best early adopters. They understand the benefits, they want to connect, but they don't know how to.

"Europe's our most successful market. North America is, believe it or not, a lot more conservative."

Predictive maintenance and minimising downtime were seen as the key appeal for Eurotech customers. Explaining the benefits, Lee Marshall, a Field Applications Engineer with the company, said: "We're working with a major elevator manufacturer on the remote monitoring of their elevators, allowing them to figure out when they're going to break down. Predictive maintenance is a big part of what we do. Similarly, we are working with production line printing systems, looking at when a printer is going to fail and so avoiding holding up the whole production line."

Photo: Interactive print from Documobi.
Interactive print from Documobi.
Photo: Interactive print from Documobi.
Interactive print from Documobi.

The London Technology Expo 2015 was held at Vinopolis in London on 5-6 October 2015.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, London

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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