Over time, the impact of technology on humanity has been significant. Most recently, being forced into an alternate reality since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, has propelled businesses and individuals – at a higher rate than ever before – into technology adoption. Creating a new way for remote and hybrid working, grocery delivery and a host of other work and personal activities, has all been made possible through solutions rooted in some aspect of technology.

Augmented reality (AR), an enhanced version of the real physical world that is achieved through the use of digital visual elements, sound, or other sensory stimuli delivered via technology, although a growing trend among companies globally combining mobile computing and business applications, in particular, had however experienced a marked slowdown in this period in South Africa.

Duncan Randell, Product Manager for Visual Communications at Vox, says, “Conversations around our Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) offerings, that we had started with likely adopters in several verticals ahead of and through the pandemic, didn’t get very far. Discussions we were holding with players in the education, healthcare, automotive, aeronautical and manufacturing sectors had considerably slowed and completely halted in some instances, by September last year.

“On the upside,” says Randell, “New developments in the AR and MR space in South Africa, are beginning to change the availability, and more importantly, the viability of this tech in the country.”

Randell believes that major players in the development of AR platforms, such as Microsoft – that less than a year ago considered Africa as a market that was not yet ready for AR adoption – have since done an about-turn. Businesses are slowly returning to normal operational capacities and they do so consciously of the impact the pandemic has had. Various industries are now rethinking their operational processes in order to increase efficiencies, streamline workflows and mitigate raw material wastage. King is confident that there’s opportunity for AR and MR to play a meaningful role in many key areas, for many types of businesses.

Randell’s view is that to leverage maximum benefit and return on investment from AR and MR, industry will need to implement it at a blue-collar tier but current price points can limit the adoption opportunity for use cases and touch points sector.

He anticipates that early adoption in South Africa would likely come from the mining, construction and healthcare sectors as, in these industries, white collar workers play a significant hands-on role in the day-to-day operations. Uptake of AR and MR here could see maximum benefit and it will result in the desired efficiency improvements and cost reductions needed for a successful AR and MR strategy implementation.

“A great example for which AR solutions are incredibly suitable would be the South African automotive industry. It is a growing sector with steadily increasing outputs observed over the last few years. Occupational health and safety of employees and the fact that motorists’ lives depend on high quality and first-time accuracy in the assembly process, is paramount here as it would be in any manufacturing and assembly plant. Admittedly this, being a well-established sector, may invite little to no influence from South African AR and MR services providers on their investment decisions,” says Randell.

A combination of AR and MR also provides a feasible alternative for multinational companies that are not able to hire specific expertise in every geography that they operate in. This is so because a new way of training and remote assistance is possible with AR on a level not seen before. This technology, tried and tested in the Healthcare industry, has even enabled surgeons to perform medical procedures from a distance over the internet. Augmented reality can enable Africa to still access the skills it loses to territories off the continent and also allow it to tap into potential and skills that may exclusively reside elsewhere.

“I believe that augmented reality will be a reality, in our country and on the continent,” says Randell.

The basis of this belief, he says, is the fact that the more prominent AR platform players are taking an active interest in the African, and especially the South African market, as the next territory for expansion. “In addition, AR technology is being brought to our shores by the large international companies into their local operations, to mirror AR solutions already established in their operations elsewhere in the world,” says Randell.

Randell is of the view that the uptake of AR solutions may initially be slow owing to prohibitive hardware costs and the lack of widespread awareness of possible solutions and use cases currently available in the local market. The arrival of the big platform expertise with recognisable brands, he says, will allow local partners to build better solutions and establish the proof points required to fully validate the benefits of AR use in various industries.

Randell says, “What is required for businesses in the manufacturing and other ERP driven organisations, especially if they are seeking to address possible issues in core processes, is to consider AR and MR technology-based solutions. They can start by partnering with an AR vendor that is well versed in the technology to help them conduct a comprehensive work-study analysis across their workflows. This will help them identify the areas in which augmented reality can contribute to saving time and resources in the long run, with improved efficiency, accuracy and higher outputs,” concludes Randell.