By Michael Gundling
The concept of cloud-based augmented reality (AR) is on the precipice of fundamentally changing organizational decision making for all types of industries. However, with any new technological frontier, there are many innovative startups vying to take the lead in the practical, commercial application of AR. And this is exactly what’s happening today, with the geospatial sector being on the forefront of this technology frontier.
As the situational awareness arena evolves in this fashion, we are seeing cloud-based systems, smartphones and tablets playing a key role in bringing AR networks to life. Today’s AR applications can superimpose spatially relevant information on a user’s view of the real world using the common everyday devices we all carry.
However, before the heads-up display, wearable-technology component or mobile camera can augment the end-user reality, we have to build a foundation of multi-sensor spatial information available for real-time analytics and display.
In other words, different platforms, sensors and software need to generate the foundational content, which can be captured in and shared with the larger enterprise in near-real-time. The challenge for operationalizing these vast content sources effectively with AR applications begins not on a headset, but with the data themselves at the periphery of human and machine networks. We need to make data immediately accessible and readily ingested in the cloud.
From Data Challenge to Opportunity
As the sources of spatially relevant information are growing exponentially in line with the explosive growth of the Internet of Things, Big Data and mobile devices, the data opportunity becomes greater as the massive data challenge increases in lockstep.
Before cloud-based analytics and artificial-intelligence algorithms can measure the sentiment and determine the relevance of information for display, this information needs to be shared by disparate vendor systems as platform-independent, portable, interoperable and self-describing data containers. At this stage, data “arrive” indexed by location and can be seamlessly ingested and immediately accessible from the cloud.
As with any traditional geospatial application, data provide the “ground truth” that brings fieldwork to headquarters. With cloud-based AR, tactical situational awareness in the field also can leverage vast data stores previously available only to headquarters, creating instantaneous situational awareness at both ends of the spectrum, without time-consuming and error-producing pencil-and-paper transcription of the day’s work.
Workflows are faster. Real-time answers to real-time questions—grounded in a new and more-precise reality—are the new norm. The age-old concept of “every worker a sensor” will advance even further—field data will be even more powerful.
The Next Evolution
When married with the proper field data, AR will help companies better quantify value to their bottom lines, which is why we will see a rapid migration toward such applications. This enhanced business- and mission-supporting value is one of the reasons why many technology companies are rushing to meet demands.
While these start ups develop AR systems to help anyone from the warfighter to first responders, stocking clerks, truckers, farmers, pipeline inspectors, environmental analysts and more, there will always be a need for the correct foundational data.
Geospatial technologies have always allowed any organization to enhance its ability to make the correct decisions—this is just the next evolution. Cloud-based data-management solutions will provide the ammunition that allows augmented reality to be more grounded in, well, reality.
As highlighted at the 2016 GEOINT Symposium, geospatial solutions have reached near ubiquity in all aspects of our lives and are truly shaping the future. The new world of AR offers a tremendous amount of opportunities and challenges for bringing this seismic technology shift to life.