Meridian AR: Augmented Reality Comes to the Enterprise
Pokémon Go proved that people are willing to use augmented reality (AR) in a game. Meridian AR has harnessed the power of visualization to create an enhanced AR mobile marketing and commerce platform for business that provides analytics, advertising, revenue creation and customer service for more effective information delivery.
Quite often in high technology, it takes time for people to “catch on” to the benefits of new innovations. A good example of this is augmented reality (AR). It started with simple and straightforward apps that told you what your camera was seeing such as names of merchants and interesting points of information for nearby parks. The next generation told you interesting things that you couldn’t actually see with your camera but were beneficial to the user.
For example, you’d point your camera with an AR app, and it would mention things just out of view, like a bank ATM that is around the corner or your favorite restaurant three blocks away. This kind of information had originally been deployed in mobile mapping apps, where the map shows you where you are and what is nearby. The augmented reality version embedded information into the camera visuals. The following images show various apps that identify stores and other important information as the smartphone camera pans the user’s surroundings:
AR seemed to stall for a few years after its inception, and it became evident that there needed to be an app that would foster mass awareness and adoption of AR technology. That finally happened on July 22, 2016 when the Pokémon Go app was released with great fanfare. The app allowed users to ‘find’ interesting digital characters and then capture them. Pokémon Go became the most popular consumer smartphone app in a matter of weeks with millions of downloads.
While the popularity of the game lasted a few months, the idea that you could hold a smartphone camera up to the real world and get valuable information had reached acceptance by millions of people.
The key to sustainability of AR technology was to find real-world challenges that AR technology could solve and thus, make it beneficial to both users and the enterprise alike.
It’s important to understand the difference between Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), as they sometimes are confused. Augmented Reality adds (augments) information to what you see with the (smartphone, tablet) device camera. Virtual Reality creates an entirely new image that is presented in 3D and enables the user to rotate the visual that he or she sees by rotating their head. You can see the differences in this diagram:
In Augmented Reality, a set of augmented visuals is inserted into the plane of view as shown in the following diagram:
Where the use of Augmented Reality is a consumer app such as a game, or an enterprise app in which beneficial information is provided, the virtual items are inserted between the real image and the display so that the user sees a combination of what the camera records and the virtual items, giving an overall, augmented image.
One company that is leading the charge in applying AR to the enterprise is Meridian AR in Orange County, CA. Other companies that are using AR include Marxent, App Shaker, Binocular and Gravity Jack.
Meridian AR has created an AR platform called the Meridian AaaS (AR as a Platform). The platform enables the AR image to be used to solve real-world problems. Here is the architecture of the Meridian AaaS:
The Meridian AaaS platform is a combination of original software by Meridian AR, integrated with a number of third party apps and/or content that includes the AR+ engine, native content, third party analytics and commerce. Currently, Meridian AR has the following third parties that extend the core Meridian AR AaaS platform:
The Meridian Custom App, connectors and Meridian Services hold it all together and provide unique value to the end-user. The third party components enable Meridian AR to address specific vertical markets and solve specific customer problems.
The result of the integration provides customers with a mobile marketing and commerce platform. The Meridian AaaS platform lets people experience and get the things or information they want by simply holding up their device and pointing the camera at the product or image. The Meridian platform then goes to work to deliver the information that is desired for that particular market and problem.
With the Meridian AR platform, customers who deploy the Meridian-based AR apps can:
- Increase understanding (context) of marketing on mobile as the image provides more information than a search term.
- Increase commerce conversion (buy, get, call, contact, buy me) as the image plus the Meridian AR app generate as much as a 74% increase in purchase consideration over non-Meridian AR mobile apps.
Walmart did a study on the effect of using Augmented Reality in a mobile device in 2013. Here are the interesting results:
Clearly, AR-based marketing achieves better results, as more time is spent interacting with the product, there is higher purchase consideration and a higher perceived value. Meridian AR has enabled any business to create an AR-based app that uses the camera to help the user get more information faster and have a better overall user experience.
Meridian AR uses the Meridian AaaS to address problems in seven vertical markets: automotive, logistics, counterfeit, medical, entertainment, education and retail. Some early examples of solutions provided by the Meridian AR platform are:
Problem: Real-Time Product Safety Information. STIHL wanted to solve the problem of providing critical instructional and safety information in real time for people who purchased one of their chainsaws. The idea was to use the STIHL app utilizing the Meridian AR platform to provide an interactive augmented reality information system that looks like this:
Problem: Detecting Counterfeit Products. Bobbi Brown Cosmetic Company knows that there are a number of counterfeiters of its cosmetic brand that attempt to sell fake Bobbie Brown products at deep discounts. Working with Meridian AR, Bobbi Brown created an augmented reality app that enables store personnel or consumers to determine if the Bobbi Brown product they are buying is authentic or counterfeit.
Problem: Educational Information at an Outdoor Museum. Museums have used digital recorder/players for a number of years. When you visit, you (typically) rent the digital player, walk around the museum, enter a specific area, and the player tells you about what you are viewing.
In this case, you are visiting sites in a city such as Washington, DC. Here, you would download the Meridian AR app that would know exactly where you are located (Lincoln Memorial) and play information and put icons or animation on the screen. Thus, pointing the camera at the outdoor site triggers the app to start playing a story about what you are seeing.
Problem: Enhancing the Visitor Experience. It’s easy to see how you could extend the concept of this outdoor museum app to providing an enhanced experience visiting sites. Whereas typical AR apps to date can tell you what the camera can see, Meridian AR’s platform can enable a much richer experience for the user as well as integrate marketing, sales and analytics. Take a look at what’s possible to provide a richer visitor experience with a travel app:
You can see that the Meridian AR platform can immediately detect that the user is in Times Square and provides not only specific things that a typical AR app can show, such as the location of a Starbucks; it can also provide narrative (if added to the app), animation and video.
Problem: Expand the Print Experience. Another example of how the Meridian AR platform can provide an enhanced experience is in adding value to books. A publisher could create a special Meridian AR-enhanced app for one of its books. The app could give background information on the author or even add a video to bring the book to life. You can see some of the possibilities in the following case study:
Problem: Become the Second Screen to Broadcast TV. While the concept here is rather simple and yields tremendous value to the user; the execution is difficult to accomplish. In this example, there’s a soccer game on TV. The Meridian AR-enhanced app would enable the consumer to get extended information on what they see happening in the TV image. The user points the tablet or smartphone camera at the TV. The image is analyzed to determine what show is being streamed to the TV, and then adds value both in text and animation and/or video. Here’s a mockup of an app that was created while looking at soccer goalie Hope Solo, and the image in the Meridian AR enhanced app:
Problem: Enhanced Auto Dealership Buying Experience. In this (final) example, the buyer comes to a dealership looking for a new car. He or she finds one that is similar to the one they would like. The sales representative opens the Meridian AR-enhanced image and is able to show the customer the different models that are available. Not only does the app show what color car the customer wants; but also gives spec information and where it is located.
Problem (under development): Enhance (eliminate) a Vehicle User Manual. One of the most difficult things for most consumers is to figure out how something works or how something can get replaced. In this new Meridian AR app under development, the user would be able to simply point the camera at the place in which they want to get user data and take a photo of it. The Meridian AR app then plays a video of how the designated item works and/or displays the text from the user’s manual (or both).
It is truly exciting to see the enriched experiences that Meridian AR is able to provide to solve a number of problems centered around “I wish I could…” Whether it’s walking down the street of a major city and wanting to know more about what’s around you, or trying to figure out how to reset the odometer on your new car, the providers of augmented reality for business are already joining together a wealth of knowledge and educational information with the smartphone or tablet device to solve some problems that have been nagging or interfering with the lives of millions of people.
As I mentioned, there are other companies creating interesting demonstrations of AR for business or are actually developing mobile AR apps that are for wide commercial distribution. For example, Gravity Jack has worked with Live Nation to create an augmented reality app for the highly successful band Maroon 5.
Appshaker has built AR-based mobile apps for a number of companies including GE, National Geographic and Ford. Some of these are integrating digital images into live exhibits located in malls. And, Marxent sells the Visual Commerce Mobile Platform that allows developers and enterprise IT departments to build AR into the apps they build.
Over time, most people will get to interact with augmented reality and not think twice about it. The problems that will be solved will enrich the lives of millions of people and help organizations provide enhanced relationships with their customers.
Currently, most augmented reality activities in business are focused point solutions where a mobile app is designed to do something very specific using the camera in the smartphone. There will be other kinds of ways in which AR will come into play in business-oriented apps. I can see apps turning on the smartphone camera and demonstrate something as part of an overall set of services. Thus, I believe we’ll see more sophistication in the way AR is incorporated into major apps. For example, a car manufacturer could produce a comprehensive mobile app for each model of car they sell. It could handle follow-up appointments for service, educational pieces on how the major parts of the car work, notifications for recalls and integrated AR that turns on the camera and says to point it to whatever you’d like to get more information.
However, this is still a nascent market that is not yet fully developed. There are thousands of problems that can and will get solved using AR over the coming years. The initial products will provide real value to the customer, but in 10-20 years, I envision that enhanced versions of these apps will become quite intelligent in what they will be able to perform. There are likely going to be creative people that will do some amazing things that none of us could possibly imagine today. Hence, this is one of the innovations that makes it so interesting and exciting to work in the mobile and wireless industry.