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Virtual & Augmented Reality

Breakthrough for Augmented Reality?

As a technology, augmented reality is not really all that new. But for the first time a number of rewarding application scenarios are emerging for companies and consumers. The upcoming CeBIT will showcase the most exciting new examples.

20 Mar. 2015

Car owners have two major problems: Even the biggest gas tank is empty at some point, and almost everywhere the price of gas is too high. For the first problem, no quick solutions are in sight. But for the second, the "Route-n-Fuel" app will soon be available. This new app tells you the gas station with the cheapest gas prices along the user’s planned route. The German office for market transparency (MTS-K) – part of the country’s antitrust agency – publishes the prices at every gas station in Germany, data with which the app is continually updated. The app also needs to know how much and under what conditions the car has been driven; this information is delivered by the vehicle's onboard diagnostics system – a mandatory car feature in Germany since 2001. And finally, the location data are available via GPS.

Apps and augmented reality

Using predictive models, the software makes an "educated guess" as to where the driver is headed and how gas prices will develop along his or her route. "This app runs on any iOS or Android tablet or smartphone," explains Andreas Stozir, Associate Director Automotive within the Industry Solutions division of Lufthansa Systems, whose team developed the app.

This all sounds highly practical – except for the fact that German law forbids people from operating their cellphones while driving a car. Legally speaking, apps like Route-n-Fuel cannot be used by the driver. And stopping often to check the display is of course out of the question. Inventive minds from across the globe however have come up with a solution – augmented reality (AR), i.e. the use of digital technology to widen our perception of reality. In the automotive scenario this means using a "head-up display", one which projects the relevant information onto the windshield. Among other carmakers, BMW is offering this feature in its latest 3 series and Mercedes in its C series cars.

But AR is playing an increasingly important role in other sectors as well. One of the pioneers in the field was Google, whose Google Glass prototype however was removed from the market after a disappointing start. Other AR data glasses are nevertheless still being sold, including the Epson Moverio BT200, Vuzix Smart Glasses M 100, Verizon Golden-i and Meta Pro Glasses. Hobbyists can even make their own simple models using cardboard.

Data protection and hardware problems

Big enterprises above all stand to benefit from this technology, believes Rainer Liebhart, Director in the Industry Solutions division at Lufthansa Systems: "Take logistics, where a worker can have the next incoming order displayed in his or her field of vision and can then select the fastest route to the warehouse location of the product via voice command." Liebhart has identified a total of 20 business cases for the use of AR glasses – despite encountering a number of problems along the way, which will need to be alleviated before AR glasses can be successful in the marketplace. These problems range from short operating times between battery charges to excessive heat buildup during scanning. Liebhart also sees a range security problems, observing that "in most companies there are no regulations in terms of data protection issues, [although] AR technology allows for allows the extensive monitoring of workers, from tracking their routes to recording every spoken word."