The SAS Institute has been a world leader in analytics software for more than four decades. Today, the privately-held North Carolina-based company is expanding its reach into Augmented Reality (AR). We recently spoke with Michael Thomas, SAS Systems Architect, to learn more about his company’s approach to AR and what he refers to as “Intelligent Realities.”
AREA: What is driving the SAS Institute’s interest in Augmented Reality?
MICHAEL THOMAS: We’ve always sought to deliver our data and analytics capabilities via new devices and user interfaces as they’ve become available. In the ‘80’s, we brought them to the PC. In the ‘90’s, we brought them to the Web, and then tablets. And now we’re on to this new user interface that’s penetrating the enterprise. It’s the next place for us to provide our Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytical data value. As a Systems Architect, I’ve been looking at these emerging technologies to figure out, at an architectural level, how they fit. As part of that, I’ve been developing AR and VR for commercial use cases
AREA: Can you tell us about some of the use cases you’ve been involved in?
MICHAEL THOMAS: One topical use case we’re tracking involves using AR for germ-fighting, along with the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI. IoT sensors are used to detect areas meriting closer scrutiny due to germ-spreading behavior, such as coughing. Custodians assigned to keeping those areas clean can then focus their efforts by using either headset AR or a spatial AR approach. Another example is in manufacturing – being able to use AR combined with IoT data and AI to give technicians the ability to more rapidly repair and proactively address issues to keep manufacturing equipment available and online. That also involves tying in remote experts. But while many remote expertise use cases are built around the idea that the expert sees the video that the proximate user is gathering with their headset, we go beyond that to take the IoT data from that piece of equipment, analyze it in real time, and give the most pertinent information to that remote expert. They can then use VR technology to better advise the remote technician.
AREA: In one of your blog posts, you argue that enterprises should not fixate on head-mounted AR devices and rather think more in broader terms of what you call “intelligent realities.” What do you mean by that?
MICHAEL THOMAS: Intelligent realities for workers means you improve work by making the reality of work better. SAS is not an AR vendor so, rather than thinking in terms of devices, we look at what form factor will enable us to manifest our value and make the customer better. It’s wide open. Does a tablet do what you need to do? If so, that’s great. We’ve had customers who have experimented with head-mounted devices and been disappointed. So they’ve shifted to pursuing other ways to make those realities more intelligent. That gets them into spatial AR, but also more pedestrian things like using transparent LED screens or projected light. As headsets get better, we expect some of that resistance to go away. But we’re just taking a broader perspective on how to make that reality better that isn’t just the latest technology.
AREA: What do you see as the next significant milestone in the adoption of AR?
MICHAEL THOMAS: I think this year will be a good year for headsets. We’re getting to a second generation of Mixed Reality headsets with a form factor where you can actually expect people to wear them for a long time. And then from there, as we get focused on commercial AR, we at SAS have the technology and the ability to give you the content that’s going to improve your reality right now. That’s our piece. And it’s going to be very exciting to see that new growth develop.
Michael Thomas has authored several thought leadership publications on Intelligent Realities that we would like to share with AREA readers. They include: