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HSMAI Special Section: Augmented Reality - Will it be Your Next Smartphone?

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October 15, 2015
HSMAI
Sarah Andersen
LeoraLanz

Patrick Cox, co-editor of Technology Profits Confidential, said, "The remarkable advancements of modern technology have lead to immeasurable improvements in medicine, agriculture, exploration and transportation to name a few. From the first stone arrowhead to global communication systems, people have attempted to use technology to improve the quality of life."

As we reflect on the incredible advancements of modern technology, we also must admit the undeniable impact it has on our lifestyles. Technology was previously used as a tool for making survival an easier endeavor; from self-propelled water engines assisting firefighters in putting out burning buildings to satellite radio broadcasts alerting the nearby residents of an incoming tornado. It’s not to say that we don’t use these impressive technologies anymore, rather, we are now witnessing a social shift in the primary role technology plays on our everyday lives. Instead of technology’s sole purpose being for survival, it’s eagerly purposed for our entertainment and communication. What some historians dub as the “age of information,” this generation is defined by its instant access to infinite knowledge. Information is readily available at our fingertips, making experiences immediately attainable at the touch of a button. We therefore live at a faster pace, continuously seeking immediate answers to our varied questions. With this constant demand for mental stimulation comes the need for a new type of technology that is far more dynamic than the capabilities of today’s smartphone. This next wave of technology may very well be the technique termed augmented reality.

It can be argued that technology and human life cannot be separated due to our growing social dependency on technology. And therefore, our needs and demands for a new type of integrative technology are increasing. We are searching for a new way to communicate and interact with the world around us – somewhat ironically – to make our lives simpler in this fast-paced world. Augmented reality has the foreseeable ability to do just that. This enhanced version of reality by the use of technology allows us not only to process information around us, but to interact with the world around us through the use of our smartphones and other mobile devices.1 We already use our smartphones to travel, to communicate, to do business and to live in comfort, making augmented reality the natural next step to our tech evolution.

Augmented reality in the hospitality industry would give customers a more intuitive experience, making traveling simpler. And in this day and age, that’s exactly what they’re looking for. 
Augmented reality provides a live view of the world around us. Our environment is supplemented, or augmented, by computer-generated sensory input technology, enhancing our perception of the physical world. This results in a more interactive and digitally manipulative reality.

The hospitality industry can progress its communication and marketing exponentially if it begins to take advantage of this digital technique. From hotels and restaurants to transportation, the possibilities for implementing augmented reality seem endless. Hotels and casinos can connect their physical properties to their guests’ digital worlds, creating a customizable experience to each guest. As top hotel brands, such as Hilton, continue to “look for ways to meaningfully enhance [their] guests’ experiences through digital tools, the rapidly evolving augmented reality market is one [they’re] closely monitoring.” 2

Guests at a large destination resort property could point their smartphone in any direction to obtain valuable information about where the nearest exit is or when their room was cleaned last. In restaurants, augmented reality can be used to translate menus and to show guests what their dish will look like. These experiences are all happening in real time as they use their smartphone’s GPS and camera functionality to interact with their surroundings. In addition, guests can see reviews and recommendations for various menu items, creating a meaningful and customizable dining experience.

As for transportation, apps such as The Nearest Tube in London are already in use, helping tourists find the nearest transit station in any given area. Augmented reality can not only increase a guest’s present experience, but it also has the ability to learn a customer’s behavior, catering and marketing to their specific interests. Functions like these are exactly what augmented reality aims for – making the world interactive, which can be a tremendous value-add for today’s savvy, connected and inquisitive modern travelers.

Rather than continuing to use technology to help us tell stories, augmented reality will better enable us to create our own stories. But before that happens, augmented reality needs to prove that its business ROI is significant, according to Rich DiStefano, senior director of Web and mobile product management at Hilton Worldwide. Sara O'Brien of hotel e-business strategies at HeBS Digital agreed and said, “Augmented reality is still a bit far fetched for hoteliers.”

So the question is – why isn’t this technology already being widely used?

Mobility //////////////////////////////////////
Based on the convenience of smartphones, consumers already have expectations about what they want to see in augmented reality. According to Tim Merel, founder of Digi-Capital, “Augmented reality needs to become more mobile than mobile to compete. This means untethered platforms, all day battery life and mobile quality-of-service for voice and data.” Merel is taking into consideration that augmented reality technology will be integrated with not only smartphones, but other wearables such as glasses or watches.

In addition, these wearables need to be fully immersive, ultimately creating a seamless and exciting digital experience. Augmented reality needs to engage people with the sensation that they are not interacting with software.

Optics /////////////////////////////////////////
Clear, transparent, colorful, high definition, and maybe even 3-D… these are some of the major elements augmented reality needs.

Current augmented reality technology has a number of technical limitations that make the images look unimpressive, including low resolutions and a low field of vision. People are already used to retina displays with no pixels and they won’t be willing to compromise for this new technology. TrueLife Optics, a leading optical developer for wearable devices believes that, “the challenge for augmented reality device developers has been to incorporate an optical component next to the eye that allows the individual to see the world, while also enabling a high definition and transparent overlay of information.”3 TrueLife Optics said that the solution is to develop a full color, holographic 2-D or 3-D image that is transparent and efficient.

Range //////////////////////////////////////////
Another daunting piece to this puzzle is then to create a customizable high definition that tailors to different applications and customer requirements. Augmented reality will need to function as multipurpose devices and on multivaried devices. It should possess a wide range of capabilities that cater to every consumer.

Price /////////////////////////////////////////////
Augmented reality will not be mass produced if the consumer can’t afford the technology in the first place. Although there are technologies that are becoming more readily available in the commercial market, augmented reality comes at a hefty price. Today, the most impressive, custom AR experiences, such as Waveguide, cost $2,022.98 (US) per pair of holograms.4 Likewise, an augmented reality app by Prognosis Global Consulting, a premier hospitality technology services firm, starts at $3,000 (US) and can reach up to $30,000 (US) depending on the complexity and scope of the project. Turning a static restaurant menu into an interactive tool that allows users to see videos of menu items, ingredients, reviews and social media integration would cost around $5,000 to $6,000 (US). In addition, a more complex program that allows guests in a hotel room to scan a photo or object and then the entire hotel, including various food and beverage locations and menus, hotel amenities and availability and booking options, would cost around $20,000 (US).5

Acceptance ///////////////////////////////////////
Finally – and arguably more importantly – augmented reality needs to become socially acceptable. Before this digital tool is adapted on a broad scale, the rapidly evolving digital tool needs to become fashionable and trendy. 
 
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