Partnership Between Flex and Atheer Will Kickstart Shipments of Enterprise AR Solutions
The impact of partnership – which combines Atheer’s unique, patented AiR™ technologies and Flex’s intelligent product design, manufacturing and logistics expertise to boost AR hardware market – is now becoming clear.
It’s been less than three weeks since the announcement by international Sketch-to-Scale manufacturing giant Flex Ltd. of an Augmented Reality (AR) reference design to reduce time to market for companies making AR devices for enterprise and consumer applications. Atheer provides the AR interaction module and enterprise software support for the new Flex Augmented Reality Reference Design.
The potential broad impact of Flex’s announcement is now becoming clear. First of all, a little refresher. On January 9, 2018 – during the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Flex explained that the Flex AR Reference Design – powered by the Snapdragon 835 mobile platform from Qualcomm – is a complete product specification, including a head-mounted display (HMD), an external processing unit (EPU) and a gesture-based software platform (co-developed with Atheer) to manage interaction.
In that announcement, Flex also suggested that by customizing the rugged, stable and high-quality Flex AR Reference Design – versus developing their own AR hardware – companies can cut product development costs by 40 to 60 percent and quickly scale manufacturing.
Why this announcement matters
There are a couple of reasons why the January 9 announcement by Flex is important.
First of all, it’s useful to understand a little more about Flex’s position in the global electronics design and manufacturing market. Flex Ltd. boasts $24 billion in annual revenues, a workforce of 200,000 employees and 50 million square feet of manufacturing and services space. It designs everything from augmented reality and virtual reality systems to smart watches, smart clothing, robots, connected home devices and home health monitoring systems. In short, when Flex releases a new reference design, it has the power, scale and capability to make a real difference.
Secondly, this announcement is not aimed at consumers – and that differentiates it from a lot of AR/VR offerings introduced in recent years. According to Eric Braddom, vice president, XR (Extended Reality) Product Management at Flex, the announcement was clearly aimed at making a difference for industrial enterprises. “We set out to create a reference design that meets the needs of the industrial market first,” Braddom says in talking to Flex Insights. “Something that our customers could adopt and build upon to shorten time to market and dramatically lower development costs. With the Flex AR reference design, we can often cut their development costs in half depending on which reference design features they use.”
Growing Demand For AR
In addition, there is a growing a demonstrable demand for this kind of technology. In December 2017, the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Augmented and Virtual Reality Headset Trackerpredicted that worldwide proliferation of virtual reality and augmented reality headsets will reach 59.2 million in 2021, up from 9.6 million in 2017. It further predicted that “augmented reality headsets are on track to have a significantly larger impact in the commercial segment as shipments grow to 15.6 million in the same time period”.
The release of the Flex Augmented Reality Reference Design comes at a time when AR adoption in enterprises is entering a new phase. According to Ramon Llamas, Research Manager with IDC’s Devices and Displays team, there is a real demand by customers for solutions that address hardware design, platform stability, enterprise application readiness and security.
“The entry of major manufacturers such as Flex into the AR market offers the potential to significantly accelerate augmented reality hardware development,” he explained. “And it’s not just the hardware that has to pass muster; it’s the platforms that act as the connective tissue between user/device/back-end servers; the applications that must be developed and made available to users; the security that has to go through the entire system and reach every endpoint; and most critically, getting the buy-in from multiple parties within the enterprise (line-of-business users, C-level executives, finance, marketing, and especially IT).”
For more perspective on the AR market from IDC’s Ramon Llamas, take a look at our recent Q&A with him.
The potential to set new standards in AR
Finally, as we said in a recent interview with the Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance, the overall significance of this announcement is that it provides a new standard for AR hardware and interaction – and a very real path to a much broader range of participants in the enterprise AR hardware market.
It also goes beyond a mere hardware specification by including an interaction model that is multi-modal (i.e., it supports head motion, voice control and gestures) and a 30-day trial of Atheer AiR™ Enterprise. That means customers can immediately start using remote expert collaboration (“see what I see”) and authoring and deliver workflows and step-by-step task guidance for their unique needs. In addition, Flex will provide a full software development kit (SDK) to customers who are building on Android Nougat. The sum of all those parts means that OEMs have access to an AR offering that can provide real value to enterprise customers right out of the box.
You also don’t need to just reply on our word. Writing in Next Reality Augmented Reality News, longtime AR industry observer Tommy Palladino summed up what he sees as the key impact of the Flex announcement.
“For technology providers looking to add AR headsets to their product mix, Flex AR cuts out the time and work of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing such a device,” he said. “With a product like the Flex AR ready to go, companies can instead focus on hastening speed to market to take advantage of a still-maturing market.”