The term "augmented reality" may sound like something out of science fiction, but most people know at least a little bit about it already. AR is the basis for the popular game Pokemon GO! and is therefore already available on most people's smartphones. But increasingly, experts in warehouse management say the technology could revolutionize logistics simply because of how much potential it has to improve efficiency industry-wide, on a number of fronts.

Already, other industries have seen the power AR provides when it comes to getting ahead of their competitors, and now standards are being crafted for broader implementation, according to the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute. This requires collaboration between dozens of organizations with skin in the game when it comes to widespread adoption: manufacturers, AR developers, colleges, and even government entities. But all recognize one salient point, that investment in both hardware and software needs to expand.

"Augmented reality has immense potential to transform manufacturing, and early adopters are seeing impressive productivity and quality improvements," said Thomas McDermott, executive director of the DMDII. "However, wide adoption of this technology requires collaboration among the industrial companies operating on the front lines and the AR providers designing solutions to ensure the technology under development meets the needs of industry."

A focus on warehouses
When it comes to logistics-specific needs, some industry experts believe that so-called "smart glasses" may provide the best path forward for warehouses, according to DC Velocity. Simply by putting on these glasses and connecting them to existing warehouse management systems, workers can quickly gain access to critical information about their tasks, and how best to complete them, displayed clearly right before their eyes.

Displayed information can include everything from the optimal path to the items they need to pick from shelves, inventory data, packaging instructions, and so on, the report said. But in the future, AR could also be used for on-the-job training and even simple repair instructions when equipment needs a tune-up to get back into working shape.

A better future
The added benefit of AR being used in smart glasses in particular may be the hands-free help they provide to workers who are likely to be either operating machinery like forklifts, or simply carrying boxes themselves, according to Supply Chain Digital. Incorporating these devices into the warehouse along with other IoT-enabled investments not only increases efficiency on the shop floor, but also real-time visibility for a wide variety of operations.

The good news for executives still on the fence about this kind of investment is that, as with most technology, it's getting less expensive to adopt all the time. As such, the decision to adopt AR becomes an easier one as time goes on, but it's also worth noting that the competitive advantage it provides is also likely to diminish. As such, the sooner executives can move to make sure they adopt the technology that integrates best with their existing or future WMS platforms, the more likely they will be to reap significant rewards from that investment.