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Augmented reality goes to work on factory floors and in brain surgery

December 2, 2021, 10:45 PM UTC

Given that a world where consumers have gone all-in on augmented reality (AR) remains a distant dream, the AR industry is leaning in to creating enterprise solutions. But where is AR going to have the biggest impact?

“Near term, the biggest impact … is in healthcare, it’s public sector, it’s manufacturing,” said Peggy Johnson, CEO of Magic Leap, at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech conference in Half Moon Bay, Calif., Wednesday. “Think of it as, basically, a computer on your eyes, and your hands are still free.”

That means a factory worker can look across the floor and, if they see a machine down, head over to check it out. Once there? If “they forget exactly how to fix it because it was taught in a training course two years ago, they can pull up a video of that [on their AR glasses],” Johnson said. “They can call in an expert who can see what they see.”

Use cases like that—”with a tangible ROI”—are Magic Leap’s current focus because, she added, “that’s what you need when you’re launching a new technology.”

AR didn’t gain traction with consumers because, said Johnson, who joined Magic Leap just a year ago, it suffered from a combination of lack of content and a high price tag. So, for now, AR is going to be “more enterprise, and then eventually coming back to the consumer,” she said.

To make sure the content issue doesn’t slam into the enterprise plans, Magic Leap is “building an ecosystem” by working with companies that were already creating 3D images of body parts and objects. But without AR, those objects were still viewed on 2D devices.

Johnson shared one use case that really makes it clear how AR can literally augment workers’ capabilities: A surgical team at UC Davis was preparing to separate twins conjoined at the brain. Magic Leap worked with Brain Lab, which built a 3D image of the twins’ brain.

“They trained the entire team, about a 30-person operating team, on that brain,” Johnson said. “They spun the brain around, and everybody could see it from different angles. Everybody knew the choreography in the operating room. That whole experience, and the training and education of that team, was made so much better because the brain itself appeared physically in front of them.

“That’s a quite a bit different than seeing something on a flat screen, [where] you may have a 3D image,” she added, “but it’s not quite the same as putting a brain in the middle of the room and blowing it up as big as you’d like.”

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