Augmented reality, otherwise known as AR technology, is pretty impressive stuff when you consider what it can, or more importantly, what it is doing in the area of maintenance, repair, and service. It goes way beyond what is being offered in retail outlets. Today AR has made some serious leaps and bounds and manufacturers are going to be the serious beneficiaries in the IoT (Internet of Things) world.

But before everyone gets caught up in yet another giant hype cycle, let’s really talk about the ultimate goal of what AR can offer. First and foremost, the key benefit that I have been saying since the beginning for IoT or M2M—has and always will be—is its ability to service customers better.

The real awesome aspect of AR is that unlike VR (virtual reality), which replaces the physical world, AR adds information that augments and enhances the real-world experience to truly better service and respond to customer needs faster and quicker.

With AR a service technician can now superimpose a physical object in realtime with virtual information from a host of documents and sensors to assist him or her in performing a task. In the simplest of terms when applying AR, this same technician is able to view and repair a part by simply viewing very detailed instructions alongside the associated movements. Again we are talking about complicated movements where real knowledge is required and real assistance can be provided.

So why the interest in talking AR now? Jim Heppelmann, CEO, PTC, went guns blazing talking about AR during the ThingEvent last week in Boston. Candidly, Heppelmann has no choice at this point. He has put it all on the line and now WallStreet is expecting this leading IoT company to start delivering on its promise for solutions that pay tangible results.

After spending some $700,000 million on acquisitions (ThingWorx, Axeda, ColdLight, and Kepware) it’s time PTC ante up for investors. And based on all the talk this past week, PTC is betting much of its IoT future on AR. Heppelmann’s new mission with AR is to invite and educate an entire new generation of app developers to create unprecedented enterprisewide solutions for the Web.

For PTC, it if wants to own the Internet of Things space then it really has no other choice than to get ready for battle. In this case, PTC’s battle plan includes the introduction of what it has coined ThingX. ThingX allows developers to create a slew of apps. For those purpose-built apps the company is developing ThingBrowser. But what would ThingBowser be without ThingServer. Interestingly, while Netscape is credited with JavaScript, for client-side scripting of Web pages, PTC wants to be known as the company that will be credited for creating a whole new world of AR and IoT apps for devices for the Web.

Hepplemann’s vision to be the Netscape of the enterprise is not all that far-reaching if you want to lead the IoT. As he put it, it’s about “achieving the full potential created by the convergence of the physical and digital world.” In his view, everything has converged with the exception of how we interact with products. Perhaps he is correct.

PTC has now acquired enough talent in all these companies to make it happen. Now with the acquisition of Vuforia, developers can create new apps for smartphones, tablets, even digital eyewear. Therefore, the skies the limit.

During the presentation it was very interesting to see Vuforia’s GM have the stage for so long to really introduce the VuMark solution for anchoring AR experiences to any object by placing a VuMark on it. The demo revealed simply placing a code on an object, it triggers an AR interaction, which really isn’t new. In fact, designers have been using QR codes for similar purposes for quite some time now. However, if you watched a little longer, VuMark does offer something pretty darn impressive. VuMark takes the data, encodes it, such as a product serial number, in a customized unique, colorful logo or any image a designer creates that is very distinctive. Now that is pretty darn impressive.

PTC has a long road ahead of it as virtual reality is still making its way into the hearts and minds of consumers and AR still has a good 12-24 months before we see any real adoption from apps that really change the manufacturing environment. Some analysts are estimating AR applications for automotive, medical, military, and other technology will reach a $1 billion by 2018; while others estimate as much as almost $3 billion by 2019. Again, looking at AR’s sister, so to speak, virtual reality applications are already being applied as a future experience for a building’s design before it is built.

There is no question AR will find its way into the enterprise and industrial space and soon.

Despite the interesting road ahead Heppelmann and the other executives must travel, there is no doubt there is a lot of opportunity as it relates to the rise of the IoT and the potential of AR and VR markets. But it’s clear PTC is demonstrating it has a very strong vision for the IoT, and at the end of the day, it’s good news for everyone in the Internet of Things.

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