It sounds like the stuff of science fiction: You don your smart glasses and suddenly the world around you is enhanced with interactive digital information, including barcode 3D mapping and video guides – all of which data can be immediately accessed.

In fact, Augmented Reality (AR) technology is here, and while many exciting programs are still in development, the implications are significant across a range of industries – including shipping and logistics.

According to a report from the DHL Trend Research team, AR is defined as the “expansion of physical reality by adding layers of computer-generated information to the real environment,” and predictions are that by 2017 the global AR technology market will grow to $5.2 billion – nearly doubling in size each year since 2011. The report provides a succinct overview of the technology, how it works, and how a variety of industries may benefit (or be threatened).

So how will AR help your company’s logistics strategy? The study offers a visionary outlook into the future role of this highly visual, information-rich technology. Here are some key areas where AR might revolutionize logistics:

Warehousing

Warehousing operations are estimated to account for about 20% of all logistics costs, and the work of preparing orders, or picking, may represent 55-65% of the total cost of warehousing operations. Using AR technology, the task of picking can be optimized, and costs reduced. Systems by Knapp, SAP, and Ubimax are in development, and will use mobile AR systems (head-mounted display, cameras, wearable PCs, battery packs) that offer real-time object recognition, barcode reading, indoor warehouse navigation, and integration of information with the Warehouse Management System. In other words, using mobile AR, warehouse workers can visualize a digital picking list in their field of vision, map a route to the items, locate the items on the shelf, and scan them – saving time and reducing up-front training requirements.

AR will also impact the warehouse-planning process. Many warehouses today are being redesigned to accommodate value-added services, such as product labelling. AR can help visualize the new re-design and maximize its impact while improving efficiency.

Transportation

How will AR optimize the transportation of goods? AR will likely improve the pick-up process, allowing collectors to simply glance at a load and – with layers of visual information – determine immediately if it is complete. In the rapidly growing area of international trade, where complex regulations vary from country to country as this recent compliance blog post explains, AR may be able to assist in ensuring shipment compliance, with an AR device allowing workers to scan trade documents or goods for key words and then change or correct commodity code classifications automatically.

AR may also help by providing dynamic traffic support – and decreased distraction for delivery drivers. It is easy to imagine that typical navigation systems in delivery vehicles could be replaced with AR devices — such as glasses or windshield projections — that will show real time traffic-adjusted route information, while also superimposing vehicle and cargo data for driver awareness. Finally, AR could improve freight loading, by replacing the need for printed cargo lists and load instructions.

Last-mile Delivery

With last-mile delivery gaining use and importance in the e-commerce age, finding a way to drive down cost is essential. AR could be the best answer, helping delivery drivers organize their trucks and locate items for delivery faster and with greater ease.

Value-added Services

Finally, AR can help logistics providers perform new, value-added services for their customers – such as assembly and repair. New customer support tools can also be developed using the technology.

In the near future, we may see the warehouse and delivery teams wearing their technology, and what they see will be a reality enhanced and empowered by that technology.

How do you think AR will impact your logistics?