|Annie Eaton, CEO, Futurus, demonstrating the use of the HTC Vive Pro VR headset.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have been trendy tools in the technology world and now are finding their way into applications for the equipment and event rental industry. This has been done through VR training and simulations as well as the use of AR when looking at equipment.
For Annie Eaton, CEO, Futurus, Atlanta, the opportunity for AR and VR to find opportunities in different industries is what sparked her to create Futurus, which started as ATLvr, in 2014.
“I knew that virtual reality was going to be an important piece of technology for the future of business, and if I could find a way to bring that to other businesses, it would give me the career path I was looking for,” Eaton says. “The company started out as a small consultancy and then we transitioned into prototype development work. After the first two years of ramp up, we worked on our first large-scale production project and the company has been consistently growing ever since.”
Futurus entered the equipment rental industry by working with JLG Industries, McConnellsburg, Pa., on an AR app that was released in 2020. The JLG Augmented Reality App allows customers to easily view machine and accessory options, perform inspections, and understand machine decals and controls using AR technology in the app.
In addition to AR and VR, Futurus specializes in game design development plus micro-location enabled (MLe) devices that pinpoint precise locations without using GPS. Futurus also does consulting work plus discovery and planning for companies that are interested in incorporating immersive technology into their businesses and don’t know where to start.
Rental Management recently spoke to Eaton about AR/VR technology, her role as a female CEO in the technology industry and more. An edited version of that conversation follows.
Rental Management: What are some of the ways AR/VR technology is being used in the world today?
Annie Eaton: Augmented and virtual reality are extremely valuable tools, especially now that so many interactions are taking place virtually. To be able to see products in augmented reality in your own space is an efficient way to show products without physically having access to them. This can also save on sales travel time and give customers a more realistic understanding of the scale of the product library. On the virtual reality side, there are many safety advantages to utilizing an immersive technology experience to train employees. Not only is there less risk involved in initial training, but you put less wear and tear on equipment, as it’s not needed for the full duration of training.
Rental Management: What are some of the newest opportunities AR/VR is providing to users?
Eaton: Starting with virtual reality, standalone headsets are becoming more advanced and in some ways are replacing PC-based headsets. “Six degrees of freedom” or 6DOF, which allows users to walk around in the physical world and is translated to walking in virtual space, is crucial for an immersive VR experience. Previously, 6DOF was only achieved by a complicated room setup and a high-powered gaming computer. More recently, and growing in popularity, are standalone headsets. While they do not have the processing power of a computer, they are a fantastic way for people to achieve immersive experiences in a portable fashion. Portability is key when it comes to adoption and these headsets are paving the way to mass adoption of VR technology.
Augmented reality is still pushing towards glasses, although a product that will drive mass adoption has not hit the market yet. In the meantime, wearables are performing full spatial mapping to overlay digital information onto the physical world in real time. This real-time mapping is also possible in the newer iOS devices — particularly those that support Lidar (light detection and ranging), which is built into some iPads. More precise mapping and better processing power will drive higher graphics, better rendering and more accurate scaling when
it comes to augmented reality object placement.
We get to make what seems
impossible appear possible.
— Annie Eaton, CEO,
Rental Management: What is it about AR/VR technology that pulled you in to create Futurus?
Eaton: I was recently speaking with a friend who said, “We create magic,” and that stuck with me. We get to make what seems impossible appear possible. Whether it is placing objects in the world around you in augmented reality that “doesn’t exist” or going on an adventure to outer space in virtual reality, that is magic to me. The endless possibilities were a huge draw, and as someone who always wants to push the limits, it has been a fantastic industry to align myself with.
Rental Management: In an industry that has had so many male CEOs, what does it mean to you to be a female CEO in the technology industry?
Eaton: It has been a journey, certainly. While the job is always a challenge regardless, some aspects are just a bit tougher because of subconscious gender bias. Thankfully, I have many allies in my network who support me and speak up if someone is not giving me the respect I deserve. I have been to conferences where people will not talk to me in my own booth because they are “looking for the boss.” That stings and I hate that women still must deal with that closed-minded mentality. The best I can do is my best, which typically proves those people wrong. Women in business leadership are a force to be reckoned with, and as many stories as I have that would probably shock you, I will leave your women readers with this: Confidence is key and then have the facts to back it up.
Rental Management: What is the next big thing in AR/VR technology?
Eaton: I have seen a big push in fitness applications utilizing virtual reality technology recently. Exercising in VR has a huge appeal to people who need some extra motivation — whether that is gamification, working out with your friends who do not live near you, or being able to perform an exercise on the top of a mountain with a beautiful vista.
The biggest growing trend in augmented reality is Web AR experiences. They do not support as much interactivity or fidelity as app-based augmented reality, but they are accessible to more consumers because they can be experienced directly through a mobile web browser. This medium is best suited for short-term marketing experiences or simple product placement tools. Each experience is hosted on its own webpage and can be accessed on both iOS and Android devices. Expect to see more QR codes promising augmented reality experiences in the aisles of your favorite grocery store, or on a summer blockbuster’s movie poster at the theater.
Rental Management: Where do you see AR/VR going in the future?
Eaton: If we are looking into the far — but not too far — future, contact lenses are the ultimate goal. Wearables will continue to shrink in size until all that is needed are contact lenses with micro screens. Processing power will not need to take place on the device — cloud rendering will solve that. With faster data speeds, information and content can be transmitted so quickly that the human eye will not notice. Currently, immersive experiences have a benchmark of 72 frames per second. When that is possible via streaming in 360-degrees — which it currently is via hardware much larger than a contact lens — we will be able to turn it on and off whenever we would like without putting on anything larger than a contact lens.