WHILE video conferences may be the norm in the current climate, one North-East augmented reality firm has seen its services take off as for many businesses, video calls are not enough.

"If I'm on a webinar or a video conference, if my phone rings I'll take the call or I know I can go downstairs and make a coffee," Lewis Collins, director and co-founder of technology company Aircards, said.

Augmented reality (AR) is where data, be it information or animations, is layered over real-world environments and requires interaction.

As businesses look to engage audiences in a meaningful way while coronavirus restrictions prevent in-person gatherings and non-essential travel, Mr Collins believes AR was already set to play a crucial role in capturing the attention of future consumers but Covid-19 has further cemented its future.

Aircards provides app-less AR and instead uses internet browser technology, meaning users do not need to download an app to get involved, making the process open and inclusive – only a smart phone is needed.

The firm, which is headquartered in Newcastle but has a virtual base in Teesside, recently hosted a virtual careers fair for clients Pot Noodle.

Students on mobile devices were prompted to Tap-to-Place the 3D careers fair scene within their own physical environment, transforming the area around them into a fully interactive virtual experience with booths from a range of employers – some of the 16 to 24-year-old demographic were sat in gardens with a drink in hand, Mr Collins said.

The company says coronavirus has forced a reassessment of events and conferences, with forward-thinking brands looking to immersive technologies to fill the gap left by the cancellation of most physical events.

Instead of shutting down operations, companies like Unilever, the parent company of Pot Noodle, can deliver valuable experiences to users at home with AR.

Mr Collins said: "We started deploying this technology before coronavirus, but it has accelerated the process and it's going to continue to excel. Companies have seen so much more engagement from using AR rather than traditional media.

"AR is becoming a serious contender."

While AR works in the corporate world, with the likes of virtual trade shows and additional training, it is also seen at a consumer level.

Despite the UK eases lockdown, social distancing is expected to have a longstanding impact on retail, down to trying on glasses at the opticians. ASOS, for example, has ramped up its use of AR to allow shoppers to virtually try clothes before they buy.

"It's not industry specific," Mr Collins said. "AR is different, especially to virtual reality (VR), because it invites conversation and creates and experience you want to share. This is the experiential take over. This is the way we were going anyway. Retail has to do something different to really invite people to come back. Covid sped the suffering up."

The dad, whose toddler is digitally savvy, believes the move to AR was already inevitable and has been well prepared for, with the likes of Snapchat and TikTok, but that coronavirus has allowed for greater adoption.

The Aircards boss expects Apple's AR glasses to be a game-changer, bringing the novel technology into day-to-day use.