Reality can be pretty grim these days, but augmented reality has never been hotter. The ability to enhance one's surroundings with generated images has raised the bar for what is possible in science, commerce, infrastructure, and entertainment.

We have had several articles -- so, so, so many -- identifying winning picks in companies at the forefront of this next-gen tech. I will focus my list on some of the more unlikely publicly traded companies using augmented reality. Let's see how Wayfair (NYSE:W), Ulta Beauty (NASDAQ:ULTA), and Disney (NYSE:DIS) are shaking up their industries with some AR tricks up their sleeves.

Wayfair app using AI to add its products into your room through your smartphone camera.

Image source: Wayfair.

Wayfair

It may seem odd to find a furniture retailer in an article about augmented reality, but Wayfair has always been about so much more than just setting you up with a leather loveseat or patio bistro set. Wayfair is at its core a technology company. 

How many furniture sellers do you know run an active blog on their site about data science? Over the years Wayfair has been leaning on tech to serve its clients better and drumming sales in the process. There's algorithmic style detection where it mines product data and aggregate customer shopping behavior to generate visitor-specific style clusters. It rolled out visual search in 2017 so potential shoppers can upload items and find in-store matches. This brings us to 2018 when Wayfair's computer vision team introduced the ability to visually embed product images into the actual room where you want them to go. 

Augmented reality gives Wayfair an edge on the competition, and right now investors can get in on the forward-thinking online marketplace operator for less than a third of where it was at its peak a little more than a year ago. Revenue growth is slowing at Wayfair, but it's hard to be upset at a furniture retailer delivering 26% growth in its latest quarter.

Ulta Beauty

Beauty retail is another industry that's starting to lean on AR to get the job done. Ulta acquired Uruguay-based GlamST in late 2018, the owner of a proprietary technology allows people to try on makeup through AR. If you're looking for the finished product you can check out GLAMlab on Ulta's website, a virtual app that lets potential shoppers use a camera to cycle through what various shades of foundation, eyeliner, eyeshadow, mascara, and other products look like on their faces before committing to the purchase. The AR looks help spur in-store sale, but they're even more important now that Ulta's business has shifted online for most shoppers.

Ulta is another stock that has taken a beating, shedding more than half of its value since peaking last summer. A rare miss during last year's second quarter and weak guidance triggered a sell-off. The chain was starting to gain momentum before the coronavirus crisis rattled the shares again. Cosmetics and beauty products offer creature comforts during rocky economic times, and Ulta is bound to get a small chunk of consumer stimulus checks in the coming months. 

Disney

Let's close by taking a look at the global entertainment leader. Disney has always taken a high-tech approach to its industry-defining theme parks, so it's not a surprise to see AR in the mix. Disney rolled out the Play Disney Parks app to make waiting in line for enjoyable. Guests at select attractions can unlock in-queue diversions at some popular attractions, including some AR goodies that enhance physical surroundings. Disney raised the bar again earlier this year when it began to send resort guests letters in the mail that unlock an app feature where an animated Mickey Mouse springs to life from the page through a mobile camera.  

Disney has surrendered more than a third of its value since hitting all-time highs just before Thanksgiving. All of its parks worldwide are closed as a results of the coronavirus outbreak, and it's going to be a long road back for the economy once we clear this health crisis. However, with Disney still the studio behind Hollywood's hottest release and its unmatched collection of theme parks it's hard to bet against the family friendly blue chip stock for long.