Augmented Reality for Industry

By Inderpreet Shoker

Category:
ARC Report Abstract

Executive Overview

Augmented reality (AR) uses displays, cameras, various types of sensors, and software to augment the user’s real-world environment with artificial perceptual experience. Most AR applications use smart devices such as smart phones, tablets, and smart glasses to overlay digital information and graphics onto user’s real-world view. Pokemon Go and Snapchat filters are some of the most popular AR applications in the consumer world.

While AR is not a new concept, advancements in areas, such as computer vision, sensing technologies, data storage, displays, and software technologies, have now made AR a much more practical solution for consumer, commercial, and industrial adoption.  Although, still in the early stages of the AR revolution, we are seeing an explosion of AR startups, thanks to all the interest by venture capital (VC) world.

AR is quickly finding its place in a range of applications in the consumer, commercial, and industrial worlds.  In this report, we will look at the AR technology development, with a focus on industrial applications and trends and associated challenges.

Key findings include:

  • AR has garnered a lot of attention from the VC world in the last few years, with some significant investments made.  With wide application possibilities for enterprise, commercial, and industrial space, AR continues to attract investments.  In 2018, AR funding from the VC world was around $859 million.
  • The manufacturing industry is faced with an impending crisis related to the rapidly approaching mass exodus of skills from the industry with few young people wanting to take up the gauntlet.  AR is proving to be an effective tool to help the industrial workforce. With remote augmented communication, and augmented operations, AR can help the industry better address the impending skills gap challenge.
  • With a wave of baby boomers retiring, the industry needs to quickly and effectively train its new workers. AR has also emerged as a key tool for training.  With AR’s ability to create a see-through effect and merge the physical and virtual worlds, it can help create more effective interactive training sessions. 
  • Digital transformation is disrupting many aspects related to how companies are organized and operate.  In many cases, this helps pave the way to successful AR adoption.  First, the workforce is be-coming more open to new technologies and changes in their work procedures.  Second, all the technology pieces that further improve AR potential are already installed or planned to be installed.

 

Augmented realityExtended Reality

Extended reality (XR) has become the umbrella term for all the immersive technologies.  These include virtual reality (VR), AR, mixed reality (MR), and all other immersive technologies in between. All immersive technologies extend the user’s reality to varying degrees. Before we move on to discuss AR in detail and its applications in industry, it is important to define AR and look at the distinctive features of the technology and understand the similarities and differences between AR, VR, and MR.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is a completely simulated experience created using computer technology. Usually, the simulated experience is completely different than the real (physical) world. The technology is widely popular in the gaming world but has also been gaining traction in industry, mainly for training applications.

Most VR systems create a simulated experience using a VR headset.  However, multi-projected environments can also be used to generate a virtual environment. A VR headset is basically a head-mounted display with a small screen that covers the user’s eyes completely for a full immersive experience. In a multi-projected environment, full immersion is created using specially designed VR rooms with digital content projected onto the walls and may also include projections on floor and ceiling. Multi-projected environments may allow more than one user at a time to immerse in the VR experience. In most VR applications, a user can look around, move, and even interact with the three-dimensional, computer-generated virtual world, making it ideal for gaming and training purposes. Oculus Quest, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Sony Playstation VR are some of the most popular VR headsets available today.

Augmented Reality

AR uses computer technology to augment the user’s real-world environment with digital content. With AR, digital media is superimposed over part of the user’s field of view to augment what he or she sees.  Typically, the user wears a see-through, head-mounted display that projects AR content onto user’s field-of-view. However, various other digital tools, such as smartphones or tablets can also be used to create AR effects.

The concept of AR originated as a heads-up-display (HUD), where a transparent display presents data in the user’s usual viewpoint so he or she does not have to look away for key information. These HUDs were first used in the aviation industry to provide pilots with the key flight instrument data. Since then, the technology has moved on to find usability in other areas.  The technology has become most popular in the automotive industry, helping drivers get speed, engine RPM, and other key information without having to take their eyes off the road.  Some car makers are now incorporating HUD technology into their car designs to show speed, mileage, directions, and other key information for drivers in conjunction with traditional dashboard displays. Today’s most common form of HUDs are smart glasses, such as Google Glass, Epson Moverio, and Vuzix Blade. These smart glasses are also sometimes referred to as AR glasses.

As digital and sensor technologies have become more advanced, car HUDs are also morphing into a more sophisticated technology. Advanced HUD systems can now smartly detect the dimensions and objects in the user’s field-of-view and thus place digital content in relation to the real content in the field. For example, Continental’s AR HUD can be paired with driver-assist systems such as adaptive cruise control (ACC) and lane departure warning (LDW) to offer drivers advanced visual alerts and information. When ACC detects a vehicle ahead, the HUD overlays digital markers on the road to indicate the distance from the vehicle ahead. Similarly, by taking in data from the LDW system, the HUD can overlay virtual lane markers onto the driver’s view of the road.

AR has also been widely used with rear view cameras in cars to help drivers back up and park. Most backup cameras add visual markers on-to the monitor to help indicate where the car is heading as well as help make it easier for the driver to get into or out of parking spaces. Most recently, AR has been popularized by the gaming app, Pokémon Go.

In summary, AR can be achieved on various types of hardware: car windshields and back up camera monitors, television screens, phones, tablets, and smartphones. With AR, digital content may or may not take into account the relative position of different objects in the user’s field of view.  In other words, digital content may or may not be anchored to the field.

Mixed Reality

Similar to AR, with MR digital media is superimposed over part of the user’s field of view to augment what he or she sees.  But goes one step further. While with AR applications, digital content may or may not be anchored to the field, with MR applications, the digital content is almost always anchored. Moreover, a user can interact with virtual objects.  For example, with Microsoft HoloLens, users can interact with virtual objects using hand gestures. Another MR headset gaining popularity is MagicLeap One. MR headsets are more advanced than AR smart glasses and therefore able to create a better AR experience.

ARC Scope of AR

With all the technological advancements, the AR and MR worlds appear to be merging, with many advanced applications now able to run on smart glasses.

As with many others in the industry, ARC has started to use the terms AR and MR interchangeably. As a result, the scope of our AR market research encompasses both AR and MR.

Industrial AR

AR technology has been around for many years, but the industrial world has only recently started to pay significant attention to the technology. Technology giants, such as Google and Microsoft are also focusing on industrial applications of AR. Many in the industry, now use the term industrial augmented reality (IAR) for AR applications that sup-port industrial processes.

Industrial Applications

One major benefit of AR is that it does not require dedicated hardware equipment. Machine learning and advancements in computer vision technology have made it possible to build powerful AR applications for tablets and mobile phones. These mobile solutions are already becoming common in the industrial world, making it easier for industrial organizations to adopt AR technology. AR is already gaining traction in the industry.  A discussion of some of the more common applications follows.

Remote Collaboration

One area where AR is proving to be of great use is remote collaboration. Industrial professionals must frequently collaborate with other remote experts. Using AR, they can now connect more effectively with their peers. AR applications allow the use of smart glasses, phones, and tablets.  These enable users to connect with remote experts through video calls and receive guidance in real time using diagrams, markers, instructions, and annotations on the user’s live field-of-view. Many advanced applications also allow users to view critical task information within their field of view. With digitally created content overlaid on a live video stream, AR can provide virtual “hands-on” assistance.

Manufacturers and OEMs that need to provide maintenance services for their equipment spread across wide geographies can benefit significantly from remote augmented collaboration tools to reduce service costs and improve the profitability of these activities.  Many OEMs are now providing AR collaboration tools to end users as a part of their maintenance services. In many cases, using these tools, end users can fix issues themselves with remote guidance from the OEM’s experts.  These tools help end users more rapidly troubleshoot issues in the field and address them quicker and easier. 

Training

Industry is facing an impending skills gap.  With a wave of baby boomers retiring, industry needs to quickly and effectively train its new workers.  Few years ago, VR was touted as the next-gen solution for taking operator training to the next level.  VR can create effective training programs with large field-of-view and complete immersion. However, creating VR experiences can be time consuming and expensive.  AR has now emerged as a key tool for training programs as well.  With AR’s ability to create a see-through effect, and merge real and virtual worlds, it can help create interactive training sessions. 

Many AR companies already offer tools that allow users to create their own augmented training procedures. While simple training procedures can be created for smartphones and tablets, advanced training programs require more sophisticated hardware, such as RealWear glasses and the Microsoft HoloLens. To create advanced training applications, trainers perform various tasks step by step while wearing the smart gear and recording all their steps along with voice instructions. Trainers can also add augmented objects, instructions, and labels to their training applications. Once a training application is created, trainees can reuse the same program multiple times. Trainees wear the AR hardware and are given step-by-step instructions. As they complete each step, AR application recognizes this and gives the trainees the next instruction. This way, AR helps create interactive training sessions that offer trainees a hands-on experience. 

Operations

AR can also be used to simplify day-to-day operations and procedures for industrial workers. So far, AR has gained wide acceptance for assembly operations. Augmented instructions help assembly workers in the automotive, semiconductor, and various other industries perform tasks effectively, quickly, and with fewer errors.  These assembly operations can be complex, with workers having to assemble hundreds of complex components.

Traditionally, the workers would need to rely on printed instructions and memorize the necessary steps.  AR applications, in contrast, can take these instructions and make them easily visible in the worker’s field of view. As workers move on from one step to another, the application provides them with necessary guidance.  Many applications also allow the assembling steps to be video recorded, so if the need arises, the worker can refer to previously recorded assembly videos.

AR is also helping workers in process plants. AR applications are now being used for a range of maintenance and inspection operations. AR applications, when well-integrated with other asset management solutions, can benefit end users by simplifying maintenance tasks. AR applications can fetch work orders for maintenance staffs, show technicians the best route to the malfunctioning asset, display the maintenance records, and fetch instruction manual and data readings, all in their field of view. When integrated properly, AR applications can also help staff members input maintenance and inspection data using simple voice commands.

AR technology is already proving to be of great use to the industrial world. Artificial intelligence (AI) can further improve the value proposition.  First, AI can simplify the AR content creation process. Many AR development software tools are already incorporating AI to make it easy for users without extensive software background to create AR content.  AI can help AR software tools quickly analyze shape, curves, edges, and symmetry to recognize and track objects and place 3D content.  Second, AI can be incorporated with AR applications to improve operations and maintenance performance.  AI can help build effective augmented procedures and instructions based on the situation, process condition, and operator’s expertise.  As each session is recorded, it can be used to further improve the procedure and associated augmented instructions.

 

Table of Contents

  • Executive Overview
  • Extended Reality
  • Industrial AR
  • Getting Started with AR
  • Recommendations

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