What is Augmented Reality??
Augmented Reality, and its cousin Virtual Reality, commonly referred to as A/R or AR and V/R or VR, have long held great intrigue by nearly everyone who is aware of their possibility. Virtual reality, the idea that we can immerse ourselves wholly in a digital and artificial rendering of the world, has been dreamt about for decades, and is ever closer permeating our everyday lives. Most have seen the advertisements that turn some smart phones into a VR headset. Extreme sports enthusiasts have probably seen commercially available 360-degree field of view cameras. This is quickly bringing millions their first samples of virtual reality and the power it has.
A/R, however, can be thought of as a half step towards virtual reality. Rather that completely overtaking our vision or other senses, augmented reality instead seeks to work with the physical world and overlay digital information over what we are seeing in the real world. At present, this approach has much more applicability to helping us better solve real-world problems, and with platforms that integrate augmented reality like PTC's ThingWorx, companies can be reaping the benefits almost immediately and with no coding.
How does it work?
Distilled down to basics, augmented reality grabs onto a reference point from an on-board camera integrated into almost any tablet, smart phone, or peripheral and will then will digitally overlay information (most often a CAD image) on the screen of what the camera is seeing. The image dynamic, you can move and the image and information should stay in the proper relation to the object you are identifying.
PTC ThingWorx in use- displaying the outputs from a 3-D rendering of a motorcycle
What is the value?
First, almost every manufactured product in the last few years was originally rendered and developed at least in-part with a CAD image. This means that almost any product has the ability to be easily complimented with A/R in a few minutes or less. Secondly, any product that requires any assembly, maintenance, or instructions on how it is to be used can benefit.
AR Use Case: Replacing the Service Manual
In the example of the motorcycle, a project motorcycle's original service manual is 419 pages long, full 8.5x11 sheets. What if, instead, you could carry that same amount of information in your phone, tablet, or computer? With A/R, you can. And more, you can add in exponentially more detail than you ever could with a black and white, 2-D service manual. Things like bolt sizes, torque specs, hidden fasteners, and safety warnings can all be text overlaid on to the image. Furthermore, you can add 3-D renderings, exploded views, and animation, all with the few clicks of a button.
If that wasn't enough, anyone who has ever had to use a service manual on a complicated machine, such as a vehicle, has had to flip back and forth between service procedures. For example, the first step to changing the oil on a modern sport bike is often to remove the fairings. This means, if you don't have all 37 fastener locations memorized, you have to flip to that part of the service manual for reference, before returning to the oil change procedure, and so on and on. With A/R, you could simply select the service procedure and it would take you through all the proper steps sequentially, no jumping around.
Even more, service procedures sometimes evolve and are updated. The paper manual that is valid today may not be tomorrow. Converting to an A/R platform, you could digitally capture the vehicle VIN in order to return the most accurate model and up-to-date work instructions (and, obviously, push any safety recall notifications, etc. as well!).
Changing the Paradigm
This one use-case should excite anyone who has ever been confused by print instructions. But this is even more than just about making service technicians lives easier. This means that more repairs can potentially be made by end-users, no field service or dealer trip required. And, again, since this requires no coding and often uses existing CAD images, this can easily be integrated into the value proposition of the product. It can even be used as a marketing tool, making users quickly and interactively aware of all their product's new features. Assembly of premade furniture could also benefit greatly from this technology. Some companies engaging with LHP are even interested in using the technology to create renderings of factory renovations to better visualize how all their new operating lines might actually look and work together. The possibilities are endless.
While virtual reality might still be getting sorted out, augmented reality is here today, ready and waiting with a very real ROI.