Posted By David Brousell, February 03, 2016 at 11:35 AM, in Category: Transformative Technologies
In the technology field, it sometimes takes a long time for vision to become reality. Artificial intelligence, analytics, robots, many categories of software, and even the now-popular 3D printing technology have all traveled a lengthy road to get to the point of practical application and substantial, widespread use.
The technology known as augmented reality – defined by Merriam-Webster as “an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device” – is certainly an outpost on that historical road, with early work on the technology dating back more than half a century.
In 1957, an inventor named Morton Helig built the Sensorama, which was able to project a format of a stereoscopic 3D environment to the front and sides of the human head. In 1966, Professor Ivan Sutherland of Harvard University invented a head-mounted display which was nicknamed the Sword of Damocles because its heavy weight required it to be suspended from the ceiling of his laboratory.
Today, there is a frenzy of activity, as well as significant financial bets, around augmented reality and its cousin, virtual reality. Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple have all jumped into what they as well as the venture capital crowd believe will be a big market. In 2014, for example, Facebook spent $2 billion to acquire virtual reality headset maker Oculus. Microsoft has demonstrated its HoloLens augmented reality device, Apple recently acquired an augmented reality start-up company called Flyby Media, and manufacturing companies such as Volkswagen have demonstrated how augmented reality can show where specific parts are located in a car.
Last week, I attended an event in Boston on augmented reality put on by PTC, well known for its Pro/Engineer and Windchill product lifecycle management design software products, but a company which is also now placing a great emphasis on the Internet of Things, a trend which PTC chief executive James E. Hepplemann says represents a “radical transformational shift that is creating a whole new world of smart, connected products.”
And it is a world, PTC believes, that must be seen through the lens of augmented reality.
“The digital and physical worlds are converging, and its affecting everything – how we design, make, service,” Hepplemann said at PTC’s “ThingEvent” meeting in Boston. “It is changing the nature of work, industry boundaries, and competition. PTC itself is being completely reinvented. But the world has yet to achieve the potential of the convergence. ”
Up until now, augmented reality has found its way into a number of consumer applications, but Hepplemann made the case that the technology’s greater potential is in business. “The way that augmented reality will really change the world is how it is applied in the enterprise,” he said. “And service is the first killer app.”
To support this idea, PTC had several customers at the event briefly discuss what they are doing with augment reality in the service of their products. One of them, KTM Motorrad AG, a Mattighofen, Austria-based manufacturer of offroad and street motorcycles, said they saw a “huge potential” with augmented reality in how technicians can diagnose and service a motorcycle. Using augmented reality displayed on a tablet, KTM demonstrated a service routine on one of its bikes.
Another company, Sysmex Corp., a Kobe, Japan-based manufacturer of medical diagnostic equipment, showed how augmented reality could help remove a part from one of its blood analyzers and instruct a technician on the proper cleaning technique for the device. Sysmex said it uses augmented reality technology from Vuforia, which PTC acquired in November of last year from Qualcomm Connected Experiences, Inc., a subsidiary of Qualcomm, Inc.
And Caterpillar, the Peoria, Illinois-based machinery and heavy equipment manufacturer, which described augmented reality as a “major initiative” at the company, sees the technology as a way to more effectively deal with how people consume the large amounts of information it has about its products. A CAT representative at the meeting told the story of a customer coming into a CAT dealership and being handed a large manual on one of the CAT products. The customer’s response was: “Don’t you have a YouTube video I could watch.”
As part of its emphasis on the service opportunity it sees, PTC in May of last year struck a joint development, marketing and sales alliance with ServiceMax, a provider of field service management software, and in August made a financial investment in the company, the amount of which was undisclosed.
PTC is promising more developments around its augmented reality vision later this year when it announces what it says will be new capabilities in its ThingX suite, which includes a browser, an authoring environment, and server technology.
Until then, augmented reality will continue its trek to greater acceptance, moved along perhaps by the service opportunity. And it will certainly get more visibility and awareness as Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Apple develop their offerings. But it’s still early days for most companies not only with augmented reality technology but also with the IoT and even networking of the factory floor.
Hepplemann acknowledges this and recommends that manufacturers start experimenting with the technology. It is good advice. Could 2016 be the year that augmented reality truly becomes a reality in the enterprise?
The answer is anybody’s guess, but it is important for manufacturers to place a number of technology bets. Not everyone will pay off, of course, but knowledge can lead to advantage.
What’s your view on augmented reality? Is your company prepared to see the possibilities?
Written by David Brousell
Global Vice President, General Manager and Editorial Director of the Manufacturing Leadership Council