How Will AR Change Design Engineering? Two Examples

A few days ago, PTC hosted a major IoT Event focusing on the future of augmented reality (AR). If you’re not yet familiar with it, AR is a technology that recognizes physical objects and overlays them with digital information.

Here’s an example: you aim your iPad out your back door, and it overlays the scene with a new deck. So you get the full effect of an expensive construction project, without digging the first post hole.


That’s cool, but it may not mean much to the average CAD engineer—until you start to imagine the same technology inside your car…

A New Approach to Your Car Dashboard

New smart technologies could very much change how you design. At PTC’s ThingEvent, the most striking example provided was the automobile dashboard. Typically, you have instrument clusters behind the wheel as you drive—speedometer, gas gauge, oil indicator.

Design engineers can and should take a lot of pride in these devices. Look at this Bentley.


Image by I, 天然ガス, CC BY-SA 3.0

At the ThingEvent, PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann imagined mechanical engineers of the future might instead design dashboards that look like this.


If you think that’s plain, it’s by design. Imagine the cockpit that holds this device is also filled with sensors sending data to the internet (that’s the fundamental way the Internet of Things, or IoT, works). That data is then collected by an electronic device which can overlay the information digitally on your view (AR). Through the lens of your iPad or AR glasses, your cockpit might look like this:


Too analog for your taste? A change of online options can fix that—in a split second and at a much lower cost than, say, having your instruments changed out at the garage.


It’s not hard to imagine an option that gives you that Bentley look and feel, even if just for a day. Maybe tomorrow you’d prefer a Ferrari.

“When 3D CAD meets IoT and augmented reality, magic happens,” says Heppelmann.

How would you design differently if you knew the labeling, instruments, and even animations could be part of the product experience? If you knew that you could overlay intelligence on your design?

CAD without Keyboards

In an even more visionary presentation, Jay Wright, general manager at PTC, said augmented reality could also change the way you interact with your 3D CAD models, in a such a way that you might not rely so heavily on your keyboard and mouse. Put on those AR glasses again, and now you can walk around a full-size 3D digital model of your assembly.

“Wouldn’t it be great if I could see that model, actual size, in my studio?” he asked. “I just walk around to see it at any angle, I can even do a virtual fly through.”

What Else Can AR Do?

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. AR and IoT can change how, and even WHO, can service your products, as in the video below. It can also change what data you’ll have before you start your next design, documentation, and much more.

If you’re intrigued, visit the ThingEvent website. You’ll see demos and presentations, and meet customers already envisioning an AR future.