If you’ve seen the Ironman movie series, then you know that everyone’s favorite Avenger works with some seriously cool gadgets and technologies. One capability that seems to feature a lot in the series is Tony Stark’s ability to have data streams and information appear to float in air in front of him – either while he’s wearing his Ironman suit or when he’s in his office. Forget pulling out his cell phone to call Pepper Potts or consulting Google for a map of the city: that information is readily available for him to look at and manipulate.
Luckily for us, this technology isn’t confined to Marvel movies – it’s available for us to use right now with Augmented Reality (AR). On the latest episode of The Connected Engineer – PTCs podcast series aimed at the people who turn napkin sketches into reality – host, Gavin Quinlan, discusses how AR is being deployed in the industry with Sandra Humphrey, Design Automation Analyst at Fujitsu, and Ryan Martin of ABI Research. Also joining the conversation is Matt Sheridan – Senior Go-To-Market Director at PTC.
To start the conversation, the distinction was made between AR and it’s oft-confused cousin virtual reality (VR). According to Martin, AR is the ability to have content or information overlaid your field of vision via a heads-up display. VR, on the other hand, is more immersive and is usually viewed via a binoculars display. “Augmented Reality provides the opportunity to extend what you would normally experience on a desktop or within the four-corner confines of a traditional display into the real-world.”
Besides coming up with really cool superhero plans, AR can be used to share product information to disparate teams. Fujitsu, for example, shares CAD data to its worldwide labs through AR. They also deploy AR technology when demonstrating a product to a potential customer. With the AR experience, not only is Fujitsu saved the hassle of actually shipping a prototype of the product to where the customer visit is taking place, but – with the CAD data -- they can even demo products that haven’t even been manufactured yet.
“[AR] is not having to send a unit to Canada when you have a customer visit,” explains Humphrey. “You can bring your iPad or HoloLens or whatever your choice of communicating is. It’s to scale. You can look inside the unit, walk around it, and give [the customer] all the information that they need at that point.”
While Martin agreed that there will be many ways that stakeholders are able to interact with AR experiences (ie tablets and smartphones), he felt that the use of heads-up displays will become as standard on the factory floor as a nurse wearing scrubs; a manufacturer wearing safety goggles (or Ironman in his suit). “These are occupational-related tools, for all intents and purposes,” he said. “There’s no reason why this technology should not have a place to play… if it truly transforms the way employees have access to information and perform their jobs better.”
Like all new technologies, AR won’t be without its roadblocks to mass adoption. “The challenge often is articulating the business case for it,” explains Martin. “We’re finding that the decision-maker often is not necessarily the traditional decision-maker. It’s not going to be the IT department – although certainly they’ll have a hand managing and perhaps in accruing these devices and solutions. In many cases, it could be the project manager. It could be the product owner. It goes all the way down to the people on the factory floor. These are the folks who are actually using the devices and those are the people who also need to be reassured that this is a technology that is not there to replace what they’re currently doing. It’s there to help people do their jobs better and it really will make a difference.”
Still not convinced that we’re heading towards a workplace where employees walk around with Google glasses perched on their heads? Not so fast! That’s the same thinking that kept people from predicting the smartphone revolution. “Today you pick your phone out of your pocket to do your banking but 15-20 years ago, that was not the case,” explains Sheridan. “With AR, we’re right at the beginning of what’s going to be an incredible ride as we bring in experiences that connect with the product and they start allowing us to interact – whether that’s through touch, visual, or voice command. There’s all sorts of Augmented Reality that could be brought to bear when you’re dealing with products. It’s going to be exciting!”
“I think it’s clear, looking at it holistically, that it’s certainly trending in that direction,” adds Martin. “Looking a couple of years out, I think we’ll look back and say ‘How did we not have this before? How did we do business before we had Augmented Reality?’”