Industrial augmented reality (AR) is what we call any augmented reality application used to assist or improve an industrial process. If you’re new to the topic, AR is a technology that superimposes computer-generated objects on a user’s view of the real world. This includes anything from apps like Pokemon Go to head-up displays you find in cars, for example.
Practical applications of industrial augmented reality
Imagine you’re an employee of a large manufacturing company. You get tasked with installing a new industrial printer in a small room with limited space. The supervisor asks you to choose one of the devices stored in the warehouse that would best fit in the room. What would your first step be?
Usually, you’d have to measure the available space and compare them with the dimensions of each printer. However, the process would be tedious, time-consuming and could be inaccurate. Now imagine you have an AR app with 3D models of the available devices. Using it, you can virtually place different printers in the target space and visualize which one will fit best. For reference, check out an app 4Experience developed for ModiModi.
After choosing a device, an AR navigation system could lead you through the large warehouse, making it easy to locate the correct item. With the help of a forklift, the printer is transported to the room where it will be installed. You face one more obstacle – you don’t know exactly how to install it and can’t find a manual. Once again, the same app comes to the rescue. It displays interactive step-by-step instructions with detailed 3D models.
This is just one of the awesome opportunities industrial augmented reality opens. We’ll talk more about the other ways you can use industrial augmented reality in an interview later in this article. For now, let’s focus a little more on the technical aspects of this technology.
Different technological approaches
It’s good to understand a few technical nuances when talking about augmented reality for industrial applications. Let’s take a look at three of them.
Augmented reality markers
What are markers? They’re essentially things that trigger the appearance of AR elements. They can take the form of distinctive objects and shapes that the phone’s or tablet’s camera recognizes, or they can be location-based, using a GPS signal. Both work well in different situations.
If an app is created to work in a closed space, like a warehouse, using GPS markers wouldn’t be effective, as they’re only really accurate in open spaces. Alternatively, you can develop an app that doesn’t use markers, and the AR objects are activated manually by pressing a button for example.
There are two main options: you can use a mobile device like a smartphone, or you can go for a pair of AR smart glasses. The first option may be cheaper, especially if you can get your employees to use their own devices. But an advantage of AR glasses worth considering is the hands-free experience they offer. And speaking of glasses, let’s take a closer look at one of such devices – the Microsoft Hololens.
Mixed reality solutions
The Hololens is what we would call a mixed reality headset. What does that mean? Besides having all the functionalities we would expect from an AR device, it allows the user to interact with the virtual objects as if they were real, with no controllers. Such devices are rather expensive but extremely useful in designing, manufacturing as well as remote collaboration & support applications.
“AR gives users the added benefit of…”
To give us a better understanding of the technical aspects and potential applications of industrial augmented reality, I met up with Rafał Puciłowski, our AR/VR expert and senior programmer. His experience and insight into the topic helped greatly in creating this piece of writing. Here’s part of our conversation.
Rafał, thank you for finding time for this interview. Please, tell us about your professional background and experience.
I’m a Senior VR/AR Developer & Lead Programmer. My beginnings as a Unity programmer go back to 2010, when I received my master’s degree from the Faculty of Physics, Astronomy and Applied Computer Science of the Jagiellonian University. Since then, I have had the chance to work on more than 30 projects, including around 20 for 4Experience.
And what does your typical workday look like?
I start with a good coffee and prepare for the daily storm (laughs). There is always a lot to do. I ensure projects are running according to schedule and help find solutions to technical challenges. Among my other responsibilities are preparing project plans and scopes for sprints and communicating with our clients. Finally, I’m also a programmer, so I have to find time to write code.
That does sound like a lot of work! Could you tell us a little bit about the AR projects you’ve worked on at 4Experience?
We’ve developed dozens of AR applications, mostly marketing solutions, showcases and simple games. The most interesting and valuable project I worked on was the one we developed for AR4Vision. It was essentially an AR remote support application.
Through a smartphone, it allows users in different locations to see the same image in real-time. Technicians and experts can easily guide the other person by using arrows and drawing information. In essence, they draw instructions that overlap the live image.
One more interesting project we worked on was called Augmented Routes. It’s a tourist guide application that uses location-based markers to reveal content and places animated AR elements in the real-world environment.
Now, let’s focus on augmented reality in industrial applications. What are some ways we can use AR for manufacturing and related sectors?
Generally speaking, industrial AR & related technologies, at their current level of development, are most effective and profitable in training applications. This includes everything from improving the onboarding process through safety training to interactive instructions on how to use specialistic devices.
And we see this in the number of training projects we’ve completed and are asked to develop. For example, just recently, our developers completed an AR onboarding application for Samsung.
One more unrelated idea that comes to mind is an AR warehouse navigation system. I mean an application that would, through markers, recognize where the user is and guide him to the storage unit he’s looking for. It could even project 3D models of what’s inside closed containers. Our imagination and the budget are the only limitations (smiles).
And what challenges can an organization solve with industrial augmented reality? Why would they want to choose AR solutions?
Well, for starters, the concentration span of people has dropped in recent years. So it’s challenging to make employees read long documents or listen to prolonged lectures. Augmented reality and other interactive technologies are much more engaging and effective in terms of knowledge retention.
They’re often more accurate and informative too. For example, 3D models and animation will better present an object or device than a technical drawing, especially for workers who aren’t engineers. And AR gives the user the added benefit of viewing objects from every angle and direction with simple, intuitive navigation tools.
Finally, augmented reality for mobile devices is very accessible and doesn’t need any infrastructure for the most part. It’s easy to lose a printed instruction or manual. Our phones, on the other hand, we always have them around. And nowadays, you don’t even need a dedicated application for an authentic AR experience!
What do you mean you don’t need an application?
Web-based AR is becoming more and more popular. It can be accessed using an internet browser on a mobile device, so users don’t have to download anything or worry about updates. Whenever you want to update your manuals or training materials, you just upload the new information directly to your database. No need to waste paper and energy on printing textbooks. As you can see, it’s a very eco-friendly approach.
Indeed. And you can make the app multilingual instead of creating separate training materials for employees from abroad, correct?
Make industrial augmented reality your ally
It’s important to point out that augmented reality is becoming a mainstream technology. Its accessibility and low-entry level make it stand out from the VR/MR/AR trio. Now is the time to increase your productivity, improve training programs and enhance processes with this exciting technology!
We hope this article sparked your curiosity and gave you a better insight into industrial augmented reality. If you’d like to find out more about the opportunities AR opens for your company, schedule a free consultation with one of our experts. We promise we’ll write back in less than 24 hours!