The information experience

Augmented reality presents ideas and facts in just a glance.
By Kevin Parker March 16, 2017

Augmented reality (AR) applies measure to matter, right before our eyes. It does so by overlaying "augmentations" onto the visual plenums of users wearing smart glasses. Users see the dimensions and specifications of the modelled object they are looking at. In terms of industrial application possibilities, it’s more interesting than complete-unto-themselves virtual realities.

"Augmented reality brings physical worlds and cyber worlds into close conjunction," said Mike Campbell, an executive vice president at PTC, which has assembled an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform, called ThingWorx. It combines industrial connectivity, application development, and predictive analytics and works with PTC computer-aided design (CAD) and other of its product solutions. These solutions include an augmented-reality authoring tool used to develop AR experiences. IIoT is used to make those experiences meaningful.

Golden opportunities

"IIoT is for operations optimization," said Campbell, "but it’s also important to design and to services provision. Augmented reality will be how the ‘digital-twin’ becomes a concept of power. For a viewer, a digital-twin resident in the cloud overlays design information onto the viewed object. This type of capability is equally attractive to owner-operators and OEMs."

AR’s power may be hard to over-estimate. Simply think of all the types of skilled and semi-skilled labor to which it could be applied.

More generally, this digital information—including text, image, and videos—can be presented in the real-time context of the physical world through any camera-enabled device such as a smartphone or tablet. Displays can be fixed on the object, or floating. For industry, smart glasses and other digital eyewear will prove especially attractive because they allow hands-free use.

Much as the smart phone has changed daily life, AR could quickly and significantly change how all sorts of work is done. At the same time the technology and human challenges involved seem significant.

"The challenge with AR is that it is difficult, requiring development and training skills," said Campbell. "We are attacking the problem using the Internet of Things and by forging ways to quickly develop applications."

Machine identities

For one, PTC has a universal browser optimized for viewing modelled objects. Users select an augmented experience to view, whether that includes sensor, analytic or enterprise data.

Of course, a machine identification may be of a kind of a machine or of an individual machine. PTC’s IIoT platform connectivity makes available the sensor data, real-time services and CAD data to make different types of identifications that result in what PTC and Campbell call a "connected augmented reality."

"It’s a way to contextualize and experience information," concluded Campbell, who believes that AR will someday soon be a primary computing paradigm, especially in the IIoT world.

To quicken that day’s arrival, PTC is running the ThingWorx pilot program, which allows companies to build their own augmented experiences. So far, 1,500 companies have created more than 60,000 experiences.

This article appears in the IIoT for Engineers supplement for Control Engineering 
and Plant Engineering

– See other articles from the supplement below.