When will augmented reality be ready for industrial applications?
The virtual reality (VR) technology that is quite popular in the game and movie industries in recent years is being extended to wider fields, such as industry, medicine, education, and the smart home. As pointed out in the White Book on the Development of Virtual Reality Industry 5.0, China is experiencing high-speed development in the VR industry, and the industrial application of VR is anticipated. With the promotion of Industrie 4.0 and intelligent manufacturing, increasing attention will be paid on the value of VR technology for industrial applications.
As a type of computer simulation system, VR technology provides a new way to interact by simulation of the 3-D world. Virtual reality has three types: virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR).
The history of VR technology is relatively long and is not new to the industrial field. As early as in the 1990s, VR technology was applied in the aviation field. For example, the Johnson Space Center has used VR technology for maintenance and training of the Hubble Telescope, and Boeing has used VR technology to assist in the Boeing 777 design. In addition, industrial simulation also plays a significant role in areas such as product demonstration, design, and enterprise training.
In the rapid expansion of AR technologies, latecomers regularly surpass their predecessors. Compared to an immersive and fully enclosed simulated environment, AR can enhance the display output of the real environment and has obvious advantages in fields such as manufacturing and maintenance of precise instruments, navigation in complicated environments, and remote robotic control.
Gabriel Weiss, responsible for the supervision of AR program in Mitsubishi Electric, says that the company is applying the software application of Metaio, an AR software company, to Epson’s Moverio Smart Glasses to test if automation company service and technical personnel can be benefit from the 3-D superimposed images. Guided by AR technology, even a newbie with low-level ability and little experience can accurately accomplish various types of field maintenance operations.
According to a research report on current conditions and development trends of global VR and AR markets, released by investment bank Digi-Capital, by 2020, the VR market size will be about $30 billion, while the market size of AR could be $90 billion.
Industrial grade AR gear
Industrial AR application is regarded optimistic by many. Major companies have successively launched several "industrial grade" AR helmets, reflecting anticipated market popularity. Microsoft HoloLens (holographic glasses) were released in early 2015, Meta 2 offers glasses and a development kit, and the Daqri Smart Helmet with AR technology, designed for an industrial environment, has integrated the safety protection functions and AR technologies, making a scientific "safety helmet" for engineers.
In addition, PTC, an industrial software giant, acquired VR platform Vuforia for $65 million, raising speculation about industrial-grade AR applications. Vuforia is an AR mobile-vision platform that enables the application to identify the physical world and link it to a digital experience. The platform has attracted 175,000 developers and supports more than 20,000 apps.
"AR technology will provide a great number of application opportunities in the manufacturing field. The combination of the digital world and physical world will assist the manufacturers in better and more intuitive understanding of the operation and application of the products in the real world and enable the manufacturers to provide unique service modes based on the products," said James E. Heppelmann, president and CEO of PTC.
For engineers that have been used to wearing various type of equipment, it probably would be easier and more comfortable to accept AR equipment compared to most other consumers. We expect more surprises in future industrial AR technologies.
Aileen Jin is editor-in-chief, Control Engineering China; Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also see the video and story on the NIWeek 2016 augmented reality demonstration using technologies from Flowserve, PTC ThingWorx, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and National Instruments.
See other Control Engineering international articles at www.controleng.com/international.