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Whilst there’s a huge amount of hype around Virtual Reality currently, led primarily by tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Sony; it is sometimes easy to overlook Augmented Reality.
If both these terms are alien to you, then allow me to explain - Virtual Reality simulates a physical presence, both real world places and imagined worlds, allowing the user to interact with that world. Augmented Reality is as the name suggests, augmenting the real world with additional content, be that text overlays, 3D animations, video, audio or a combination thereof.
A quick search of technology industry analysts and you’ll arrive at a common thread, that being - AR will be bigger, but will take longer.
By the end of 2020 it's forecast that AR will represent a $90B industry, three times larger than the $30B expected from VR. VR is expected to be dominated by the entertainment sector – specifically video games, 360 videos/movies and theme parks. In the case of AR the market is expected to be far more fragmented with many more apps being developed in the corporate, industrial and scientific sectors.
Specifically in engineering, how is AR being used and how will that change?
There are a number of examples that can be highlighted where AR is already having a positive impact on engineers’ lives. One of the advantages AR grants is the ability to visualise a design that originates on a computer screen, as it is meant to appear in the real world. Imagine a situation where an engineer in the manufacturing plant could see the final assembled product and the guided instructions to follow. Solidworks recognised this and released eDrawings, a plugin to their popular CAD software, that enables a 3D model overlay to be triggered upon scanning of an AR marker – in this case a printed QR code.
Another example is Google Glass – an optical head-mounted display designed in the shape of a pair of spectacles that went on sale to consumers in May 2013. Initially reported as a failure as consumers found the technology ‘creepy’ and ‘intrusive’, it’s now being quietly used by dozens of engineering companies and has largely slipped under the radar of gadget bloggers. It is now sold exclusively as an enterprise solution through the Google X brand (http://www.x.company/glass/).
Companies such as GE, Boeing and Volkswagen have publicly stated they are seeing productivity gains and quality improvements. “OK, Glass, Proceed” is a commonly heard phrase up and down the shop floor as the smart glasses subtly guide the engineers through their daily processes.
These companies would seem to be on to something, a recent Forrester Research report predicts that by 2025 nearly 10% of the US workforce will be wearing smart glasses.
So what does the future hold for AR in engineering…can we see a time when computer monitors are completely eradicated for example? I suspect the answer to that is no, I think in the short-term there will be a need in the design phase for a monitor, however going back to the premise of AR, there’s a strong case to made for it augmenting the design phase. Visually recognition of components, checking whether they’re incorrectly wired, quick and efficient ordering of component shortfalls or replacements without having to dash back to your PC, bug identification through comparison with known-working systems, these are just some of the ways in which AR could be used. Could being the operative word, as is often the case with pushing the envelope of innovation, the true benefits are often not realised until the adoption curve has matured. I think there’s little doubt AR will increasingly be adopted by the engineering community but equally the most beneficial applications of the technology are yet to be conceived.
RS Components' DesignSpark once again are leading the way with innovation, they approached us at Austella with an idea to take their component 3D model library and embed them in an Augmented Reality application. Core to the app is a powerful OCR (Optical Character Recognition) module that allows users to scan part numbers, be those in a printed or digital format, and instantly display the corresponding component specifications. Where a 3D model of the component exists, the app will initiate an AR response, allowing the user to see the model against the backdrop of the real world where they’re free to manipulate (zoom, rotate, orientate) the 3D model.
You can register your interest to 'test drive' the DesignSpark AR app Click Here:
It is in active development and your feedback is essential in providing the best possible experience.
RS believe in Augmented Reality and understand its potential in engineering, embarking on this will unveil some hidden benefits and steer the future development of the app and their AR strategy. It’s a grown-up strategy, not pretending to know all the benefits AR will bring, but putting something out there and saying ‘hey show us how this thing should go’. It shows RS’ commitment to innovation, underlined by the formation of a new department, Innovation Lab, specifically set up to accommodate rapidly changing technology and customer needs.
Austella is a digital content company based in Ascot, Berkshire. We specialise in the development of 3D, augmented and virtual reality applications for clients in a wide range of market sectors, including education, gaming, industrial and FMCG. Austella has over 75 years combined experience of developing for all major AR and VR platforms including Oculus, HTC Vive, Google Daydream, Sony Playstation and mobile (iOS & Android).
For more information, please visit the website at www.austella.com