The Potential for Augmented Reality in Industry
What is AR, or Augmented Reality to use its full terminology? If you are still unsure, the best and most elaborate way I can think of to describe it is this: ‘imposing a virtual, digitally interactive projected layer of information, over and within a reality scenario’, sounds like a mouthful, but it’s far easy to visualise than describe.
In any case, AR appears to be coming of age, it’s passed the toddler stage and looks set to begin running in earnest with estimated sales set to reach close to 70 billion US dollars by 2020 according to some statistics.
Aside from the leisure industry side of Augmented Reality, immersive video games and so forth, what impact could AR have with manufacturing and its supporting industries?
AR is the Teacher
Machines, engines and all manner of equipment and devices are becoming more complicated in design, certainly when compared to their earlier counterparts. With that in mind, will all the technicians involved in the building, servicing or repair of such machines be capable in all aspects and eventualities of their job?
On-the-job training is one aspect of manufacture where AR will prove to be a boon, step-by-step digital guides for the build process, hints and tips from experienced technicians guiding the hands of the trainee through every stage. AR could free up manpower, as there would be no need for extended one-to-one training as the information can be accessed at any time, anywhere, by anyone.
If a machine was to break down a rapid repair maybe beyond the competency of the onsite engineer, perhaps the machine is entirely new to them, but, what if AR could ensure that an engineer with relevant experience of that particular device could assist from anywhere in the world? The onsite engineer could utilise a mobile phone or a tablet’s camera to identify where and what the issue is and the relevant instructions could be imposed graphically on their device. Not only could an experienced engineer help prepare the overlay data for the struggling technician, but they could also talk that person through the necessary steps if required and highlighting in real-time what the issues are and what parts they need.
Devices such as the Microsoft HoloLens have been designed with many of the concepts mentioned above firmly in mind. Although Microsoft utilises the term ‘mixed reality’ in their marketing activities, by all accounts the HaloLen’s is essentially an AR device.
Creating the Framework.
You are tasked with creating the layout of a factory installation, do you have enough space for all the machinery and equipment you require? Wouldn’t it be fantastic to be able to ‘see’ all of your intended installation in situ? Here, in the AR world, you could measure your location precisely, walk around and even through your installation, move equipment around with ease and perhaps, before you have committed to spending vast sums of money you could organise for different machinery or have design changes made prior to their arrival.
The time and cost saving applications of AR in situations like this are patently obvious as long as the digital information being interpreted and manipulated is correct, to begin with, and maintained accurately.
The Logic of Logistics
Warehouses such as those occupied by Amazon are loaded with personnel scurrying around attempting to fulfil orders as rapidly as possible. They have to locate products, scan them using a handheld scanner, load it onto a trolley of some description and deliver their fulfilled orders to the loading bay. Now, let’s add AR to the mix, imagine not having to remember where the products are located on a certain aisle or to search for them if you are perhaps a new employee as AR would guide you (which, as mentioned in the examples above, enhances training methodology). Scanning the product with simply a look instead of manually scanning saves time and could also determine if it is the correct product in that location. Augmented reality appears to offer a great time-saving initiative for businesses where time asset management is a key factor to success.
Getting from A to R
Further down the logistical route, AR could be utilised to optimise shipping in a number of ways; identifying exactly what is within a parcel, what it weighs, it’s exact dimensions, whether it’s fragile, its shipping method and destination. This data would be used to calculate the space required in the transportation and where to locate it to optimise the delivery route. In the truck cab, AR could also provide ‘last-mile’ directions and delivery instructions when close to a delivery point, showing alternative routes should traffic be an issue.
All of this information, perhaps even with the precise delivery point highlighted digitally would save the driver from searching for the property and could, for example, be displayed on the vehicle’s windscreen.
The obvious potential for AR within industry, and all the supporting systems which service that arena are huge and certainly not limited to the few examples mentioned in this article. As long as industry see a rapid return on the investment of AR technology, and there certainly seems to be many advantages if it performs correctly, the future certainly appears bright. With companies such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook exploring AR and businesses such as iAR-Soft creating software solutions, to mention just a few, there’s plenty going on in AR research.
A simple search on everyone’s favourite search engine on the subject of Augmented Reality reveals a kaleidoscope of data and the possibilities for all areas of life, including medicine and the military which seems only limited by imagination. I’m more than convinced that AR technology will grow increasingly popular in industrial applications over the coming years, and no doubt its presence will increase in leisure activities and our home lives as well. Where will it all go? That remains to be seen, and I for one will be watching with a keen interest, perhaps in Augmented Reality?
Read more about AR applications in some of our other articles: