We receive many queries from organisations who would like to work with us on their ideas for Augmented Reality (AR) apps. Some of these applications are more suitable for Virtual Reality (VR) however, so we thought it would make sense to set out our thoughts on this as a post here.
Immersive Vs Non-Immersive Vs Minimal Immersion Experiences
In many cases, people hear AR but think VR. VR is an immersive technology whereby the headset wearer feels they are in a different place/world. In a business context, this can be very useful for training as it allows an employee to be trained up in a scenario, situation or on a piece of equipment which is hard to access in the real world.
We believe however that AR works best when a non-immersive or minimally immersive experience is required. When providing an operator with a piece of information to assist them to get their job done, we design on the theory that the operator should be present in the real world and so a non-immersive experience is best. What we mean is that if we are presenting the operator with data, text, images or video to assist them to do their job, they should easily be able to tell that the injected information is not a real part of their surroundings, and so they won’t mistakenly let it confuse them about what is real and what is not.
In some cases where training on a piece of equipment is required, AR can be used to give the trainee the impression that the state of the equipment is not as it actually is (image giving them the view that the filter is dirty, or the warning light is red, when it is not etc). We call this minimal immersion, as the trainee only sees a small part of their surroundings in an altered state. In general, they remain fully aware of their surroundings.
So to sum up, our approach in UtilityAR, when deciding between AR and VR, ask the question “How much immersion are you looking for in this application?” If the answer is that it should be an immersive experience, then go with VR. If you want the user to remain grounded in the location they are actually in, then AR is the solution for you.
To start, what is Augmented Reality (AR)? AR is a technology that allows the user to see a mix of reality and computer-generated images/text at the same time. It can be seen running through cameras (think Pokémon go or Layar), or more excitingly it can be used on new “Smart Glasses” or “Smart Headsets” which allow the wearer to both look at the world as normal while having images, text or animations superimposed upon their vision.
The advantage of phones or tablets is that most users already own a device. The advantage of glasses or headsets is that the wearer is hands-free and can also actually see the real world, not relying on a hand-held device to provide the image. The glasses have obvious attractions to H&S conscious industry who need to have their staff present in the real world. The information that can be superimposed on the vision of the wearer can be text or images which are relevant to the work they are doing while being hands-free also leaves the staff to get their job done.
So AR at its core provides an exciting new method of providing a technician, operator or field worker with the information they require while they are doing their job. The hands-free element of the device means that the worker can continue to do their job as normal, while the merging of this information with the real world allows it to be superimposed on the point where it is required. This leads us to exciting opportunities to highlight to a technician the exact button to push, screw to open or lever to pull. It also allows an operator to be shown arrows or pointers to the exact location where they are to receive a collection or bring a package.
If these advantages weren’t enough however, AR gets more exciting when combined with a number of forwarding facing camera-based technologies.
Most of the devices mentioned above have a forward-facing camera which can be used to provide relevant information to the computer in the device and so improve the quality of the data being shown to the wearer. Examples include using a QR code reader or similar (which runs in conjunction with the camera) or object recognition to allow the device to know what the user is looking at. This may mean identifying the piece of machinery being fixed by a technician or an asset being inspected by an engineer. Once the machine/asset has been identified, the AR device can superimpose relevant information on the device such as vital operational data, inspection checklist or 3-D imagery of the maintenance task that needs to be completed.
Another extremely exciting feature of the AR combined with a forward facing camera is “Remote Specialist” technology which involves a remote specialist being able to see what the device user is seeing through the forward facing camera (image a Skype video call where the camera being used at the technicians end is the forward facing camera on a pair of glasses) and then “draw” pointers or guidance notes on the vision of the wearer to assist them troubleshoot a problem. The specialist may ask the wearer to open a cabinet, turn a valve clockwise or press the green button. The technology allows them to point to the exact cabinet, draw an arrow to confirm which way is clockwise, and highlight which button is green (as opposed to red!).
So above highlights the basic technologies of AR. After that, it is up to you and your partners to come up with exciting and beneficial use cases. Asset management, checklist completion, troubleshooting, training, design… the possibilities are endless. Exciting times!
UtilityAR will be demo-ing at 3D camp in Dublin on Thursday the 23rd of November. We are delighted to participate in this event and hope to see you there
I am delighted to announce that UtilityAR will be launching at European Utility Week in Amsterdam on the 3rd - 5th of October. The team has worked very hard to understand and develop a tailored product which will provide Utilities with the Augmented Reality Smart Glasses solution best suited to them and I believe there will be great interest in testing it at the exhibition. We will have several glasses available for test so please come along to the stand to see us and have a test run.