According to Goldman Sachs, by 2025, AR/VR will be an $80 billion industry. While video games and
entertainment hold a good chunk of today’s market, engineering and manufacturing will soon become the epicenter of the industry. And with the recent launch of headsets like HoloLens and Magic Leap, and ever-improving compatibility with smartphones, augmented reality is transitioning from curiosity to mainstream technology.
However, we have barely scratched the surface of what AR can do. Sure, we can see objects and move them around in 3D in our field of view; we can play simple puzzle games; we can even paint masterpieces in mid-air. But while those are tantalizing demonstrations of what is possible, they definitely aren’t the applications that will change the way we collaborate, learn, and work.
It’s not just the things we see through a set of AR goggles or our smartphone screen. The real value is found in connecting AR-enabled devices—enabling multiple users to synchronize and share information, control both virtual and physical objects, retrieve streams of data from sensors and smart devices, and enable administrators to publish live updates and alerts.
And in one field, specifically, this will make a huge impact—the IIoT is rapidly bringing AR functionality to the manufacturing floor.
Use cases of multi-user experiences in the IIoT
Synchronized 3D modeling
3D modeling, once nothing more than a CGI trick in movies, is a common demonstration of AR tech today—turning a physical object into a virtual one, and allowing users to move, rotate, and resize it. In an IIoT setting, though, it allows mechanics and technicians to look at 3D diagrams of tools and machinery to better understand their actual state before carrying out maintenance.
Although this clearly benefits a single mechanic, it doesn’t, without shared connections and data streams, deliver the functionality needed to display one user’s changes among colleagues. To achieve synchronized 3D modeling, you need to connect multiple AR-enabled devices, so that every change is instantly reflected in each user’s view. This wildly expands the potential for multiple technicians to collaborate (and succeed) on a single job or for an apprentice to learn how objects work.
The key to multi-user functionality in AR is collaboration: empowering workers to share information, learn from one another, and work efficiently together. And collaborative AR has the capability to thrive in our newfound global workforce. Remote teams that can already work together are able to develop, maintain or fix the same physical object from whatever location they happen to inhabit.
For example, since 2016 when Microsoft’s HoloLens was launched, elevator technicians for thyssenkrupp have been utilizing their AR headsets to work more efficiently with subject-matter experts. This distributed approach enables the expert to identify parts and components and assist the technician in making decisions. It gives the technician a hands-free way to get valuable and contextually accurate help from the key resources, even when they’re far apart.
Realtime streams of sensor data
In an IIoT setting, workers are responsible for managing any number of sensors. Traditionally, this is done through a dashboard displayed either on a desktop or mobile phone, where real-time streams of sensor data are visualized and (when done right) live-updated, no refresh required.
AR provides a medium to visualize these streams where and when it matters. For example, if an engineer is looking at a specific piece of machinery, the AR can identify what machine it is, then stream metrics that matter around it. This could be production levels, battery power, heat—any data being collected can be streamed instantaneously to the AR device, making engineers more efficient while eliminating the risk of missing critical information for a single machine in the sea of statistics flowing through the dashboard.
Alerts & notifications
Safety is critical in any industrial environment. When imminent dangers signals arise, those at risk need to know about it immediately—preferably with information provided that can help them solve the problem. With a real-time alert and notification service hooked up through an AR device, administrators or automated systems can deliver important messages with the most vital information in a flash.
Benefits of multi-user AR in an IIoT setting
There are massive benefits AR will bring to IIoT, which is why it’s already finding its way into advanced use cases across manufacturing, energy, agriculture and other industrial sectors.
- Ensure safety: AR provides a new layer of safety for workers, whether it be a simple emergency notification, or sensing and alerting that an area isn’t safe. Reducing (or eliminating) worker risk with real-time, immediate, accurate updates is a key goal for any organization.
- Improve efficiency: Bringing valuable information right into workers’ line-of-sight enables them to work faster and more accurately.
- Foster collaboration: Multiple users can seamlessly work together on a single project or job, and teachers can easily provide apprentices with editable diagrams and models to illustrate difficult concepts.
- Empower hands-on front-line workers: Use AR to facilitate on-the-job training and improve the expertise of workers.
Though gaming and entertainment are dominating the space today, AR is increasingly changing the way we work. It’s not a matter of if, but how much of an impact AR will make on creating and innovating the products and environment around us.
Joe Hanson is a technology writer at PubNub.