When I first encountered augmented reality (AR) for industrial applications at a PTC event a few years ago in Boston, I was amazed at its potential to become a critical tool in industry for maintenance, training and general production operations. What I expected to occur over the next few years was to see the technology become more refined and widely implemented (which is happening, as evidenced by Caterpillar’s use of the technology as a case in point). I did not expect to see such a rapid expansion of this relatively new technology in such a short period of time.
The PTC AR rollout event I attended in Boston was held in February 2016. Less than two years later, while meeting with Michael Campbell, executive vice president of PTC at the IoT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona, I learned about the company’s advances around three new announcements in addition to their recent release of three new AR applications—Controls Advisor, Asset Advisor and Production Advisor (read more about these apps).
The three announcements Campbell referenced at the IoT Solutions World Congress included:
- The addition of Model Targets to Vuforia (PTC’s AR platform). Model Targets is a new feature that allows for attaching content to objects that have not been recognizable using existing computer vision technology. Campbell says that, with Model Targets, content can be attached to objects such as automobiles, appliances, industrial equipment and machinery to enable a new class of AR content that can replace traditional user manuals and technical service instructions. Model Targets enable the recognition and tracking of objects based on shape from pre-existing 3D models and does not require an AR marker. Campbell says this high-fidelity object recognition provides more accurate positioning so that “3D content can be aligned with greater precision for use cases where step-by-step instructions and product data are overlaid onto the physical product.”
- Vuforia now supports Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore (for bringing AR experiences to mobile iOS and Android mobile devices). According to PTC, Vuforia has powered more than 475 million installs of AR apps from the App Store and Google Play.
- The release of the Vuforia Chalk App, which allows people in different locations to share a live view of the same environment and draw simple annotations called Chalk Marks.
At first glance, Vuforia Chalk seems like a fun app more aligned to consumer uses, as the video below demonstrates. About a minute and half into the video, however, you can more easily see the possibilities for Vuforia Chalk in the industrial realm. Using this app, knowledgeable personnel can directly and more accurately guide the steps of other workers in how to operate machinery, complete a task or conduct repairs.
“Vuforia Chalk addresses instances when you want to share undocumented product knowledge,” said Campbell. “Using the app, both parties can see the same object and both can mark it up.” PTC provides the app for free for personal use. It can be downloaded from the iTunes store. Campbell says the app will be integrated with ThingWorx Studio by end of the year.
To get better insights into where users see the greatest value in AR, Campbell said PTC recently held ThingWorx Studio trials with some 4,000 companies. Survey results following these trials showed the most common AR use cases deal with “instructions for service/maintenance, manufacturing and assembly operations, inspections and training,” he said. There was also a high number of AR use for virtual showroom/product demo applications.
PTC video explaining Vuforia Chalk