Augmented reality: changing the rules of the game
About three years ago, the Pokemon Go game captured the computer games market as millions of people stormed out of their homes, smart phone in hand, in search of imaginary creatures hiding in parks and street corners. Such was the frenzy caused by this unique game that it created havoc on the streets, occasionally even causing accidents. But it also brought the world’s attention to augmented reality, a technology first developed in an experiment conducted by the US Air Force in 1992.
First, a point of order. There are those who use the terms augmented reality and virtual reality interchangeably. In fact, the term virtual reality refers to the complete replacement of the real world with the virtual world. Augmented reality rather creates an improved version of our physical world, adding virtual elements that merge with the actual environment simultaneously, in real time.
Augmented reality is opening a wide door to new worlds and possibilities. Here, we review some of them.
Books, architecture and professional catalogs
For centuries, people have browsed books, reading the text and looking at illustrations and pictures in a static way. These days, there are dedicated apps for books, guides or booklets providing a layer of virtual reality through which any required element can be added: annotations to the text, related catalogs and articles, technical drawings, even music and 3D animation. These virtual elements can be streamed online from various sources and updated in real time.
Architects, designers and planners can also use augmented reality as a tool for delivering 3D messages, quickly and efficiently. Along with the usual architectural drawings and old-fashioned specifications, professionals can use this technology to add technical details, such as planograms, simulations, electrical schematics and infrastructure, all delivered directly to the customer. Bolder architects are even using augmented reality to showcase their plans and dreams to potential contractors and tenants, bringing them in to view how their project will look, when in reality it is still a plot of land and a pile of dirt.
Advertising and marketing
The world of advertising and marketing has recently begun to use augmented reality to convey multilevel messages. Pepsi used the technology at a bus stop, creating a commercial that drove the citizens of London, and the whole of Britain, crazy. Lego used it in their annual catalog: when viewing the catalog through a smartphone, it turned into an interactive tool that dynamically presented all of Lego’s inherent possibilities in 3D images, accompanied by animation and music, to really spark the imagination. Finally, there’s IKEA’s award-winning application through which a customer can place the company’s products, in a variety of colors, in different rooms of their home, without setting foot outside their door.
Industry and services
In industry, augmented reality is being used in a range of applications, including supply chain, production, assembly, service and training. BAE Systems, for example, has developed a system that guides employees through the installation of batteries for hybrid buses, improving production efficiency by nearly 50%. By using AR glasses, DHL has improved the efficiency of collecting packages from shelves by 15%. Electronics manufacturer Phoenix Contact has integrated augmented reality into all stages of production, inspection and pre-production, improving their control systems and enjoying cost savings.
Industry is also adopting new technologies to streamline training. While new production lines tend to be designed and built to be automated, there are factories that do still rely on manual production. This can pose a problem of continuity: the generation of skilled workers, the masters of their trade, is approaching retirement, but it’s becoming more difficult to find younger employees who are willing to work in a factory, and to stay for the long term.
Conventional methods of knowledge transfer from experienced to new staff can be time consuming and imperfect. Using new, innovative technology based on augmented reality, it is now possible to “copy” the processes and movements of a veteran worker and transfer them to new employees. This saves weeks of training, while giving junior staff the benefit of hands-on learning from their senior colleagues. They experience the most efficient and most appropriate way to carry out the tasks, and in a short time, can get on with the job independently.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, once said that augmented reality is going to change the way we use technology forever. Indeed, it is becoming an integral part of our lives, being increasingly used in areas including advertising, industry, commerce, medicine, education, tourism and, of course, the world of gaming.
Matrix is the sole distributor of PTC products in Israel, including the world’s most advanced augmented reality platform, Vuforia.