by Gordon Maxwell
What is augmented reality (AR)? For years, it was just an idea out of science fiction. It is the holodeck on Star Trek; the heads-up display inside the Iron Man suit; the alternative realities in Total Recall; the ability to explore an alien world in Avatar.
But today, AR isn’t fiction; it’s part of our everyday world. Consider the yellow line showing you the first down as you watch your Thanksgiving football games or magazine ads that, with the help of downloadable apps, let you “see” new furniture in your room or “try” clothes on.
On an even more practical level, the same type of heads-up display that delivers information to Tony Stark also helps airplane pilots get real-time information and stay safe in the skies. In industrial settings, we also see AR playing an increasingly critical role, providing a rich human machine interface (HMI) that enhances and streamlines precision industrial processes.
In manufacturing and other industrial settings, the integration of video and graphic elements within the real environment has numerous benefits. For example:
- Hands-on interactions — Google Glass may have flopped with consumers, but it is proving valuable in practical applications in manufacturing. GM has adopted Google Glass to provide heads-up displays for training workers to perform complex tasks. And a company called Plex uses the displays to provide a mobile HMI for workers monitoring manufacturing equipment.
- Data delivery and decision making — Building and improving on the Glass concept, an array of companies offer industrial workers instant access to data and details for equipment operations and troubleshooting through devices that are purpose-built for industrial settings.
- Project management — When coupled with sophisticated software, AR tools such as those from DAQRI can help project managers not only see the equipment and processes already in place, but project the next steps in a process build. The company’s Smart Helmet solution offers not just an HMI, but engineering and industrial grade measurement and modeling tools coupled with software that brings data into the three-dimensional world.
Is AR really just the latest iteration of HMI? Yes … and no. As a technology, it has the potential to take automation and controls to a whole new level.
As AR becomes an increasingly valuable part of integrated process automation systems, we at IDM will be watching and looking for areas where it and other advanced technologies can add true value. In every area of our industry, we continually look for opportunities to raise the bar and enhance the way we live and work.