Augmented reality is ready for industrial use

For a number of years, society has been seeking to bring together the virtual and the real world. Augmented reality (AR) is no longer just a buzzword. The magic of AR can be transferred into work processes in a value-creating way.

So far, the technology has primarily been used in the entertainment and advertising industries to conduct campaigns that generate astonishment and bring magic into the world. Pokémon Go was one of the first examples of this. As a result, people are now aware of AR, but so far little use has been made of the possibilities that it can offer commerce and industry. 

Augmented reality does what its name says – it augments reality. With the help of AR, our reality is enhanced by additional digital content that no longer informs separately but merges into a whole. For example, if I’m standing in a new town or city and don’t know my way around, I can consult a map on my smartphone. AR simplifies this process considerably by eliminating a few steps. The camera recognises my surroundings, and the application knows where I want to go and shows me signposts as if they stood there in real life. The process is thus simplified, shortened and made convenient by the automatic recognition of the world and the context-based presentation of the required information.


FILAR – an example from the energy and multimedia area

AR in business also seeks to seamlessly integrate digital content into the real world, so that processes are supported, and unnecessary work steps eliminated. Take the FILAR application developed by ELCA, for example, which massively simplifies work on energy and multimedia infrastructures installed above and below ground.


Using FILAR as an example it can be shown where the advantages of AR lie when it comes to supporting work processes. When workers must repair pipes that are located beneath road surfaces, they dig up the ground in the right places and open the routes to reach the pipes. Finding the right place, however, can take up to 30 minutes. In each case, workers must compare the road with the plan and measure it before they can mark the spot and dig it up. FILAR largely eliminates this step. Its clever geographical positioning means that the device knows precisely where it is located on the road and using the camera image it is able to show where the routes are located beneath it. The extension of reality with digital content means that maps no longer have to be consulted and the road does not have to be measured. Finding the right place now takes just 10 minutes rather than the previous 30 minutes, saving several hours during the course of an entire day.

FILAR not only helps with localisation, additional elements such as switch boxes, street lamps and service connections are also visualised. Users can see at a glance which components are connected, without having to consult plans separately. Defects can be recorded directly at the object, with AR localisation meaning that they are correctly entered into the database without any additional information having to be entered. The key here is context-based information. The fact that the digital content is directly connected with the real world means that there is no need to synchronise it first.

Rapid development of the hardware
The purpose of AR is to simplify the work, and the aim is to incorporate it as a supporting, natural element into everyday working life. Up until now, the manual operation required by technologies such as smartphones and tablets has proved challenging. AR glasses, also called wearables or headsets, now offer the possibility of hands-free working. Over the next few years, these glasses will become the preferred hardware for AR in the business world, opening new opportunities.

Benefits for the traffic authorities
One beneficiary could be traffic authorities, for example. Paper documents and desktop computers are often still used by inspectors when carrying out vehicle inspections. More recently, tablet solutions have also been used to enable the work steps carried out to be shown and the results to be documented. These solutions have several disadvantages that result in the inspectors’ work being repeatedly interrupted. This problem could be solved, however, through use of an AR solution with glasses. Instead of displaying work steps or vehicle documents on an additional screen, the information could be displayed directly in the expert’s field of vision through the AR glasses, with test results recorded and documented using the voice alone. This would be especially useful when inspecting the underbody of a vehicle with a torch, for example, when both hands need to be free to carry out the work. All the important content could be documented by means of voice commands, eliminating the need for a written list on a separate device or sheet of paper and reducing the error rate through immediate and direct documentation. Using AR, work processes can be digitalised more quickly, easily and without any media discontinuity.


Other industries are benefiting from AR
The use of AR applications makes sense not only for traffic authorities but also other industries in which experts must carry out and document complex processes. Whenever hands need to remain free, documents and checklists compared, or instructions consulted, AR can be a big help. Below are a few of the possible areas of application in which AR can generate considerable added value. In some areas solutions or prototypes already exist which will be continuously developed in the coming years.

  • Manual production: in the hightech environment – for example in the manual production of high-precision parts, where strict adherence to and documentation of work processes determine the quality.
  • Machine maintenance: within maintenance and repair, the use of AR means that specialists can be involved remotely, allowing less qualified personnel to immediately rectify faults.
  • Building technology: the use of AR in construction and maintenance combined with the use of 3D data from computeraided design (CAD) systems and virtual overlay with the effective building offers considerable added value during construction and subsequently during maintenance (fault finding, repair work).

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