Pokemon Go is sweeping the globe and filling news reports as millions of people wander around cities, towns and the countryside looking at the world through their smart phones. Players try to capture cartoon figures (Pokemons or pocket monsters) that appear overlaid on top of “reality”, the camera image on their smart phone screen.
This wildly popular new game is the breakthrough app that brings new technology to the public eye. Pokemon Go is the Pong of this generation. Readers old enough to remember know that Pong was the first commercially successful video game, originally manufactured by Atari, and released in 1972.
In a few years, Pokemon Go will look as primitive to us as Pong seems today. What does all this have to do with manufacturing or supply chain, you might ask? The key characteristic that makes the game different from all predecessors is its use of augmented reality (AR).
Most people have heard of Virtual Reality (VR) in which the user is fitted with a headset display unit that may resemble a swimmer’s diving mask. The headset presents an image created entirely by the computer, a “virtual” or digital world. Sensors capture the viewer’s sight orientation in the virtual world so the image on the display will move in sync with the head movement. Additional sensors capture physical movements (hands, fingers) that can drive the display, wield a tool that she sees in the display, or turn her head to see what’s behind her avatar (digital self). VR is a totally immersive experience, allowing the user to inhabit and function within the digital world.
Augmented Reality is similar, with one major difference: the digital world is overlaid on top of the real physical world. The AR display is either semi-transparent so the user can see the actual world through the projected digital display or the display includes a camera image right along with the digital as it is done in Pokemon Go. Either way, the physical and digital world are combined or layered in the users field of vision.
Augmented reality (AR) is on the verge of becoming an important advancement for industry – particularly in manufacturing and service. Equipped with an AR display device – it doesn’t have to be a headset, an iPad will do, but the headset provides hands-free operation – the user can see detailed instructions, diagrams and videos overlaid right on the equipment or workpiece.
This overlay approach can provide foolproof, animated graphical instructions for performing a physical task. The user dons the headset or synchronizes the tablet viewer by locating an identifying mark (like a bar code) on the equipment, locking the digital image to the real world objects. The user can then access the work order or task list in her display, then simply look through the graphic display at the workpiece or equipment. The viewer lays the graphical instructions over the real object and demonstrates the needed actions. This greatly overcomes training requirements, largely eliminates language issues, and insures greater efficiency and quality of the work.
AR can be applied to work instructions, equipment repair and maintenance, user instruction manuals, and many other uses. By enabling untrained or minimally trained users to perform their own installation and repairs in the field, AR can significantly change field service requirements, for considerable savings for both the producer and the user.
AR will reduce training requirements, speed up new product or process introduction; improve quality in factory operations; enhance customer benefit by providing better documentation and use instructions; and act as a sales tool to better demonstrate product operation and features. AR technology is just beginning to make inroads in these areas but expect an explosion in use as the video game industry rapidly increases awareness of AR capabilities and game producers enhance the technology to make the images more realistic, more flexible, and easier to build into applications.