Augmented Reality In Reality

As I approached the booth, my worst fears were confirmed. I’d have to put on the virtual reality goggles, wouldn’t I?

 

Among the first steps an editor takes in preparation for a trade show is to register for a press pass. In addition to access to the press room (hot coffee if you’re lucky) the registration alerts exhibiting companies to the fact that you’ll be attending. Some exhibitors, hoping for free publicity, will reach out, looking to arrange an interview.

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At bigger shows, editors can be leery to take on too many appointments—one person and hundreds of exhibitors means some selectiveness is necessary. That said, knowing that a company is—a) expecting you and b) actually wants you to come by—has some appeal.

The interview outreach for the company I’d never heard of started well before the show and was persistent. In this case, the company had outsourced press outreach to a public relations firm and after a while, they wore me down. I agreed to a booth visit. The preliminary release was vague only mentioning “augmented reality”, something I associated with the goggles that plunge wearers into a digital reality. My daughter convinced me to try some at a Best Buy, and it wasn’t my cup of tea, so to speak. As I approached the exhibitor’s booth for the appointment, my heart sank. In what I thought was my destination, a show attendee wearing bulky goggles on his head flailed around at visual stimulus only he could see. Best Buy all over again.

Turns out, however, my appointment was at the adjacent booth. When the person I was meeting with asked me what I thought augmented reality was, I gestured to the be-goggled show goer next door. Turns out I was way off, and that interview with Scope AR sent me down a path that eventually lead to this article on augmented reality, which you can find in Plastics Technology’s special NPE Preview magazine.

Drawing On the Real World

In reality, augmented reality (AR) is the overlaying of graphics and information onto the real world when viewed through smart glasses or the camera of a phone or tablet. As Scott Montgomerie of Scope AR told me, “It’s like drawing on the real world.” Montgomerie is bullish on the technology beyond the exuberance executives reflexively offer for the own industries, predicting that an inflection point for AR is imminent. After a long phone interview, I shared his enthusiasm.

One aspect of where AR is headed that I wasn’t able to touch in the article is the ability to not only offer instruction to workers but the capability to capture and share data with those same workers and companies like Scope AR.

“One of the really tangible benefits of augmented reality,” Montgomerie said, “is that while you’re being given instructions or communicating with an expert, we’re collecting a lot of different data because of the camera pointed at your piece of equipment, which is a unique opportunity that really hasn’t been available before.”

In the past, a worker could take a picture of a machine and send it to the equipment supplier—a less-than-illuminating snapshot of one moment in time. With AR, however, “You’ve got a pair of smart glasses on or an iPad looking at a piece of equipment, and that camera is already on and it’s an excellent opportunity to collect all this data.”

Part of the data Scope AR will be collecting is a record of the interaction between and expert and technician, figuring out how to streamline that as much as possible, particularly as workforces change over.

“If we think about one of the really big problems these days, it’s that there’s a skills gap,” Montgomerie said. “You’ve got baby boomers who are retiring and a younger workforce that’s coming in that really isn’t trained on all the new equipment, doesn’t have the expertise. You can use really intuitive instructions that can help an untrained worker really quickly, to the point where, potentially, training would be obsolete. You could get the equipment instructions and they’re so intuitive, you could do it on the fly.”

Even further down the road, Montgomerie foresees a plant floor where workers’ smart glasses not only feed them instructions on how to operate equipment, but they tap into MES programs and give them real-time insights into machine health and performance. Glancing at an injection molding machine the smart glasses could display everything from scrap rates and productivity to cycle times and hydraulic oil temperatures. On equipment with predictive maintenance features, they could be tipped off about a clogged filter or loose hose.

Beyond the plant floor there could be more practical applications. “Down the line, when it becomes good enough for consumers,” Montgomeris says, “and that’s not too far down the line, to be honest, we’re talking about your dishwasher breaking and being able to do simple repairs there or fixing your car. There’s a world of possibility, and it’s really cool to be on the cutting edge of this stuff.”

Glad I took the appointment.