Following on from the Connected Technology Solutions virtual talk on enhanced reality in manufacturing we collected five experts to gives us their views on how the manufacturing sector is utilising the technology and where it can gain further advantage. The five experts were: Alan Smithson, CEO MetaVRse; Joanna Popper, global head of virtual reality for location-based entertainment, HP; Michael Thomas, systems architect, SAS; David Castañeda, co-founder/business catalyst, Visionaries 777; and Geof Wheelwright, director of marketing communications, Atheer.

 

WHAT ARE THE CURRENT HOT SPOTS FOR ADOPTION OF ENHANCED REALITY?

Geof Wheelwright (GW): The hots spots are really any enterprise that is dealing with an increased need for remote access to both people and support resources. This is particularly acute for front line teams, which can often no longer rely on being able to bring in experts to troubleshoot everything from manufacturing lines to automotive repairs to equipment inspections and inventory. Those tasks – and many more – are now increasingly carried out remotely using technologies such as our productivity platform for front line teams.

David Castañeda (DC): Any human led process in training, manufacturing, preventive maintenance, and logistics in any industry. Enhanced reality is and will continue to influence the way we learn, work and in general our interaction with the physical world. It is not a matter of if but when and this just depends on the miniaturisation of wearable technology and hardware cost.

Alan Smithson (AS): 3D for retail, marketing, sales, ecommerce is becoming a must have rather than a nice to have.  Customers are looking for AAA game level interactions when they buy products.  Another major use case that is emerging is in training, maintenance and support.  Retention with 3D has been shown to increase across all sectors. This is a paradigm shift in training.

Joanna Popper (JP): We see the use of virtual reality accelerating in where it enables us to Learn, create, collaborate and connect. Training, education, media and entertainment, architecture/ engineering/ construction, healthcare, gaming, remote collaboration are all areas with strong growth of virtual reality.

Michael Thomas (MT) Comfort has always been an issue but is getting better. Adoption of the hardware requires a use case to bring the hardware in to the enterprise. That first use case must be high value, and not just because of the hardware cost. Changes in IT and other operations must be justified as well. But once the technology has landed, additional use cases should be easier to adopt.

 

ARE THERE ANY SECTORS THAT ARE MAKING BETTER USE OF THE TECHNOLOGY? IF SO, WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS?

AS: Enterprises in design manufacturing are utilising 3D technology to speed up the creation process while integrating this into manufacturing processes real-time. Marketing has embraced immersive technology serving 3D ads on Snap and Instagram while WebAR is giving brands a seamless way to connect with consumers directly from the web, without the need for any apps.

Training is the killer use case that does not get enough attention.  Using 3D to enhance training systems is one of the fastest growing segments of this technology.

GW: We have seen customers that had already made technology investments prior to the pandemic making the best use of it – as they have already dealt with the issues of change management, rollout and broad adoption. Our customer Porsche Cars North America, for example, said at the end of April that “the number of sessions has more than tripled from February to March. Tech Live Look is now being used at least once a day on average – which is in line with its design specifically for the most difficult service scenarios – and the trend has continued.

DC: Currently Manufacturing and marketing departments. Manufacturing because downtime is an awfully expensive topic that still mainly depends on humans’ actions to prevent it. Therefore, technologies like AR/MR can help with remote assistance, training and to shorten skill gaps. Marketing because there are more budgets to explore new technologies as the landscape is extremely competitive.

MT: Healthcare is exciting across the board. Not only with operational usages, like AR for surgery, but also with therapeutic usage for patients. VR has proven to help with pain management as well as relieving the boredom of being in a hospital bed for long periods of time.

 

HOW WIDELY ADOPTED IS ENHANCED REALITY IN MANUFACTURING AND INDUSTRY?

AS: Manufacturing has been an early adopter of VR/AR technology for training, digital twin visualisation and maintenance support.  The push to wearables in industry has been led by two firms: Microsoft with their HoloLens 1 & 2 and Real Wear with their HMT-1.  Both products have vastly different approaches, but both drive immediate value for organizations.  I would estimate that the penetration of VR/AR in manufacturing is that around 50 per cent of companies have tried it with less than five per cent rolling anything out at scale.

DC: Not widely used, the largest customer we have convinced has 56 employees on the factory floor using it daily and that is we think already a huge number of people for a customer. In this case the industry is wind turbine manufacturing.

JP: Businesses that are using VR are seeing strong ROI. Sixty-five per cent of architecture firms credit VR as being impactful to help them win business. Retention for enterprise training in VR compares favourably versus traditional methods like reading or watching a video, which saves money and time and drives ROI for businesses. A recent PWC study showed VR to be about four times faster, trainees were nearly four times more focused and three times more connected.

 

WHAT TECHNOLOGY ADVANCES HAVE BEEN MADE THAT NOW MAKE USING ENHANCED REALITY A VIABLE OPTION?

DC: Longer battery life, more comfortable hardware for mixed reality. For AR, the creation of standards like ARkit and ARcore that already function with smart phones available globally. For VR, it is a very niche segment and may suffer due to COVID-19, but it is more accessible now due to cost and smaller sizes. It is also becoming increasingly easily for people to use off the shelf software to create customized experiences.

AS: Advances in micro displays, spatial audio, 3D model creation, photogrammetry, spatial anchors, cloud mapping, Lidar, simultaneous location and mapping (SLAM), 3D game engines, rendering capabilities, data transfer rates, 5G, AI and many other peripheral technologies have given rise to modern VR/AR products that are available at a fraction of the cost only a few short years ago.

JP: Technological advances make our current virtual reality headsets like the HP Reverb G2 and the newly announced HP Reverb G2 Omnicept Edition possible. Advances in graphics, audio, optics, lenses, batteries, biometrics, sensors plus great engineering have made this impactful technology accessible, comfortable and affordable.

MT: Devices have gotten much more comfortable to wear and will continue to do so. Costs have also come down. Social XR platforms are making it much easier to collaborate in shared experiences.

 

WHAT CHALLENGES DO MANUFACTURERS FACE IN DEPLOYING ENHANCED REALITY IN THEIR OPERATIONS?

MT: To realise the true potential, AR and VR devices need to function in both the realms of IT and OT. They need to consume enterprise data, such as service records and predictive analytics, like typical enterprise apps, and they need to function in the OT realm of a manufacturing line. IT and OT are already known to respond to different pressures. In the case of AR apps on manufacturing line, developers likely must succeed in both these contexts at the same time.

DC: A change in mind-set, the hardest thing to change is people’s behaviour. Enhanced reality requires investment in hardware and software, training and in some cases infrastructure. As an example, many of the CMMS or ticketing systems are based on old technologies that cannot easily be upgraded. The biggest challenge is always realising that the existing systems may not be up to the standards of what is required to make a company more competitive. This realisation would then lead to a re-think of the infrastructure and this would be a long-term investment. But it still hard to make all stake holders agree on when is the right time for these investments.

AS: Matching problem and challenge with technology.  The technology is ready, there is a social, managerial and systemic challenge to identify high ROI case studies that drive value that supersedes cost and time investments.  One major challenge is that making high quality 3D environments and real-time interactive elements requires specialised skills, software and teams.  Finding the right technology at the right time for the right job is still something that could be improved.

JP: Challenges that manufacturers face in adopting XR in their operations are around adopting new pipelines and ways of doing business.

 

WHAT IS DELAYING GREATER ADOPTION OF ENHANCED REALITY?

MT: We are asking people to put computers on their head. The experience of both AR and VR can only be really understood by trying it. It can be difficult to get people to try that first taste.

Another issue is developing the apps themselves, including discovering the high value use cases. Digital transformation is the right paradigm to apply here – the digital transformations of workers’ realities.

DC: There is a mixture of factors. First, it is the fact that these are still relatively new technologies. This means that most companies do not want to be early adopters, they rather wait for the technology to be 100 per cent ready before they start testing and implementing it. Secondly, the hardware is still not ideal for all the use-cases, AR/VR/MR hardware is all vastly different, and they require most of the time customised software depending on the use-case and industry. Thirdly in some cases connectivity is still an issue and this can make or break experiences

AS: It is extremely hard to build these immersive experiences.  We at MetaVRse have made it our mission to eliminate this barrier to entry by making a no-code/low-code 3D creation platform that works across all devices and makes it easy for anyone to build quality immersive experiences without previous knowledge thus opening up enhanced reality to training, maintenance, support, sales and marketing departments without the need to find outside developers.

 

WHAT FURTHER TECHNOLOGY ADVANCES ARE REQUIRED TO ALLOW ENHANCED REALITY TO BECOME A MAINSTREAM TECHNOLOGY?

DC: Focusing on MR The obvious one is hardware that is more accessible, durable, smaller. Wider field of view for the headsets and a 5G infrastructures will help make some solutions more accessible with time making sure all the storage is not on the device.

For the three of them, AR/VR/MR, the pipeline of asset preparation regarding the 3D models used in the experiences. A huge leap needs to happen in having available all the assets required without having to rework them manually. PTC already takes care of this for some use cases for example by importing CAD data directly into Vuforia. But a lot more will have to change so that companies can import the assets directly into a library that works with any hardware.

MT: Besides better comfort, I would like to see a single device that can vary opacity so that it can function as both an AR device and VR device. With an AR device right now, you can always see through. An AR app developer cannot use the colour black in the UI because black is transparent. In VR, you can use black, of course. I would like a single device that can go from being completely see through for AR to completely opaque for VR. Bonus if opacity can be varied for regions of the field-of-view.

AS: Head worn devices must be stand-alone, inexpensive, lightweight, easy to use and intuitive.  In order to truly build infrastructure that drives results, we also need to consider utilising the web as part of the delivery mechanism as not to be beholden to the walled garden environments available today. On the software side, there must be a way for everyone to participate in in creation of spatial computing experiences like the ease in which one can record and share a video on YouTube or social media.

JP: There will be both technological advances as well as content advances that drive additional ROI for customers and adoption.

 

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT ANY INTERESTING APPLICATIONS THAT YOU HAVE COME ACROSS OR BEEN INVOLVED IN?

JP: There are so many partners we are working with who are doing ground-breaking work. OvationVR helps train people in public-speaking. Embodied Labs trains long-term care givers on Alzheimer’s, macular degeneration and end of life decisions. PixoVR helps train people. Theia Interactive builds VR renditions of environments to help architects, engineers and designers make decisions.

DC: Currently the most exciting application right now is the fact that our customer can from Europe help 76 employees in Asia navigate and create new instructions remotely for the staff in a 20,000 square meter factory. The same system can help train new employees and even help with logistics by seamlessly connecting the physical world to the digital one. Everything navigated with a 400USD phone.

MT: I have been looking at the ‘remote expert’ area. First, streaming IoT data can enhance a remote expert’s view in addition to video feeds. Secondly, the advent of Social XR can mean that many remote experts from all over the world could engage in a discussion with proximate technicians.

 

HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE GROWTH OF ENHANCED REALITY?

MT: On the VR side, I think the low cost mobile devices like the Oculus Quest will drive a lot of exposure to VR at that consumer level, and that will drive adoption in the enterprise as decision makers try it. The AR side is more complicated because there are three different form factors: smart phone, headset, and smart glasses. Phones are great because everyone already has them, but the AR they can do is limited. It will be a long time before smart glasses can perform like headsets, but consumers will require devices that are less than 100 grams and can be worn like eyeglasses. More functional AR headsets will be the stronger path for head worn AR in the enterprise for use cases that smart glasses cannot handle yet.

For both, there will be a lot of growth in apps and content. Fuelling that growth will be new development platforms and approaches. For example, Social XR platforms can reduce a lot of development investment for collaborative use cases. The platform takes care of navigation and collaboration so app developers can focus on the domain.

JP: The growth will continue at an accelerated pace. Before we know it, we will all be using a form of smart glasses in our daily lives.

AS: As the cost to develop 3D experiences falls in line with the cost of high-quality VR and AR head worn devices (HMDs), the proliferation of these technologies will be as widespread as the internet itself. To quote Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google “Looking to the future, the next big step will be for the very concept of the ‘device’ to fade away” meaning our future computing systems will be spatial and all around us and most likely some form of HMD wearable technology that gives us superpowers.

PwC estimates that VR & AR have the potential to add $1.5T to the global economy by 2030.

DC: The growth will be amazingly fast and exciting. 16 years ago, LEDs were an exceedingly small part of all the lighting applications for general lighting, electronics etc. Now we can find LEDs everywhere driven by a huge demand, lower costs and technology innovation. I Would give enhanced reality a relatively similar time frame, in 16 years every person will be interactive with Enhanced reality one way or another. COVID-19 may have accelerated this due to the need to interact remotely with other people and places.

Read more of our insightful Roundtable articles here!

BIOS

Alan Smithson, CEO MetaVRse

Alan Smithson’s purpose in life is to inspire and educate people to think and act in a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable way. He is the CEO of MetaVRse, a universal, web-based 3D creation platform that enables anyone to leverage the power of spatial computing.   He is a proud father, business leader, TEDx speaker, and podcast host.  Before MetaVRse, he invented the world’s first touchscreen DJ system, Emulator – featured on Dragons’ Den and winning DJ Mag’s Innovative Product of the Year in 2011. Innovation runs in the family as his ten-year-old daughter invented sandals that leave a heart-shaped tan line on your feet called Love Sandal, winning Top 20 Under 20 at only ten years old.  He is an independent global advisor on the Business of XR to a select group of the world’s largest companies, chief investment advisors, and ultra-high net worth family offices.

 Joanna Popper, global head of virtual reality for location-based entertainment, HP

Joanna Popper is a Hollywood and Silicon Valley media executive. She leads HP’s initiatives for Go-To-Market and Location Based Entertainment for Virtual Reality. Prior to that she was EVP of Media and Marketing at Singularity University and VP Marketing at NBC Universal. Joanna developed a TV show partnership with NBC and Singularity University for a new TV series on technology and innovation. Joanna was selected as “50 Women Can Change the World in Media and Entertainment,” “Top Women in Media: Game Changers,” “Top Women in Media: Industry Leaders,” “Digital It List,” “101 Women Leading the VR Industry” and is on the Coalition for the Women in XR Fund.

 Michael Thomas, systems architect, SAS

Michael Thomas, Systems Architect at SAS, focuses on the intersection of IoT, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Artificial Intelligence. He has published multiple times on reality technologies for the enterprise, including an article published by the Industrial Internet Consortium, “Intelligent Realities for Workers: Using Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Beyond.” In addition to these and other articles, he has authored three books on programming topics. He has worked at SAS for sixteen years architecting, developing, and marketing software. Also, he leads SAS’s support of North Carolina youth chess.

 David Castañeda, co-founder/business catalyst, Visionaries 777

Born in South America, raised in Europe and having spent most of his life in Hong Kong, David Castañeda manages the business development and marketing efforts for Visionaries 777. With sales and management expertise in over 50 countries across five continents, he has worked on XR technologies alongside market leaders such as BMW, Nissan, PTC and Rockwell Automation.