Augmented Reality (AR)
AR is an interactive system presented in real time that combines real and virtual realities registered in three dimensions. AR superimposes digital or computer generated information in the form of images, audio, video, and touch (haptic sensations) and overlays them in a real-time environment. The main purpose of overlaying digitized computer generated information on objects, places and entities from real world is to enhance the experience of user. Therefore, its ability to combine physical elements and virtual objects makes AR applications popular in such varied fields as learning, automobile, defence, aerospace and healthcare. Phrased differently, AR is a set of technologies that help to integrate digital and real. And while there are numerous ways of blending them, the common factor among all of them are computers, displays, input devices (especially pointing device of any sort) and some kind of a tracking mechanism. Vuforia from PTC is a very popular SDK (Software Development Kit) for building AR applications. Vuforia features a drag-and-drop interface that significantly facilitates the processes of AR development and rendering; providing users with the opportunity to work with simple objects. It also gives users the possibility to recognize flat and dimensional markers.
Virtual Reality (VR)
VR typically refers to use of interactive simulations created by computer software and hardware to engage users with an opportunity in an environment that generates feelings similar to real world events and object. Virtual Reality is different from Augmented Reality on many levels, such as applications, technology used and market opportunities. VR immerses the user in a wholly computer-generated world, remade for the purposes of the software running it. Typical examples that use VR are games and flight simulators.
Because of their nature, AR, MR and VR are also called as immersive technologies. The key difference between them is the degree of immersion. In VR, the user is completely immersed in the virtual world while in AR the user is only partially immersed. VR technology uses completely covered headsets (also called head mounted display or HMD) for a VR experience. Visually, you're taken to wherever the headset wants you to go—the outside world is replaced with a virtual one.
To experience either AR or VR you need some special kind of gear. This can be anything from a HMD to a goggle, and from cyber shoes to special gloves with sensors. However, AR has an edge over VR in this respect as it is possible to experience AR using something as simple and as ubiquitous as a smartphone.
While AR and VR have been around for a number of years, mixed reality is relatively new. The term was first discussed in a paper by Paul Milgram and Fumio Kishino (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/231514051_A_Taxonomy_of_Mixed_Reality_Visual_Displays) and introduced the idea that it "involves the merging of real and virtual worlds somewhere along the 'virtuality continuum' which connects completely real environments to completely virtual ones."
Mixed Reality (MR) interfaces combine real and virtual settings in various ways, to enable psychological immersion in a setting that blends physical and digital phenomena. For example, an outdoor augmented reality (AR) experience using mobile devices can superimpose information, simulations, and videos on a through-the-camera-lens view of natural phenomena. This interaction between the interactive world and the physical world is called mixed reality. According to a study by Harvard conducted in 2018 (https://hbr.org/resources/pdfs/comm/microsoft/MixedRealityNewDimensionOfWork.pdf), nearly 90% of businesses are exploring, piloting, or deploying mixed reality; and, 69% of businesses believe mixed reality is crucial to achieving their organization's strategic goals.
AR / VR / MR Use Cases in Industry
Computer games continue to be dominated by VR technology. As HMDs get more and more sophisticated, these games continue to evolve and give the user a complexly immersive experience. However, there is no substitute to AR and MR when it comes to increasing industrial production. Rather than VR, which immerses the user in a totally virtual world, it is AR and MR that finds most use in industries. Below are a few examples of how AR / MR benefits industries:
- Retail: One of the most popular of AR technologies is in the retail sector. Branded furniture shops allow you to virtually choose the furniture or artefacts you have liked and visualize how they will look in your home settings. You can shift objects to different locations, and purchase them instantaneously if you like them. Some fashion houses allow you to virtually try a dress without having to go to the trial room – this is AR at work in the retail industry.
- Automobile: There are many use cases for AR / MR in the automobile industry. AR / MR technology is used to demonstrate the finer points of an automobile to a customer, AR instructions and guides can replace tedious manuals; AR helps automobile engineers learn the manufacturing and maintenance process of vehicles more efficiently and faster. The design and prototyping team leverages AR to expedite the development process. These are but a few instances of how AR / MR technology is helping change the automobile industry.
- Manufacturing: By combining powerful AR devices with advanced image recognition technologies, Internet of Things (IoT) devices, Big Data and artificial intelligence (AI), manufacturers can reduce development time and time-to-market. In today's competitive world, AR / MR technologies are providing an impetus to the manufacturing sector and increasing their RoI. Scenario based AR / MR simulations allow development teams improve their skills and learn from their mistakes. MR assisted gadgets also streamline the inventory process by making it a quick and precise process.
- Aerospace and Defence: AR devices have the advantage of combining the reliability of computers with the human factor. Flight simulators, used to train pilots of both commercial and defence planes rely on immersive technologies of AR / VR to train their pilots in the initial phase. In addition, AR significantly boosts the ability to build new equipment and speed up the process of prototyping and development. Ramp handling is a set of services provided by specialized staff while the plane is still on the ground. Using AR glasses, the ramp handling workers can scan special QR codes placed on cargo containers, speeding up the loading process significantly.
AR – MR Services
AR / VR / MR are relatively new technologies as far as their practical application and utility is concerned. Many industries and companies, especially the small to mid-sized companies, do not have the technical expertise or the proper SDK / software to develop AR / MR applications. In India, Singapore and other countries, there are service providers who can develop AR / MR training or any other application for such companies. AR / MR applications can span across industries like aerospace, defence, heavy machinery, industrial equipment, oil and gas, and many others. Proper utilization of AR / MR technology saves money and time, and the demand for such AR / MR service providers is increasing due to their utility.
AR / MR technologies are changing our world. In this article, we have mentioned only a few examples of how AR / MR and VR are helping the industrial sector. As AR / MR / VR gadgets become more powerful, coupled with better software like Vuforia and others, there will be more and more use cases for these immersive technologies. As the awareness of AR / MR apps increases, there is a growing demand for companies that provide these services.