Augmented Reality coming to the industrial sector… but why not right now?

The industrial sector is on the brink of being seriously disrupted by augmented reality and artificial intelligence. Major and minor industry players are fully aware of the enormous potential of these new technologies and are itching to start using them. But this isn’t possible for now, because the market is not prepared for these technologies.

The most wide-ranging applications

Visualisation is ideal for advanced applications such as augmented support. This new version of remote support makes it possible to add virtual elements in real time to both sides of a video call. A service engineer will be able to virtually look over the shoulder of a field technician, and even add virtual elements to what the field technician is seeing in real life. When a person is faced with a certain piece of machinery, we visualise on a step-by-step basis what that person should do. By visualising the instructions, we drastically improve working quality and speed. On the other hand, mixed reality is ideal for training applications. Here we can, for instance, fully visualise an engine in 3D. Students can then repeatedly dismantle or rebuild the engine, without ever actually touching the real engine.

However, one of my favourite examples is an application that we’re about to roll out for a major waste processing company. This company had faced numerous fires started by exploding gas cylinders hidden among the waste. Of course, this caused a lot of damage. Unfortunately, it also resulted in injuries and a few fatalities. Viu More has pitched and sold an application for this company that involves cameras livestreaming to an artificial intelligence GPU that we’ve trained to recognise gas cylinders in all possible shapes and sizes. Now we can, for example, warn a crane operator about a gas cylinder ten metres to his right. We visualise its exact location on his screen so that the operator can avoid the cylinder and prevent an explosion.

Tool vs toolbox

The above example perfectly demonstrates the fact that, to Viu More, technology is never the goal but the means to an end. To us, the human factor always has priority. Before starting a new project, we determine what results our employees should achieve and how technology can support them. Unfortunately, many IT companies still apply the reverse. Their main focus is on trying to force their own technology on their employees. This is like opening a toolbox and always grabbing the same tool. The totally wrong approach of course, but an approach unfortunately employed by many IT companies. At Viu More, we prefer a tailored approach. We’ve developed a range of stable and market-tested building blocks, which we use to devise tailormade solutions for every project.

Immature market

Right now, tailormade services are still essential, because existing solutions are still way too immature. The augmented reality hardware for industrial applications, currently available on the market, is still highly disappointing. It cannot be worn for more than an hour because it’s much too heavy, causes headaches or has a poor battery life. And, with a price tag of EUR 1k – 3k each, it is far too expensive for a company employing fifty engineers. So, we’re ignoring the glasses for now and are mainly using mounted tablets that have better cameras and a longer battery life and pose less of an explosion risk. But even with this, we’re only 75% satisfied.

From gimmick to innovation

The problem is in the fact that augmented reality has languished for way too long in the gimmicky domain of the gaming world. In the industrial sector, the focus is completely different. Within a year and a half at most, I expect one of the bigger players – like Google, Apple or Microsoft – to launch hardware that can be used for industrial applications.

And not a minute too soon, because there’s major interest from the industrial sector. This comes as quite a surprise, because this sector is usually rather conservative. This is a sector where machinery is often used for ten to twenty years before upgrades are even considered. And yet here we are, obtaining nine appointments for every ten marketing calls we make. I have worked in ICT for almost twenty years and never before have I seen such interest. I reckon that all the companies that we’ve visited until now have experimented with these new technologies in their own capacity. So there is clearly an enormous demand.

War for Talent

All these developments mean that most management boards are acknowledging the enormous potential of technologies like augmented reality, visualisation and AI. Not just for the improvement of employee efficiency and workplace safety, but also as a resource in the War for Talent. The labour market, and industry in particular, is being faced with increased shortages in manpower. Growth is being stunted because companies cannot source suitable profiles. And when they actually manage to source people, these people are often trained differently and have to be retrained. Our technology can help such companies fast-track their candidates and make up their backlogs.

Contact us for more information.

Jan Meynen