So much innovation is happening in the fields of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) these days, with a wide range of emerging practical applications. AR/VR is revolutionizing everything from medicine to manufacturing to museums. Recent examples include “workers assembling wind turbines at a GE Renewable Energy factory wear smart glasses that allow them to pull up digitized directions laid over assets. Car designers at Ford are using Microsoft’s HoloLens mixed-reality headsets to preview designs projected onto an actual car or clay model."1
These types of developments are now being grouped under the umbrella term “Industry 4.0” (abbreviated I4.0), signifying a fourth Industrial Revolution. If we consider that the original Industrial Revolution (in the 1800s) was marked by introduction of mechanization using technology like steam engines to replace labor that had previously been done manually or with animals, then the second phase of the revolution was the advent of mass production and assembly lines using electrical power.
The third phase was the addition of automation and computerization to production—e.g., the use of automated assembly lines with technologies like programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and robots. The new fourth revolution is ushering in the age of the “smart factory,” underscored by technological approaches like the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI).
Illustration of the four Industrial Revolutions. Image source: Christopher Roser at AllAboutLean.com.
This week, we spotlight a few AR/VR developments in the industrial sector that are part of this revolutionary I4.0 trend.
Boeing's Augmented Assembly Line
Technicians at Boeing are now using Google Glass for AR applications (which, in an industrial environment, is called IAR for “Industrial AR”) to improve the wire assembly process of their 787-8 Freighter. Before AR, employees had to continuously check the assembly of numerous wires by consulting a schematic on a laptop. The process was time-consuming and caused worker fatigue.
By switching to AR headsets, the employees now have this information available to them right in front of their eyes, enabling them to check their work as they go. They can also issue voice commands to their headsets or ask a colleague to join the headset’s live video stream for help with more complex tasks. The application of AR has reduced the wire assembly process time by 25 percent and lowered the error rate to almost zero, while also improving employee comfort, satisfaction, and retention.
Overview of Boeing's use of augmented reality.
Shipshape at the Shipyard
Navantia, a 300-year old shipbuilding company, is modernizing its shipyards to incorporate new AR technologies. AR devices are giving employees virtual interfaces that allow them to view task information and interact with elements around them. Navantia's IAR approach is based on a fog-computing architecture, “making the use of three IAR devices (a smartphone, a tablet, and a pair of smart glasses), two AR software development kits (ARToolKit and Vuforia) and multiple IAR markers, with the objective of determining their performance in a shipyard workshop and inside a ship under construction.”2
Use of the IAR elements has shown significant performance improvements for workers in various scenarios. In this article published by IEEE, you can learn more about Navantia’s AR experience, and get an overview of state-of-the-art IAR applications and tools relevant to shipbuilding and smart manufacturing.
Overview of Novantia’s Industry 4.0 initiatives (in Spanish).
Augmenting Productivity & Quality at GE Healthcare
GE Healthcare has developed a futuristic laboratory at its Waukeshaw, WI, plant, which uses an Xbox console and Kinect motion tracker to help workers increase efficiency. The system projects work instructions and also tracks employee movements at a manufacturing station to guide workers through complex processes and provide an alert if any errors are spotted.
The first applications of the system focused on critical steps in the production process where the company can’t afford for there to be any mistakes. They are now expanding the use of the system to incorporate facial recognition technology, collaborative robots (or “cobots”), and Predix, GE’s in-house Industrial Internet software platform. Read more…
GE Healthcare’s Jimmie Beecham describes the development and use of AR technologies in their production operation.
Machine Vision Meets AR/VR
Disruptive technology like AR/VR devices lay the foundation for future innovation, and also put demands on the vision and imaging equipment used to ensure the quality of digital experiences that are blended with reality. An article published October 5 in AIA Vision Online explores the juncture of machine vision with AR applications. In it, Radiant Vision Systems Chief Solutions Officer, Doug Kreysar, contributes his thoughts on the AR/VR display market.
In particular, he focuses on the importance of unique optics for measuring the quality of displays integrated within AR/VR headsets to ensure proper performance of these systems.
Ensuring AR/VR Display Quality
With major brands starting to rely on AR innovations to enhance their multi-million-dollar production operations, it’s essential that the AR devices their workers use perform flawlessly. Radiant’s AR/VR lens enables device makers to measure and test their headset displays to ensure absolute visual quality of virtual and augmented images. The lens design simulates the size, position, and field of view of the human eye, enabling the connected imager to evaluate a display the same way it will be seen by a human user. Specially designed for display quality measurement in near-eye-display (NED) headsets, the Radiant AR/VR lens—when used with a ProMetric® imaging system and TrueTest™ Software—provides a complete toolset for AR/VR device measurement. Learn more…
Radiant ProMetric imaging photometer with AR/VR lens measuring a VR display inside the headset where a human user’s eye would be.
1. Hardin, Winn, “Machine Vision Enters Augmented and Virtual Reality Environments”, in AIA Vision Online, October 5, 2018.
2. Blanco-Novoa, Oscar, et al., “A Practical Evaluation of Commercial Industrial Augmented Reality Systems in an Industry 4.0 Shipyard”, on IEEE Access, February 5, 2018.