IoT collects the information from physical assets (Things) in the real world, while augmented reality (AR) takes digital information and displays it in the real world. By combining IoT with AR, it is possible to create an immersive ‘in-context’ visualisation that aids understanding of products and Things, as shown in the diagram below.
Diagram courtesy of Allan Thompson, LEAP Australia
The earliest examples of AR included heads-up displays in military aircraft in the early 1960s, and later civilian aircraft. A recent popular example of location-based AR is the online game Pokemon Go, which has greatly raised the public profile of the technology. Mobile handheld devices, including smartphones and tablets, have inbuilt cameras and can be used to generate 3D graphics in real time, which has made AR an increasingly accessible technology. Examples of AR technology are the re-emerging Google Glass, and the advanced Microsoft Hololens digital eyewear. AR can also be used in applications such as industrial automation.
Augmented reality (AR) vs virtual reality (VR)
The primary difference between virtual reality (VR) and AR is that VR uses computers to create a completely virtual environment, whereas AR allows users to maintain a view of the real world as well as the superimposed computer-generated visualisation. In industrial applications, AR is a safer option, as it allows users to avoid hazards such as forklifts and tripping hazards. VR also requires much greater computing power than AR, which is a major limitation of VR technology.
Applications of AR in industry
AR is used in industry for three main applications:
- information visualisation: Enhance the user’s view of the physical world with the overlay of actual or hypothetical digital information eg. a CAD model of a drink machine superimposed over the area where it will be installed
- instruction: eg. overlaying a step-by-step sequence over an object to provide graphical instructions or real-time expert guidance on technical procedures
- interaction with Things: View or manipulate digital information with natural user interfaces or control a product through an augmented digital user interface.
Information visualisation is the most common application of AR in industry. Using AR for instruction is becoming more popular as more companies are starting to work with 3D data. This has the advantage of removing the need for paper-based manuals and translating instructions for multiple areas of an operation. Some companies also use AR animations as sales and marketing tools for their products.
The last application is the most relevant to IoT. For example, a Raspberry Pi can be used to stream data to an app which creates a visualisation of the data generated by the device in the field, which is updated live in the AR. It is also possible to configure the app to push data back out to IoT devices for two-way connectivity, and build in security to AR applets to ensure that only appropriately authorised users can log in to access IoT devices.
Features, development and limitations of AR
In the past, it has taken a large and multi-disciplinary team to create custom AR applications. Team members have included 3D specialists, programmers, cloud experts, and app developers. This means that custom AR apps were usually created in-house by big companies such as Lego and Ikea, or by external contractors at a sizable cost.
Pixel counts and sizes of models have also caused limitations for AR applications, due to the computing power required to run them, as AR is typically designed to run on mobile, less powerful devices than VR. This can be addressed by building appropriate compression software into the software.
The development of software which takes 3D data and builds AR display applets without the need for custom coding has the potential to make AR a more accessible and affordable solution for 3D visualisation of IoT data in the field.
There is also the facility to implement two-way voice interaction into AR applications.
High quality digital visualisation headsets, like the Microsoft Hololens, are also expensive, which limits their widespread uptake in industry, however other companies, including Google and NEC, are designing lower-cost eyewear.
The PTC Thingworx Studio and Vuforia AR software are two examples of software in many existing AR applications. Currently the Thingworx app is only designed to work with the AR markers for Microsoft Hololens, however PTC Vuforia works with a greater range of glasses. PTC software does not require custom coding, but automatically generates AR applets from a click-button user-interface. Apple also offers an AR developer’s kit, which is provided free to users who sign up for developer’s camp. This kit requires programming skills.
The information on this page was primarily sourced from:
- Webinar titled Augmented reality for ‘in context' visualisation of IOT data by Allan Thompson, PTC Technical Manager, LEAP Australia.
Edited by Nadine Cranenburgh