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If the internet of things is this year's big blockbuster, augmented reality may soon nab a breakout role as the technology enabler that lets workers easily gain access to what's happening with their smart, connected products.
According to Dexter Lilley, COO at Index AR Solutions, a provider of custom augmented reality (AR) services based in Williamsburg, Va., IoT and augmented reality are inevitably a match made in heaven. "IoT is all about gathering data and turning it into information, and augmented reality is all about providing people doing the work with that information in a form that allows them to do more with it," he explained.
With projections calling for 25 billion internet-connected things by 2020, products such as cars, jet engines, washers and factory floor equipment will be collecting scads of real-time data that companies will be hoping to analyze and mine for insights that will lead to better decision-making. Yet, much of the data deluge issued by connected products doesn't get optimally employed. By using IoT and augmented reality complementarily, workers use access data in a more intuitive format that optimizes their results.
Through AR dashboards, for example, virtual gauges assist line operators with maintenance by displaying the real-time temperature of an IoT-connected engine or serving up contextual instructions for how to disassemble a particular piece of machinery. "In the simplest sense, AR gives me the ability to see information inside the connected product," explained Jay Wright, president and general manager of Vuforia, PTC's newly acquired AR division. "And when I can actually access data from a connected product, I can provide more relevant and contextual instructions to users, whether they're operating the product, inspecting it or servicing it."
IoT and augmented reality: Creating a smart service
Providing real-time accurate data at the point of contact with the product enables smart instructions, for example. Consider a demonstration by Caterpillar at PTC's LiveWorx event in June, which depicted how a customer renting a commercial generator could leverage Vuforia AR to get interactive instructions in how to start and later troubleshoot the system, Wright explained.
Jay Wrightpresident and general manager of Vuforia, PTC
"You can get the same data without AR, but the combination of [IoT] sensor data and the ability to overlay and display data directly on top of the machine makes the instructions context-sensitive," he said. "You don't want to tell someone to push a start button if the thing is already running, and you don't want someone to speed up or slow down a machine if they don't know what speed it's already running at."
PTC just released the latest version of its AR platform, Vuforia 6, which introduced VuMark, a customizable visual cue that allows AR experiences to be attached to any product or object, along with support for Microsoft HoloLens and Windows 10 tablets. Wright said there are currently more than 30,000 Vuforia-powered applications on the market.
At Flowserve Corp., a maker of highly customized industrial pumps, valves and seals based in Irving, Texas, augmented reality will be a next step in the company's industrial IoT journey, said Eric van Gemeren, the company's vice president of research and development. The combination of sensor-enabled plant floor equipment, PTC's ThingWorx IoT development platform, edge processing capabilities and custom-built analytics enable the company to remotely diagnose and troubleshoot problems, preventing equipment and plant system failures before they occur, he explained. This predictive maintenance from the pairing of IoT and augmented reality-enabled services doesn't just avoid system downtime; well-tuned equipment also optimizes energy usage, yielding cost savings.
The addition of AR capabilities will enable Flowserve to expose this intelligence to an entirely different audience -- oftentimes, those remote workers on the plant floor who don't have direct access to a laptop or web browser, van Gemeren said. In Flowserve's vision for IoT and augmented reality, IoT serves as the connectivity piece, machine learning is the analytics component and AR delivers the user-experience element.
"AR will allow us to provide the means of exposing intelligence in a manner that's highly consumable," he explained. "In some cases, an operator might not have mechanical experience in how to disassemble or assemble a product. AR makes them more proficient at that and makes the process safer."
Check out more coverage of PTC's LiveWorx 2016