Making a Mark in Augmented Reality

I was pretty sure when I wrote a previous entry on this blog, Pokemon Go Reveals the World of Augmented Reality, that I would not be the only one making the link between the hugely popular smartphone app and an improved understanding and appreciation of augmented reality (AR) technology. As I said at the time, “The first experience of augmented reality for the vast majority of people, this sudden familiarity means the technology is no longer esoteric or strange and this can only help it find readier acceptance and encourage more widespread use in industry.”

And indeed, at last week’s PTC Solutions Day in Singapore, it was Pokemon Go that was used as the explanatory introduction to the conference session segment about the company’s foray into augmented reality following the 2015 acquisition of AR company Vuforia: “How many of you play Pokemon Go?” asked presenter Christy Joseph, channel technical manager. “It  has made augmented reality known to many people for the very first time.”

For PTC, Vuforia is just one of a slew of acquisitions for the company over the last two years as it aggressively seeks to remake itself from a prominent but fairly conventional supplier of design and engineering software (CAD, CAM, PLM, Simulation) into (in its words) a global provider of technology platforms and solutions that transform how companies create, operate, and service the “things” in the Internet of Things (IoT). Those other acquisitions include Axeda and Kepware (for industrial connectivity), ThingWorx (platform for building IoT applications), and Coldlight (machine- learning based analytics).

Given that the participants at PTC Solutions Day in Singapore were largely (in my estimate) faithful users of the company’s CAD software and likely unfamiliar with IoT concepts, one of PTC’s clear objectives (and a continuing challenge) must be to explain to its existing client base all about the brave new world of smart connected products, the relevance of the newly acquired offerings and how these can usefully integrate with PTC’s design and engineering software. Or to put it another way, why should a designer creating 3D models in PTC Creo care about IoT platforms or augmented reality?

Getting back to Vuforia, PTC puts this into the Experience category of its IoT Platforms; the other categories being Connect, Analyze, Create. This June the company announced the availability of Vuforia Studio Enterprise, a new tool for developing augmented reality “experiences”. With the software, AR experiences can, according to PTC, be built by non programmers in just a matter of minutes.

Vuforia Studio Enterprise imports 3D CAD models developed in PTC Creo, but it can also take in 3D model data from other CAD vendors. Importantly, it integrates with the ThingWorx IoT Platform, to enhance the AR experience with real-time data, such as from sensors on the actual product. The experience is then associated with a ThingMark, a proprietary code developed by PTC and which can be affixed on a physical object.

Created experiences are published to the cloud-based Vuforia Experience Service, and with a free downloadable app (available for iOS  and Android) called Vuforia View Enterprise, a ThingMark can be scanned with a smartphone or tablet and the associated augmented reality experience launched and then viewed on these devices.

A Vuforia Studio Pilot Program, which was initiated after the product’s release, saw companies apply augmented reality to different business needs. In sales and marketing, for example, a ThingMark can be printed on a brochure and allow prospective customers to get an enhanced view – zoom in, different angles, exploded, etc. – of a product. In product service situations, AR experiences could depict disassembly/assembly sequences and service procedures. And in working industrial environments, scanning a ThingMark attached to a product can bring up real-time data notifications such as temperature, pressure, level, etc.


Scanning the ThingMark (shown in center of photo) brings up the associated augmented reality experience.



Getting different views of the 3D image.

To better appreciate augmented reality and the different applications, PTC’s audience in Singapore was encouraged to download the Vuforia View Enterprise app on their smartphones and scan some ready printed ThingMarks. In fact, anyone can try it out. Go to iTunes or Play Store, download this free app and you’ll get instructions on how to print out and scan a ThingMark. This provides a Welcome Experience in the form of a 3D image of a motorbike in various situations, as illustrated by the screenshots I took and shown above and below.. So if you do want to get an appreciation of augmented reality beyond catching Pokemons, and also of PTC’s approach to AR, I encourage you to try it too.

In product service situations, AR experiences can depict disassembly/assembly sequences

In product service situations, AR experiences can depict disassembly/assembly sequences



Vuforia Studio integration with the ThingWork IoT Platform enables the AR experience to include real-time data.

In closing the Augmented Reality segment of PTC Solutions Day, Christy Joseph made a semi-serious comment that highlights the rather different, more intriguing world that PTC inhabits after its rampant acquisition spree: “A year ago if someone asked me what I did, I said I do CAD. They would look at me as if to say, what world are you living in? But now I can say I do … augmented reality!”