If you’ve ever attended a PTC event I’m sure you are well aware of the company’s passion for augmented reality (AR). As a leader in the PLM industry and trailblazer of IIoT technology, PTC champions a future where AR is an essential technology in the industrial enterprise. It’s vision for this future takes the form of Vuforia, an AR platform that hosts over 350,000 developers and partners, and offers more than 40,000 AR applications. While the numbers are impressive, we both know full well that many of these applications will accrue no more than a handful of users. However, the killer apps among them could someday soon be catalysts for the widespread adoption of AR in the industrial or consumer market. One application that I expect will make a significant impact is PTC’s own Project Chalk, which is in final phases of development and slated to be released in the Fall this year.
Project Chalk is a video chat application that allows its users to create AR drawings and annotations that become fixed in the environments being shared. For example, the next time your daughter calls you because she can’t figure out how to use the new washing machine, rather than bumbling through a confusing conversation, you can connect via this FaceTime-like application, and while she shows you the washing machine you can draw step by step instructions. Because the application digitally maps the environment in three dimensions, it is able to lock drawings into that virtual world. Even if your hypothetical daughter puts her phone down to grab the laundry, as long as the app is still running she can pick her phone back up, turn it to the machine, and see the drawings right where you left them.
What I just described is called over the shoulder support, remote professional, or remote mentor, and is one of the top use cases driving the adoption of wearable technology in the industrial market, specifically head mounted devices. Until recently this type of support was restricted to video and audio communication and, while such applications have proven to be quite successful, I believe the arrival of persistent AR annotation will be a formidable differentiator – and not a moment too soon. As much of the industrial world begins to experience an accelerating decline in skilled workers, new technologies and processes must be established to ease the impact. An effective remote mentor program is a remarkably eloquent solution.
When we talk about IIoT and Digitalization one of the common concepts is the distribution and consumption of hitherto siloed information. The tribal knowledge and experience an individual gains through decades of work is certainly among the most siloed and valuable information out there. By creating remote mentor positions companies can retain these experts who are ready to retire from physically demanding plant or field service and distribute their knowledge across a global network of novices. Even part-time retention of experts in this capacity can have an incredible financial impact by increasing first time fix rates, decreasing truck roll-outs, or, in more extreme cases, preventing trips and safety incidents. Despite the fanfare around the AR heavy hitters like the Hololens and DAQRI helmet, the most compelling remote expert use cases can be achieved with less expensive, less powerful hardware like those made by Vuzix, RealWear, or Librestream (to name a few).
In the next few years I expect to see a boom in this industry as leaders begin to reach the same conclusions. In the meantime, I look forward to downloading Project Chalk on my iPhone.