This is the second of two posts on the Euroforum’s International Summit on Augmented Reality in the Automotive Industry that I attended in Cologne, Germany. Last week I wrote about the use of AR by drivers in cars. The great majority of speakers at this conference, however, were focused on much more immediate and practical–even if, perhaps, less sexy–applications of AR technology. These presentations explained how automotive companies are using AR & VR right now to make their design and manufacturing processes more efficient.
From Matthias Ziegler at Accenture Switzerland, we heard an overview of emerging AR applications. (He especially likes Daqri Smart Helmet.) Accenture releases an annual forecast for its clients of tech trends that will be big over the next 2-5 years, and “the digital-physical blur,” as he calls it, has been on that list since 2014. He quoted one case in which AR time spent assembling an airplane by 20%. (And, like me, the short film Sight is on his shortlist as one of the best illustrations of what an AR-infused world might look like.)
Dr. Lina Longhitano from Mercedes-Benz Vans (a Daimler company) gave a fascinating insight into how her company has been using both AR and VR in the engineering process since 2008 (and in prototype form since 2000.) These technologies assist Mercedes with construction and repair by superimposing weld points and other engineering data over physical parts, with “buildability” by visualizing conceptual designs, and with sales, by allowing sales reps visualize vehicles outside the showroom. One of her engineers’ favorite tools is the CAVE, which projects virtual simulations over an entire room. They also use VR “data goggles” like the Rift, which she sees as “the future of the workplace,” though we’ll eventually see greater use of AR eyewear as well, she believes. Representatives from Opel and the German Artificial Intelligence Research Center showed similar applications.
Jurgen Lumera of Bosch Automotive spoke on how to introduce AR into a company’s processes. Bosch’s aftermarket diagnostics and technical documentation divisions use AR to enhance their product design and manufacturing. Some of the hurdles he identified include the facts that engineers don’t update current 3D models often enough; that employees don’t have the tools or training to author AR content; and that companies lack a strategy for using AR data. Other solutions providers such as Semcon and Diota showed off their technology for use by automotive customers.
Speakers from the Fraunhofer Institute, Unity Lab, Ubimax, and others spoke on the use of AR eyewear in logistical applications. Ubimax, for example, is the only German participant in Google’s “Glass at Work” program, and has developed solutions allowing factory floor workers to catalog their inventory using digital eyewear. They have even conducted a pilot program using the Meta-1, which are true, see-through AR glasses. The speakers identified obstacles for AR in the factory that have yet to be overcome. For example, voice commands are useless in a loud factory environment. The cameras sometimes have difficulty distinguishing white and blue under harsh lighting conditions (therefore, in one case, they simply stopped painting things blue). And touch-sensitive inputs can be a challenge to those wearing gloves.
Nevertheless, the results reported from these early tests were positive. Allowing workers to receive commands, scan inventory, and perform tasks with hands-free devices increased their productivity and reduced error. The feedback from employees was mostly positive, and the learning curve was minimal for people of both genders and all ages.
In sum, these presentations validated the prevailing wisdom that industrial applications are where AR will first be truly vindicated. Here’s looking forward to even more innovation in the near future.