Augmented Reality

An Industrial Revolution

What is ‘Augmented Reality’?

Wikipedia defines Augmented Reality (AR) as “a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.” What is key here is the ‘live view’ of the real world. As opposed to the ‘Virtual Reality’ that has been a mainstay of science fiction for decades and is slowly finding its way into our living rooms, Augmented Reality superimposes information on top of a live view. At its simplest level, a common thermal camera with digital readings is a form of AR. At the opposite extreme are devices like the Heads-Up-Display (HUD) helmet used in the F-35 Lightning. The HUD layers all the complex information a fighter pilot operating near (or above) the speed of sound needs onto their real-world view through the visor, while clocking in at a hefty $400,000 for each unit.


Advancements in CPU processing power allow modern AR devices to recognize environmental objects and elements, providing contextual information depending on what you look towards. DAQRI, an innovator in the AR space, has a number of products that can bring highly-advanced AR hardware and software to industrial and commercial applications, without the $400,000 price tag. DAQRI is leveraging Augmented Reality technology to enhance productivity, efficiency and safety while simultaneously providing instant detailed access to informational insights for decision makers.

Reduce Dust.
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Chad Smith experienced the DAQRI hardware and shared some reflections in his blog:

“The DAQRI smart helmet is one part reality capture, one part mixed reality, and one part data integration. …The application of such technology is vast. Especially in the construction industry where we have been promised for years that we will be able to augment our BIM over the physical building either as part of the construction process or even afterward for maintenance purposes of services. The DAQRI smart helmet looks like it might just fulfill that promise, among its many other uses. …where it starts to become even more compelling is when mixed with data from other systems, not just a model. Recently DAQRI partnered with Autodesk and Mortenson Construction to integrate Autodesk’s BIM 360 tools as part of a case study. The result was literally overlaying the BIM and construction management data onto the physical, providing real-time context, something which cannot be done from an office.”

Within an industrial environment, a great example of this revolution is the scenario of maintenance engineers using AR to inspect equipment for faults in real-time while the machinery operates. If a problem arises they cannot solve, the system can connect them to equipment experts or vendor engineers that can ‘see through their eyes’ and help diagnose and solve the issue. An engineering consultant brought in to retrofit of a power plant can quickly assess the current situation using Augmented Reality hardware and can then use the AR system to superimpose models of new equipment over the view of the actual plant while looking for possible conflicts with structural members, conduits or risks to personnel. After retrofits are complete, maintenance personnel benefit from modern industrial equipment embedded with many discrete sensors collecting data and feeding information on the status of various components. Linking this sensor network to AR gives insight into every part of a facility with a glance.

From assessing the efficiency of material handling systems to understanding the needs of complex engineering services projects, Acensium is employing DAQRI hardware (coupled with their extensive insight into using laser-scanning to create detailed 3D models of facilities) to help their clients complete complex capital projects and facility retrofits. The biggest hurdle to overcome in implementing AR technology is the initial digitization of the facility and processes. This is where Acensium comes in, bringing decades of experience in engineering services and consulting for material handling projects, coal plant engineering and other projects. Using laser-scanning technology, Acensium has digitized numerous facilities and operations, creating 3D models to aid in difficult or dangerous projects. Augmented Reality hardware opens a broad range of new efficiencies, allowing every engineer and technician a detailed view of facility data in real time. Thermal cameras allow anyone to observe the current temperature-state of critical components while AR software can provide warnings and guidance that can prevent the injuries and shutdown costs that can come from component failures.

Knowledge Transfer, Training and Digitization

Digitization and AR technology goes beyond the maintenance engineering or retrofit engineering needs of an industrial facility. As with every business, managing knowledge transfer and onboarding new staff is a critical task. As key employees retire or move on to different opportunities, seamless transfer of responsibility is needed for continued efficient operation. Augmented Reality brings knowledge transfer tasks to a new level of automation. AR hardware can be used to ‘record’ standard tasks and situations handled by veteran personnel, providing a ready-made ‘tutorial’ experience for new hires. Once a facility is digitized, facility-specific (or equipment-specific) tasks can be turned into virtual tutorials or tours, allowing the training process to start on a computer screen and progress to hands-on training, always backed by digital ‘guidance’ from the experts who recorded the proper procedure for the tasks initially.

How long before this technology is ready?

In various forms, Augmented Reality is available now. Though early in its life, AR technology can be leveraged now in any industry that wants to take advantage of the benefits of digitization and instant access to critical data. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) published a forecast of AR technology, including its current state, noting that wide adoption had only been slowed by the vast number of different options and platforms. As the technology evolves, certain standards will become accepted and wide adoption of the hardware will reduce the competitive advantages that AR early adopters have today over industry players who do not leverage this technology. Technologies and process improvements like the steam engine, the assembly line and robotic automation have drastically changed industry over the centuries, Augmented Reality is simply the next step in the ongoing Industrial Revolution.

Augmented Reality

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