Merging Realities

If you’re like me I’m sure you’ve heard about augmented reality and all the new technology happening these days but what does something like augmented reality mean to a control’s engineer?

Is augmented reality something engineers even need to think about?

In today’s world the emergence of new tech is happening at blinding speed, and to make it even more challenging, this new tech is popping up everywhere.

Companies like; Coachella used the tech for a festival, MillerCoors for their marketing, BMW Group for their manufacturing process and Bose is developing the tech for media enhancement.

They are all beginning to implement the new tech in everything from entertainment, to manufacturing assembly and even over at the Boston Beer Company, for their Angry Orchard hard cider line which used a phone app for a sales and marketing campaign.

But who cares, right? Its not as if its going to help me troubleshoot a robotics system, manage my projects or even pull and terminate wire for my next machine build, why bother?

But what if it could, what if this new tech could change the way I do my job. So, I thought why not look and see if its worth getting interested in.

The Promise of New Technology

To begin with I recall the promise that computers would make our lives easier, instead it seems its just another tool, with an ever-growing level of complexity.

It seems I need a week’s class and a month’s hands on experience just to figure out how to use a program on the computer, and there are programs for everything these days.

In the end software helps, but could this new tech also cost me more time? And, what’s the likelihood that augmented reality will be any different?

Maybe there isn’t much likelihood that it’s going to be any different than all the other software I use these days.

But maybe all is not lost either, if augmented reality delivers on its potential it could be a game changer for controls engineers.

So, lets dig into this tech and try to discover if it’s all hype or is it truly a revolutionary benefit for guys like you and I.

“all countries, will have AR experiences every day, almost like eating three meals a day.”

Tim Cook

The Need for Augmented Reality

Does anyone really need AR (AR is short for augmented reality)? Because it’s easier to write AR then the full name I’ll just use the letters throughout the rest of this article.

I’ll also presume that the real question isn’t do we need it, but instead how can we use it to improve our lives and most importantly our job?

As I understand it, AR offers the ability to merge design and productivity with a real time 3D interactive process. Imagine troubleshooting a machine using simulated x-ray vision.

Or having process data, stream right in front of you without a traditional computer monitor. 

Or perform quality checks with the accuracy of a computer using nothing more than a pair of glasses.

Would it be helpful to create a CAD drawing of a machine and then visualize it in 3D and see its interaction in the real world before you build it?

 Currently, we turn to computers and go to offices for training and to bring up resources like electrical schematics or layout prints.

But with AR the computer technology comes to the end-user wherever they are in the real world and gives you a 3D superimposed overlay merging the real and virtual world.

So, on the surface AR is promising to offer simplicity by helping you visualize an end-product before its built via 3D modeling.

It gives you improved productivity like ‘error-proof assembly’ by adding in 3D overlays of prints and layout on an assembly line.

And efficiency and enhancement by merging audio and video interaction for training purposes at the site of use.  

How Augmented Reality Works

According to the folks over at ‘Wikipedia’ and ‘How Stuff Works’; augmented reality is a technology that merges the real world and a virtual world.

Its different from virtual reality in that, with VR you put on glasses and see a 100% virtual world.

Were as with AR it’s a mix of both. AR is facilitated by wearing specially made glasses, contact lenses, projectors, ‘heads-up-displays’ or by using a phone app. AR merges the real world with a virtual world.

In the digital world, photos and or digitally made items to include, text, audio, 3D items and videos are only visible using these devices, but the images overlay and are superimposed into the real world thus merging the two seamlessly visualizing an augmented reality.

An example would be, to visualize a new couch in your living room with IKEA’s app, or you can see creatures like the once popular Pokémon Go appear in your back yard.

Businesses like the Gatwick Airport are using this technology to help passengers navigate airports, and the US Army is going wild with plans to use it to train their troops for combat.

Regardless if you use the glasses, or a phone app or a device you can typically interact with 3D models, using text, audio, voice, video or hand gestures and you can often stream what you’re seeing and doing to anyone anywhere in the world in real time as well.

How Augmented Reality Could Change Our Jobs

Ok, so you’re probably thinking this sounds kinda cool, but “how is it going to change my job?

I do a hundred things; I draft electrical prints, I wire machines, I manage projects, I order parts, I troubleshoot machines, travel around the world and a thousand other things”.

Again, remember that simulated x-ray vision I spoke about earlier? Now imagine working on a machine with no prints, but being able to look right at a sensor on a machine and see a 3D overlay of the sensor on the machine and being able to see its processor tag, and the wire number.

Imagine ‘error-proof-assembly’ using 3D instructions to build anything or how about specific to you, instructions through a busy airport to a waiting car, or Doctors using AR in medicine to help diagnose and train their staff, or how would you like to try on clothes in a ‘virtual dressing room’.

Consider that you can have all this functionality without a laptop or connecting to a machine using ethernet cables or dragging out prints.

How to Leverage Augmented Reality in Your Career

In short what does all this cool stuff mean to a control’s engineer? Are companies even using augmented reality these days, is it worth taking a class in, do they even have classes in AR?

Fair questions. AR is new and its possibilities are still being discovered. But to begin with, yes there are classes to learn AR and I will post the links to a few at the bottom of this article.

Secondly, most of the companies using this technology in the real world and not just for testing purposes are large companies.

However, this tech’s promise and possibilities will likely see the spread in less then 10 years to companies of every size and shape.

And while the adoption and integration will likely be through the IT department at most companies. The utilization in the field and on the shop-floor will be the front-line controls engineers.

So, like with all new software packages, and programs it will take some getting used to but those who adopt early stand the chance to gain the most.

Your Future Reality

In closing, AR could deliver its promise, and most likely will be everywhere (in my opinion) shortly.

So, my suggestion is that in your free time take some classes, read some blogs, and books, complete some projects then add it to your resume.

It’s a hobby that will eventually (I’m certain) develop into a tool you’ll use every day to make a living.

 Links:

Infographic of AR history – https://www.augment.com/blog/infographic-lengthy-history-augmented-reality/

Build AR Project of your own – https://youaugment.com/

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