Businesses large and small are increasingly starting to provide augmented reality (AR) and smart glass devices for their workforce, or explore ways to do so. Just today Toshiba’s future IT landscape survey found 82 percent of enterprises predicting that AR smart glasses will be used by their businesses in the next three years.
Augmented reality is the displaying of virtual elements onto a display which overlaps onto the real world. In practice this could be a map in front of you as you drive so your eyes don’t have to leave the road. It could be a technical tasks list or an expert watching what your worker does remotely.
This video is a good example of how Renault is using the tech via Microsoft’s HoloLens on their factory floor.
The market for AR Smart glass devices is clearly starting to heat up significantly. With 5G coming and set to make connectivity hugely faster, Computer Business Review expects to see significantly wider use of AR in industry. We took a look at some of the products on the market to help you assess what might work best for your business.
Google Glass was one of the first to offer the public a chance to own an AR wearable. It fell a little flat in the market unfortunately; issues of privacy kept cropping up; some shops and businesses banning customers wearing them. The consumer market simply was not ready; industry, however, was.
Companies and business started to use adapted versions of Google Glass that were being created by small independent start-ups.
Google noticed the uptake of its product by industry and shifted their focus in the X (R&D) department of Alphabet to help foster a formalised system and environment where Google Glass and software developers could work to deliver solutions to companies.
This has resulted in Google Glass Enterprise Edition (EE). Similar in the look of the original Glass, the Enterprise Edition comes with a 720p capable video display which when viewed is the same as watching a 23 inch screen eight feet away. The internal chip set is an Intel Atom.
Google Glass is being trialled in an array of large companies such as General Electric (GE) and Boeing. When a worker in GE’s Aviation Division use his tools, many of which are Wifi-enabled such as his torque wrench, that worker can now see on the Glass display how much torque he is placing on the component. EE allows a user to send video back to an expert who can highlight areas to be investigated further, be it on an oil rig or the factory floor. All this real-time data helps to reduce mistakes and speed up jobs.
This is not the only foray into the realm of AR that Google has taken. On their Blog Google outlined late stage research that will help introduce AR to microscopes: “The platform consists of a modified light microscope that enables real-time image analysis and presentation of the results of machine learning algorithms directly into the field of view.’’
Cancer researchers are using these devices to find tumours and cancer cells quicker and more accurate with the aid of algorithms that have been trained by experts to identify cancer growth.
ThirdEye’s background is in AR scopes for rifles and a number of other AR Head Mounted Displays for military use.
The company is making a major push into the enterprise space however, with its X1 AR goggles running on a custom Android 7.0 OS and coming equipped with a wealth of sensors. These include a 3-axis gyroscope, 3-axis accelerometer, 3-axis compass, and a Digital Motion Processor (DMPTM). They have a field of view of 40 degrees and a virtual image size of 90″ at 10 feet.
Current customers, such as OneBonsai Inc. and BANC3 Engineering Inc., have already measured a 30 percent reduction in employee training time through using the goggles, ThirdEye says.
“We’re in conversation with businesses from over a dozen verticals, including Fortune 500 companies, about our X1 Smart Glasses and remote assistance AR platform” the company’s President, Nick Cherukuri, says.
“We give organizations a straight-out-of-the-box solution and can customize the hardware and software that meets their specific needs.”
It’s targeting industrial centers and healthcare, as well as law enforcement, with a “See what I see” strapline. The company says the X1 is easily customisable for back-end APIs and says it is already offering an AR app store. It is one of the few that offers a clear price: $999 out of the box.
Real, by VRMedia S.r.l., is an AR device for use on large scale maintenance projects in hard-to-reach areas. Utilising a heads-up display, the wearer can receive audio and video content from an expert in a remote location. The users view receive step-by-step process guidance in their maintenance tasks.
The Real wearable device was designed for use on oil refining platforms and co-developed by Baker Hughes, a subsidiary of GE, in partnership with VrMedia. The kit helps to greatly reduce the cost of flying experts out to an oil rig to view the problem and find a means of remediating it.
The Real augmented reality device is a more robust piece of equipment in comparison to devices like Google Glass, but it is also a very bulky system designed very much for heavy industry projects.
The R-8 Smart glasses designed by Osterhout Design Group (ODG) are equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip.
They claim its speed reduces lag and helps alleviate the motion sickness effect some people experience using AR goggles, due to the lag between what you see on the display and what the motion trackers are feeding to the lenses. The R-8 comes with 64GB storage, duel 720p Stereoscopic displays which can run at 90fps.
ODG’s glasses do however look slightly on the bulky side and resemble large sunglasses when compared to Googles Glass. However, they do come with the capability to operate as AR or VR glasses, so depending on your industry needs they can have applications tailored to suit both realities.
At the moment ODG are beginning trials with FedEx Express on a new product called SAVED. This is essentially an oxygen mask fitted with a heads-up display using ODG’s glasses technology. It aims to help pilots fly planes in the event of the cabin filling with smoke, via an outside camera’s feed through to the mask.
Epson might not be the name that comes to mind first when discussing AR smart glasses but they have four products in the market. The use of projectors in smart glasses is what has drawn Epson into the market, as they are a market leader in projector technology.
For general business use they have the Moverio Pro BT-2000. This comes with a 5MP stereo front-facing camera and the standard array of sensors that are needed to make AR work. The view is through a HD binocular display which is 3D capable. Epson has announced a string of partnerships, including with pharmaceuticals, health & safety and museum partners.
Interestingly they come equipped with an Epson Inertial Measuring Unit (IMU) that helps detect workers movements when they can no longer receive a GPS signal. This helps workers continue tasks underground or in signal reception black spots.
For those working in industries where the use of hard hats is mandatory Epson have released a version which is mounted onto a hardhat.
Vuzix has nearly completed the development of their Blade AR glasses. These see-through wearable devices will come equipped with Amazon’s Alexa.
The glasses will be equipped with an 8 megapixel camera and can run 1080p video. Vuzix runs using the Android operating software.
Vuzix’s current model the Vuzix M300 is designed for industry and is essentially a heads-up display mounted on a wearable headset. The M300 can use Upskills Skylight software which provides your workers with their task information and step by step procedures.
While not strictly AR, a key point for Vuzix’s early device is their introduction of Telepresence software, this is the type of application which can really make a difference in high skilled technical industries such as precision manufacturing or in healthcare. Telepresence enables another user to view through the eyes of the device you are wearing. For instance a surgeon can watch through the eyes of his colleague mid operation and can advise from this advantageous view point.
Should Businesses Adopt AR
A question that might be on a business owners mind is “should I invest in this tech when AR is coming to handheld devices like phones and tablets?”
Vuzix’s earlier device is a perfect example of why businesses may want to consider the option of wearable devices.
The M300 is essentially a tablet computer right in front of your eye, but this frees a workers hands to complete tasks and removes the risk of dropping and damaging a device. Many of the ways industry uses smart glasses right now are in facilitating employees to build engines without having to constantly look down or pick up a check list, it is right there in their field of vision.
Nearly all of the large companies and business trialling Google Glass EE are planning to expand the product across the rest of their enterprises.
Large warehouse operators like Amazon are looking at equipping all employees with smart glasses to aid in the searching and identifying of products. Large and small business across the world are adopting AR technology because they see the benefits. It may soon prove a vital way to stay competitive.