People glance at their smartphones an average of 100 times a day. You can see this behavior both on your way home on the subway and to an increasing extent in the workplace. When performing a task in the real world, our attention alternates constantly between observing information that is necessary for performance – on tablets, smartphones and computer screens alike – and focusing on the actual task at hand. Why is it still like that? Why hasn’t the way we consume information changed in more than 15 years?
Augmented reality bridges the gap between the digital world and the real world
Some leading researchers, such as Michael E. Porter, an economist and professor at Harvard Business School, have long since known that “there is a fundamental disconnect between the wealth of digital data available to us and the physical world in which we apply it.”2
In other words, even though our reality is three dimensional, the huge quantities of data that we collect to inform ourselves in order to make decisions and take action remains trapped on two-dimensional pages and screens. This gap between the real world and the digital world makes it difficult for us to benefit from the amount of information and insights that are produced by billions of smart, connected products (SCPs) around the world.
Augmented reality (AR), by contrast, displays information directly in the user’s visual field as soon as it is needed. As a result, the bothersome search for the right repair manual and the corresponding technical document on your laptop – or, worse yet, in a file from your briefcase – will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.
Skilled labor shortage and machine complexity call for innovative solutions
What other trends are we seeing in industry? The sector is growing significantly more complex: In particular, it takes specially trained experts to properly assemble, operate, and maintain machines and production systems, which are today supplied to users around the world. Specialized knowledge is only available to a limited extent or not at all in some places. Even within Germany, many in the industrial sector now see the shortage of skilled labor as a risk for the German economy. What’s more, the average length of service at a company is decreasing, especially among younger people, due to an increasingly flexible labor market. Companies therefore often end up losing the technical expertise they have developed.
These are certainly just a few of the reasons why it is worth taking a closer look at AR. Displaying relevant technical documentation in connection with the three-dimensional environment could simplify the aforementioned processes like operating and maintaining machines for people such as today’s service technicians. This is done using visually augmented manuals, for example, that highlight the affected components of the machine in real time, helping keep the technician’s focus on the machine and saving the time needed to search for the printed manual.
Single source publishing: AR content is generated directly in the technical documentation
It is particularly worth focusing on a well-known technical documentation principle: single source publishing. Today, AR should no longer be created in a time-consuming manner in development projects. Instead, it should be an integral part of the traditional documentation development process. Technical writers can continue to use the content management system they are accustomed to, such as DOCUFY’s COSIMA, plus they have the option of using AR as an additional publication channel. They do not require any special programming skills and can continue to use their usual workflow. Moreover, it is possible to decide which components should be displayed to technicians in AR and what information should be shown when and then provide it using a mobile content delivery platform (such as TopicPilot) in order to make the AR manual available on mobile devices (such as smartphones, tablets or smart glasses).
Use case 1: Training staff
Together with our partners kothes and DOCUFY, we searched on behalf of a client for a solution designed to help efficiently train new employees. Our idea? To display technical content directly on the machine in order to train new staff and guide them in an easy-to-understand, error-free manner through various steps in the user process.
To open the AR manual, employees point the tablet at the barcode located on the machine in order to identify it. The corresponding documentation opens itself up on the tablet. From there, staff can switch directly to the AR view. The manual adapts to the machine, and the various components are distinguished from each other using color. The interactive content is then displayed on the component that has just been selected.
Click here to see augmented documentation in use.
Use case 2: Mercedes-Benz rescue data sheets
With more than 20,000 downloads to date, the Rescue Assist app is one of the most frequently downloaded apps in the App Store. It displays safety-relevant components (airbag, battery, tank, etc.) in real time directly on the vehicle, enabling first responders such as firefighters or paramedics to visualize hidden vehicle components using AR. The technology can be used directly at the scene of the accident on all Daimler models built since 1990. The digital rescue data sheets help make split-second decisions about where a car can be cut open in life-and-death situations.
Find out more in this video.
Use case 3: AR in technical sales
AR is also well suited as a tool for technical sales. Often, the advantages and special features of complex machines and systems are presented only on a PowerPoint slide or a paper printout. Here it is worth employing tablets or smart glasses to present a company’s machine to customers in an innovative, easy-to-understand manner.
The potential applications of AR are not limited to a certain area of the company, which is both a blessing and a curse. Businesses should think about exactly where the technology can offer added value by taking a closer look at factors such as cost reduction or sales generation in service. It is essential to answer questions such as “How can I integrate the technology into my existing service level agreements?” or “What costs can I save in the future – and which ones do I want to save?” in advance. This results in areas of application such as technical sales, maintenance, training and service, for example.
Improved technology for devices and smart glasses
Another factor that will increase AR’s importance is the performance of devices. The computing power of smartphones and tablets is increasing from year to year, and devices are being equipped with better cameras. What’s more, smart glasses are growing significantly smaller (making them more comfortable to wear) and less expensive, and battery life has also been improved – something that so far has been a major issue with AR technology.
The diversity of smart glasses is on the rise, with a wide selection of over 30 different reputable alternatives now available on the market. The decision as to which set of glasses is right therefore always depends on the use case as well. If you are looking to place 3-D data virtually in a space and show a technician a set of step-by-step instructions, you might want to consider using a HoloLens. Vuzix is a good choice if technicians are supposed to transmit what they see to colleagues during a remote video conference to receive guidance using AR annotation.
AR is already creating proven and measurable added value for industry. Don’t wait until it is too late. Start creating the structures necessary to generate content and use cases at your company today. Let us be the partner to guide you 🙂