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The Big Wheel of Augmented and Virtual Reality
Jan Pflüeger, Coordination AR & VR, Center of Competence AR & VR at Audi AG
While Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technologies have always been considered as an expert tool and mostly have been associated with investments in static equipment, the perception has changed massively in recent years. Nowadays, AR and VR can be used by industrial customers almost anywhere for an affordable price, and the technologies have become a universal tool for a wide range of applications. With establishing the “Center of Competence for AR & VR”, Audi has identified this trend long ago, and fosters intensively the development of innovative solutions for further implementation in specific use cases of the different departments of the company.
Almost daily, you can read about new AR and VR applications in different industries. An example for the successful usage is the field of new digital learning types. With VR, spatial situations can be simulated in trainings without a physical room setup. The mapping of actions enlarges and the dealing with dangerous situations can be simulated perfectly in the virtual world without putting the test person or trainer in real danger. In addition, the learning success is much higher than with conventional methods. Motivation and attention increases in this game-like approach enormously. Moreover, the equipment can be set up quick and easy at any location, and the virtual training overcomes language and distance barriers. Once developed, these trainings can be developed further, which is a significant cost factor for a rollout at production sites worldwide.
Collaboration is another important area of application for AR and VR. The exchange of spatial information and the direct interaction enables efficient cooperation between different locations. Thus, it helps to identify potential for improvement in an early stage and avoids misunderstandings in communication. The range on which collaborative tools have to be integrated depends on the purpose of the application – the spectrum ranges from a simple video or chat function with spatial remarks (remote expert scenario) to full-fledged interactive 3D data integration.
Anyone, who does not have control over their own data or information processes, will reach the limits without the use of AR and VR applications
In addition to all the positive aspects, it is worth mentioning that the success depends on the acceptance of the users. Thus, the topic of user experience needs extensive awareness in every pilot application. Furthermore, regulations for safety or occupational health issues increase the effort required to integrate new technical solutions into existing IT infrastructures. Last but not least, a profound qualification of all involved employees is distinctive for the sustainable success of the new methods and technologies.
The main purpose of AR and VR technologies is first and foremost to present and visualize complex relationships or, in short, to transmit information in the context of the user. The necessary data and information are usually available—but in most cases not in a well-accessible way. A separate, time-consuming, and costly data preparation for a specific purpose makes the added value of the use of AR and VR applications quickly obsolete. In the future, this process either needs to make easy to automate or to be completely overhauled.
The biggest challenge for integrating virtual techniques in new processes, which is fundamental for a successful digital transformation, is the information handling. In this context, a change in thinking needs to take place—away from the well trained product and hardware structures to thinking in information units. Especially the established industries are faced with this great challenge, because they cannot start afresh a green field development. They rather have to cope with a huge amount of legacy data that was gathered over the long period of the company’s history. There are promising approaches to connect this data to generate an informative added value or in other words: you have to make the data “AI-ready”. This claim is of general nature. Anyone, who does not have control over their own data or information processes, will reach the limits without the use of AR and VR applications. There is no question that this is a big wheel, which needs to be set in motion if you want to be fit for the future.
Altogether, the potential and the fields of applications for AR and VR are huge. With the user-centered provision of information, processes, for example for internal product development, can be optimized and quality assured with ever-increasing complexity and decreasing development time. There are a thousand ways to interact with customers in new ways, and the race for the location-based advertising platform has long since begun. With the overarching availability of AR content, it will be possible to create a consistent user experience similar to today’s use of smartphones. Based on this, many other business models can be derived, such as mobility support from the first step on.
The requirements for an operational AR and VR ecosystem are manifold. Only the interplay of different technology components, the reasonable combination of hardware and software and the creation of standard interfaces, such as OpenXR and others, will bring us closer to the goal of everyday integration and the use of AR and VR as a standard tool.
The current discussion about interfaces and persistence of virtual data, the increasing simplification of the integration of computer vision technology and the establishment of digital twins in nearly every area documents that the main actorsare aware of these key factors. The trend is moving away from the hype and first pilot applications to a phase of professionalization. This lead to a feeling of certainty that it will be possible to set the big wheel in motion.