Immersive technologies are moving from “hypothetical to pragmatic use” in industrial companies, with AR emerging as the early winner, says a new Capgemini report. Jessica Twentyman looks at its findings.
Aerospace giant Boeing is using augmented reality (AR) to give technicians instructions for airplane wiring schematics. By putting them directly in workers’ fields of view on smart glasses, the system frees up their hands to focus on the task, reducing wiring time by 25 percent.
Meanwhile, automotive giant Ford is using virtual reality (VR) to increase assembly-line safety, by tracking human movement (captured through body-motion sensors), with the goal of re-engineering those movements to decrease the risk of injury.
And at New Jersey-based utilities company, Toms River Municipal Utilities Authority (TRMUA), both VR and AR are enabling workers, wearing Microsoft HoloLens headsets, to ‘see through the ground’ to concealed pipes and cables, and respond to emergencies such as fires and floods.
These examples illustrate just some of the ways that industrial organisations are deploying so-called ‘immersive’ technologies, according to a report published today by consultancy and IT services firm, Capgemini.
In the automotive, discrete manufacturing, and utilities sectors, these technologies are moving “beyond the hypothetical to pragmatic use”, say the report’s authors.
Defining immersive tech
The report provides some useful definitions of these immersive approaches:-
- Augmented reality is defined as situations where a digital layer is superimposed on the physical world, integrating the real-life environment with virtual details that enhance or augment the experience. This is typically achieved by looking at real-life environments through a smartphone or tablet screen, or via smart goggles and headsets.
- Virtual reality, meanwhile, is defined as the creation of “an interactive, completely digital environment that provides a fully enclosed, synthetic experience, incorporating auditory and visual feedback”. This is typically experienced through the use of a head-mounted display (HMD).
In Capgemini’s survey of over 700 organisations, 46 percent of respondents said that they expect immersive technologies to become mainstream within the next three years. Meanwhile, two-thirds said that they believe AR will be more applicable to their organisations than VR.
Already, more organisations have opted for AR (45 percent) over VR (36 percent), found the research.
By connecting the digital world to the real world, AR supports a number of “breakthrough” use cases, according to the report, which include delivering text- and image-based information to workers, and providing access to remote experts via wearable or handheld devices.
As Antii Aarnio, head of digital services at Finnish electricity grid operator Fingrid, put it: “VR isn’t too relevant to us, although we could use it to train people who go to the substations, but there are less complicated means.”
By contrast, AR has far more appeal, he said. “Especially in our industry, once it passes safety standards, AR could provide added value for our employees in high-risk situations – for example, being able to tell if a piece of equipment is under high voltage or high temperature.”
This tallies with an IDC report, also released this week, which reveals that shipments of VR headsets fell 34 percent in the second quarter, although IDC puts that down to a “temporary setback” as buyers wait for the launch of new products, such as Oculus Go and HTC Vive Pro.
Worldwide investment patterns
Capgemini’s report finds that companies in the US and China are leading the implementation race, with over 50 percent of companies surveyed already implementing immersive technology. By contrast, most companies in France, Germany, the Nordics, and the UK are still experimenting with it.
“Immersive technology has come a long way in a short time and will continue to evolve,” said Lanny Cohen, chief innovation officer at Capgemini. “Faced with stiff competition from aggressive investors in the US and China, businesses need to streamline investment to seize the long-term growth potential that this technology offers.”
Internet of Business says
In order to drive the highest business value from their investments in AR and VR, companies should follow the lead of the 16 percent of companies in Capgemini’s survey that are defined as “early achievers”.
These companies have put a centralised governance model in place and worked to build AR/VR awareness in their organisations.
They’ve also invested in talent to gear up for future adoption, and focused on use cases that will provide lasting value and support for employees.
Finally, they’ve prepared their technology infrastructures to integrate AR/VR. This final point is important, says the report, as a lack of data and technology readiness can hamper the adoption of immersive systems.
One highlight of the report is the number of real-life examples of these early achievers. For example, there’s German industrial giant Siemens, where vice president of manufacturing Gunter Beitinger described how AR is helping with quality control for printed circuit boards:-
“Employees have to continuously look between a physical circuit board and a screen to compare, validate, and test acceptable quality,” he said. By contrast, AR enables “those same employees to inspect circuit boards by augmenting their view and calling attention to various elements they could have missed.”
In this way, Siemens has achieved an improvement in quality of 20–25 percent, he said.
Likewise, there’s GE Transportation’s Global Services group, where a recent pilot programme focused on workers’ maintenance efficiency. “By using AR to view maintenance instructions and sign off on tasks without having to go back to their computers, workers performing maintenance on locomotives were able to increase the number of maintenance tasks per hour by 59 percent,” said John Reece, the organisation’s CIO.
Those are persuasive statistics.