Heads-up displays with digital overlays can be used in hands-on training and remote assistance that promises true interactive mixed realities.
When it comes to immersive technology, virtual reality (VR) takes a back seat to augmented reality (AR). The main difference between VR and AR is that in VR, the person wearing a headset that blocks out the world is suddenly transported to a new, artificial environment. In AR, computer-created objects are placed into the existing, real-world environment. AR is arguably safer than VR in workplaces, where being completely immersed in a headset while around heavy machinery could be extremely dangerous. However, AR is in its early stages, with relatively simple headsets designed primarily for hands-free working destined to be upgraded in the long-term to complex head-tracking devices that can truly augment reality. But AR in industry is expected to explode over the next five years, with smart glasses said to reach 27 million shipments.
AR headsets have transparent displays, effectively creating what looks like a projector screen or hologram overlaid onto reality. The Microsoft HoloLens has been used during a Skype video call between a remote plumber and a customer with a leak. The plumber can see on a Microsoft Surface tablet what the customer is seeing on a HoloLens headset, so the plumber can draw a circle on their tablet around the U-bend that needs tightening up, then they’ll circle the spanner or wrench that the customer needs to use. The industrial applications of such technology could range from remote working to skills transfer, training and a lot less travel for engineers—but there are limitations.
Limited Field of View
Consumer-oriented AR headsets—including Google Glass, Microsoft HoloLens, Meta2 and Magic Leap—have a limited field of view in which virtual elements can be shown. Warren Lester is product manager at motion capture company Vicon, which develops the software that drives augmented-reality projects for the engineering and life sciences industries.