by Paul Heltzel

Augmented reality examples: 9 ways companies are putting AR to work

Aug 16, 2018
Emerging TechnologyEnterprise ApplicationsVirtual Reality

AR is no longer a future tech dream; it has become a realistic, game-changing tool for visualizing data in industries from engineering and manufacturing to construction and healthcare.

1 intro woman with vr glasses ar in the workplace
Credit: Getty Images

AR meets real world

When your team works in the belly of an aircraft or inside a computer design, they all having the same sci-fi daydream: Augmented reality (AR) that can layer information onto the job to cut out their frustration and inevitable errors. Being able to walk through a design in three-dimensional space can make it easier to identify flaws that are hard to see in two dimensions. And looking at a schematic of the thing you are trying to fix, while you are working on it, could eliminate hours of frustrating back and forth with drawings and keyboards.

Some cutting-edge industries – and some old school industries with a strong need – are finding that ARis no longer a future tech dream. It has become a realistic, game-changing tool for visualizing data in ways that quickly solve what were once intractable problems.

AR technology is helping companies visualize data in conference rooms, labs, factories and construction sites. Problems that once required an expert to travel to the site to are now handled nearly instantly with the help of remote experts guiding the people on the ground with instructions overlaid right on the problem.

Check out these tools to see how organizations are using AR to cut costs, bring new products to market, improve collaboration between remote teams, and visualize problems before they show up in the real world.

No more flying blind in emergencies

2 odg ar oxygen mask

Image by ODG

A fire breaks out in the cockpit of an airplane, filling the air with smoke. The pilot grabs an oxygen mask. But the air is so thick he can’t see the controls. He flips a switch and regains control as the flight controls are displayed inside his mask. He quickly lands the plane, averting disaster. This use of AR is not taken from a futuristic film. It is in the planning stages at the FedEx Express cargo airline. The company is testing an oxygen mask that contains a pair of smart glasses that could assist pilots in exactly this sort of scenario.

Produced by smart glasses maker ODG, the system has a catchy acronym: Smoke Assured Vision Enhanced Display (SAVED). The Android-driven device mirrors the flight controls and a camera outside the plane, to assist the pilot keep the plane on track even when the controls, terrain, and runway are obscured.

The FAA reports that inflight smoke, fume, or fires are one of the leading causes of emergency landings and delays, causing an average of one emergency landing every day. Quickly restoring the pilot’s vision while delivering oxygen would save lives.

Communicating with IoT

3 vuzix ar headset vr iot by vuzix

Image by Vuzix

Companies collect a staggering amount of data from IoT devices. But they struggle to make use of that information in a way that creates real benefit. One way that AR can help with this is by helping humans interface more quickly with machines to get to problems faster. In a loud factory, for example, IoT devices can silently collect data from the machines for software to analyze – and alert workers when and where a device is about to fail.

Amazon, for example, is working with Vuzix, a virtual headset maker, to create a tool that captures, analyzes, and delivers real-time actionable data directly to workers on job sites. AWS IoT Analytics, a managed service that lets organizations apply machine learning to make decisions from IoT data, is paired with Vuzix’s M300 smart glasses. Vuzix says the system will help employees navigate warehouses, manage inventory, or offer remote assistance on a construction site or plant floor, informed in part by IoT data collected on the fly. 

Vuzix also sells its Google-Glass-like Blade smartglasses with built-in support for Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant.

Walking through complex designs

4 aecom ar vr

Image by Aecom

Engineering firm Aecomis using mixed-reality tech to help architects and engineers on multiple continents visualize models of large, complex building projects.

Using Microsoft HoloLens technology, team members in remote locations can project 3D engineering models as holograms in their offices, then work together to make decisions or point out potential problems. Walking through a visualization of a building, for example, an engineer might notice a beam in an awkward location, while the parts fabricator can see where the parts he is making will end up, allowing them to correct misunderstandings and mistakes before they show up at the job site.

The technology is paired with networking systems and collaboration software from construction and location-based software maker Trimble.

Aecom uses the mixed-reality technology in their Denver, London, and Hong Kong offices. They’ve worked with the system to assist in design of the Packard Plant in Detroit and Serpentine Galleries’ architecture program in London.

5 vw ar by insider navigation

Volkswagen is using an augmented reality system to help its workers navigate massive factories for maintenance, inventory, inspections and other tasks. The system helps show a worker, from anywhere in the factory, how to get to a specific machine, and then overlay the information they need for the task on the spot. 

At its Volkswagen Zwickau plant, which covers 370 acres, the company first considered a complex internal GPS system that used beacons to direct technicians to their destination. But the idea proved too costly and would be a potential source of radio interference with other equipment.

They turned instead to a company called Insider Navigation and it’s AR system to help guide employees through the plant. This system is also being tested to help speed inspections and track inventory.

VW says it may later use the technology for other purposes, like autonomous indoor driving and guiding visitors through the factory.

This old AR

6 porch streem maching learning

Home improvement startup Porch connects a network of 250,000 home improvement contractors with homeowners who need help with appliance repairs and upgrades. Porch recently partnered with AR provider Streem so that fixes – and quotes – can start before a home pro even shows up.

The Streem app taps into a mix of machine learning (for example, finding the right part for a fix that’s been made before) and computer vision to help guide repairs. The app lets plumbers, electricians, and handymen take measurements, capture video and video chat with the homeowner to see the problem and offer a fix, then offer a price before taking the job. Supervisors can also view the work of technicians in the field and walk them through complicated repairs. Contractors that use Streem say they can reduce driving time and offer more quotes far more quickly each month than scheduling appointments to view and estimate the problem, potentially weeks after a customer makes first contact.

Boeing gets wired

7 boeing ar

Image by Upskill

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing winds thousands of miles of wire into planes each year. Upping the complexity: Many planes of the same type need different wiring configurations. When something goes wrong in the belly of a plane, a technician might waste hours looking back and forth between wiring diagrams on a laptop and the innards of the plane trying to fix it. But an enterprise version of Google Glass mixed with augmented reality projected onto the plane is now reducing the whiplash. It’s also cutting the wire repair process down by 25 percent, Boeing says.

The hands-free AR solution is powered by software from Upskill called Skylight. In addition to seeing how to wire a plane, Boeing workers navigate step-by-step directions using voice commands. All this AR allows their hands to stay on the wiring throughout the process. No more moving them to a keyboard just to pull up schematics.

Bonus! Remote engineers can drop in, using a “See What I See” video stream from the technician’s headset. So, if the technician gets stuck, an expert can offer instruction or just someone to work through the problem with – even if the space is too tight for two. Boeing says in addition to speeding up the process, this system has also nearly eliminated wiring errors.

Mixed reality hardhat

8 hard hat

Image by Trimble

A French firm called GA Smart Buildings found that using just 2D plans on job sites was a weak point in quality control that led to frequent construction errors. Those errors were causing delays and cost overruns. The company turned to an AR-savvy hard hat that helps builders maintain much more precise quality control over the assembly of mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) systems as well as cast concrete.

The company prefabricates parts of the building in a factory. The problems tended to arise when it came time to assemble elements at the site. To fix this disconnect, the AR system displays a projection of the models directly onto the actual build environment. That way it is clear to the builders doing the assembly where everything belongs. The system also allows collaboration with remote exerts back at the office for instances where things aren’t clear. Working at a 1:1 scale, the company says, makes it easier to position equipment and identify discrepancies between plans and actual construction.

Building a truck in virtual reality

9 paccar

Most AR holograms are big enough that you get the picture, but small enough to fit comfortably next to a speakerphone on the conference table. Paccar – the parent company of Peterbilt, Leyland, Kenworth and DAF trucks – took a different approach to using AR in the design phase of their huge semis: They built a hologram that’s the full size of an 18-wheeler.

They project it into a warehouse that could comfortably park one so that designers can walk through the final product before any steel or rubber gets involved. This design stage was once done with clay models, which are time consuming and expensive. This AR design room helps the manufacturer bring trucks to market more quickly than their competitors.

Paccar worked with Canadian design firm Finger Food Studios, which developed 3D rendering software that draws the truck and also displays variables like airflow and velocity. The AR prototyping cut costs, the firm says, and reduced the research and design phase by three months.

Making needles safer

10 accuvein

Image by AcuVein

Anyone who’s had blood work or an IV knows that it can involve a lot of guesswork – and pain. That guesswork hurts more than the patient, though. It is expensive because it wastes the time of technicians and often requires them to call in someone better at guessing to help get the job done. A company called AcuVein has developed a mix of laser scanning and augmented reality to reduce the number of failed sticks and get it right on the first try.

First, the technician uses a handheld device to scan the patient’s veins using infrared light, and a small projector displays an image of those underlying veins directly onto the skin.

The company says its augmented reality technology makes it 3.5 times more likely a lab tech will get it right on the first stick. And the number of times a supervisor needed to be called in to help with a tricky insertion went down 45 percent in the study.