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Augmented Reality: Adding New Information

A sure sign that a technology has come of age is when it is granted its own Marketplace at CES.

In that sense, CES 2016 was a debutante “coming out” party for augmented reality (AR), with more than 3,000 net square feet of exhibit space devoted to a technology that is changing how we learn and how we experience the world.

AR differs from its first cousin virtual reality (VR) in that AR content is overlaid on the immediate physical environment users see before their eyes, blending digital components (sound, video, graphics or GPS data) with real life. You can see through and around AR content because light is allowed to come through at all times and reaches our eyes the same way as it normally does. In a VR device, users immerse themselves in manufactured surroundings. Put another way, VR replaces the real world with a simulated world while AR overlays information on the actual scenes around you.

Data Overlays AR

AR is being used in aerospace, consumer technology including aerospace, consumer technology, construction, health care and oil and gas. Using AR, workers in the field can remotely tap into computer power or the knowledge of their co-workers for help with unfamiliar situations, thereby reducing errors and time to task completion. A study by Iowa State University and Boeing found AR could deliver a 30 to 90 percent reduction of errors and assembly time for new workers.

So while a company’s top employee can’t be at every work site each minute of every day, their knowledge can. The Daqri Smart Helmet, demonstrated at CES 2016 during Intel CEO Brian Krzanich’s keynote, is one example of an industrial AR system that can provide contextually relevant information, connecting the worker to his/her environment. It allows the wearer to peer into the workings of objects using a real-time overlay of information, such as wiring schematics. AR solutions can overlay a jet engine’s service hours, component temperature and other details into an aircraft mechanic’s field of vision.

Consumer applications of AR are as varied as the imagination, ranging from drivers using AR glasses to summon expert help with a roadside repair to a chef guiding you through cooking dinner.

AR in Vehicles

AR is receiving more attention in the automotive industry as a component of automated or computer-assisted driving. To read an instrument cluster, for at least a brief moment you have to take your eyes off the road and re-adjust to the shorter visual distance. Reading a conventional instrument cluster display requires at least half a second. This means that when drivers avert their gaze at a speed of 75mph they will be driving blind for about 110 feet.

A head-up display (HUD), on the other hand, shows information exactly where you need it—directly in your line of sight so you can keep your eyes on the road. Automakers are developing AR HUDs, where the projection on the windshield is enriched with a layer of information (such as navigation details), appearing “on the street” in front of the car. For example, BMW, among others, is developing AR HUDs where the content shown is spatially mapped onto the real world view of the driver. This means that driving direction and lane changes suggested by the HUD are actually lined up visually with the road itself. In BMW’s Vision Next 100 concept car, developed as part of its recent 100th anniversary celebration, the entire windshield is an AR display, taking the place of every single dashboard display and gauge.

Less Star Trekky than a HUD but an equally effective automotive use of AR is Hyundai’s virtual owner’s manual, which it demonstrated at CES 2016. The AR system uses two- and three-dimensional tracking technology to deliver information related to different parts of the car. Users simply position their phone or tablet’s camera (either Android or iOS) over the part they want to learn more about. The Virtual Guide then recognizes different components in the car (under the hood, inside the cabin, etc.). If you need to know more about a feature or item, just tap on it and the Hyundai Virtual Guide AR displays either a how-to video (with overlay labels or just regular 2D) or a description of the feature or status light, with tutorials that can walk you through how to check the car’s fluids, etc.

Market watchers agree that AR is primed to take off. According to the MarketsandMarkets research report Augmented Reality Market—Global Forecast to 2020, the total market for AR is expected to reach $56.8 billion by 2020.

Murray Slovick
Murray Slovick is editorial director of IntelligentTechContent Services. Trained as an engineer, he has more than 20 years of experience as chief editor of award-winning publications covering various aspects of electronics and semiconductor technology.