Augmented Reality Meets IoT
MICROSOFT HOLOLENS 2, Google Glass, and other consumer-oriented augmented reality (AR) devices may soon be widely employed in commercial settings as part of Internet of Things solutions. At least that’s what major distributors are betting, with Ingram Micro recently announcing support for HoloLens 2 and SYNNEX doing the same for Google AR headsets.
How do AR and IoT mesh? For one, AR glasses and AR-powered tablets and smartphones are IoT devices. For another, AR and IoT can connect physical assets with the digital infrastructure linking them. An IoT temperature alert on a printing press, for example, can call up an AR overlay of where increased friction is creating heat and where to gain access so the problem can be fixed.
Scope AR, a San Francisco-based developer of the WorkLink AR platform, bet big on Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 as an interface, with investors putting up $15.8 million in funds this year. The platform is designed for industrial-use applications such as field maintenance, manufacturing, and training.
“HoloLens 2 fixed most of the industrial-use problems from the first version,” says Scott Montgomerie, CEO and co-founder. “Version 2 supports full gesture control, eye tracking, better security, and is made with safety glass.” He says other AR interfaces aren’t as well suited for industrial use. “Google Glass has a small processor and a small field of view. Magic Leap [an AR headset from a startup of the same name] was created more for entertainment, and the tether from the glasses to the belt pack can’t be used in an industrial setting.”
Scope AR has been working with Microsoft for over a year to get its software optimized for the HoloLens 2, which Montgomerie says Microsoft salespeople are using in demos.
More companies are starting to get excited about AR too, says German Rodriguez, USA country manager for JoinPad, an industrial AR solutions provider in Milan, Italy. “Three years ago, we were doing AR and IoT proof[s] of concept for Fortune 500 companies, because they were the ones with the budget to push the edge,” he says. “Today we’re working with midsized companies with 100 to 200 employees.”
JoinPad’s BrainPad platform and Smart Assistance software work on tablets and smartphones as well as smart glasses. “We’re changing the hardware approach to AR and cutting down the cost, since tablets are cheaper than smart glasses,” adds Rodriguez. Their software overlays information on images captured by the tablet’s camera. For example, a field maintenance application can show an inexperienced tech exactly what screw to unscrew first by highlighting it on the screen and listing the actions to take. Smart Assistance adds a remote-control link to an experienced technician who can support the field tech with a voice connection.
So what’s the opportunity for channel pros? Scope AR is developing a channel program now, says Montgomerie. With Microsoft as a major partner, he expects Microsoft resellers will have a chance to get involved.
Rodriguez understands IT integrators may be intimidated by getting up to speed with AR and IoT, but “once you have a minimum level of knowledge you can have good conversations with customers,” he says. “Hardware-agnostic providers will be the most helpful, focusing on the needs of your customer.”
And while AR technology is market-ready, there are still some missing pieces and pain points, Montgomerie acknowledges. For example, desktop CAD programs use high detail with 100 million polygons. AR interfaces today—glasses, tablets, and smartphones—don’t have that much graphics processing power. Montgomerie looks forward to 5G for solving such an issue. “With a fast network, we can use cloud rendering. Those 100 million polygons may be possible to display using streaming video processed in the cloud.”
Still, the technology and pricing have come a long way. JoinPad worked with customers three or four years ago who spent $200,000 to $300,000 for AR and IoT projects. “Today you can do all those same things with subscriptions for a few bucks per month per user,” Rodriguez says, barring any custom software additions.
“You can jump into AR and IoT without any risk and a limited commitment,” he says, “then come back and ramp up when it works.”
Image: Scope AR WorkLink platform with HoloLens 2 interface, courtesy of Scope AR
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