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Augmented Reality in the Time of COVID-19

By 10th June 2020 No Comments

COVID-19 has led to a global acceleration in the adoption of telecommunication and telepresence technologies. The ‘new normal’ which has been established in the outbreak’s wake has seen Microsoft Teams and Zoom being utilized not only by office workers but, in the case of the latter, for social communication and gatherings. Despite security concerns the number of Zoom daily meeting participants grew from 10 million in December 2018 to 300 million by the end of April 2020.

Similarly, digital transformation has been incorporated into the delivery of training and education by a number of institutes via  Augmented Reality (AR).

 

What is AR and what makes it different?

AR is a technology that superimposes virtual content (such as text, 3D images, audio, video) on the user’s view of the real world. In this way it differs from Virtual Reality (VR) which involves a complete immersion into a virtual world, effectively shutting out the user’s real environment.

AR offers an opportunity to turn any physical space into a learning environment – as AR enables the user to visualise digital transformations of real world models with annotations, such as instructions and guidance, being associated with the model. In this manner, AR can be considered to be the Microsoft Teams/Zoom of the physical world.

 

AR applications

Boeing were an early adopter of AR as a training solution with technicians being able to gain real-time experience with digital visualisations of engines and wiring prior to interacting with their more expensive physical counterparts. Similarly, Audi have been using AR and VR as part of their design and manufacturing processes.

AR offers the opportunity for ‘job shadowing’ and training without the need for physical proximity, a feature that has become far more relevant in this time where social distancing and restricted travel are a necessity. Applications such as Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Remote Assist have also enabled cross-distance collaboration with users sharing the same live view with an expert which provides real-time feedback and guidance, this app has cross-platform support for Microsoft HoloLens and mobile devices. Examples of the increased use of AR in this manner include: Smiths Medical in the UK who utilised PTC’s Vuforia Expert Capture and Microsoft HoloLens to provide a virtual assembly guide for their Rapid Manufactured Ventilation System (RVMS) for their consortium partners to follow in accurately replicating production of the much needed ventilators.

Also, Case Western University in Ohio, USA created the HoloAnatomy app for the Microsoft HoloLens which has enabled their first year medical students to learn about the human body via 3D interactions without access to physical specimens during the pandemic.

This case is particularly significant as it represents how endemic the use of AR technology has become in health applications; such as enabling surgeons to determine precise locations for incision and injections. The uptake by the medical sector has been the major factor in the growth of the AR industry until now with USD 10.7 billion revenue being generated for hardware and software in 2019. Consumer applications for existing hardware devices (including mobile devices such as tablets and phones) is seen as being the significant factor for the growth of this market in the next five years, with the consumer sector encompasses gaming and entertainment. A continuous annual growth rate (CAGR) of 46.7% is forecasted for that period with the AR market expected to attain a revenue level of USD 72.7 billion by 2024.

 

AR and the World Outside

One aspect of AR – that correlates with the drive to consumer apps on existing hardware – is that it is not just about the technology but its use in how we perceive the world around us, AR can enrich our experiential understanding of our environment. AR software applications have been developed that use geolocation markers of virtual content through the use of software such as Wikitude which means that annotated content can be added to buildings and structures of interest. PIVOTtheWorld have expanded upon this with GPS-based text and audio for AR-based tours through the use of their Point of Interest Visual Optimization Tool.

AR can also be used to bring the outside world to us; a feature that is especially of relevance at this current time. Some examples of this include Google’s AR Search which enables users to place 3D objects with annotated information about a variety of subjects from NASA’s Curiosity Rover to wildlife and even the human anatomy. The BBC Civilisation AR app yields another example of this utilizing a virtual interactive globe with a listing of artefacts which then present multimedia historical information to the user.

 

 

Stephen Barnes

Experienced Research Software Developer

E-Mail: sbarnes@tssg.org