Getty Images 1137141326

Technology Is Extending Reality

Aug. 3, 2020
Mixed reality apps have matured to the point that they have been transitioned to smartphones and tablets, and that has changed everything.
There are some amazing digital technologies out there, but the technology powering the consumer world of online shopping is astonishing. A surprising number of retailers have integrated their websites with digital technology’s augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) attributes that virtually bring the store to the tech-savvy shopper’s personal electronics. There is a furniture manufacturer with an AR shopping app. Scan your room with your smartphone or tablet’s camera and the AR app takes over. A 3D virtual chair, sofa, table, etc. appears in the picture that can be placed anywhere in the room. If you want a lamp next to the chair, no problem. There is no limit to virtual 3D objects placed in the room, except available space. There are apps from home improvement stores, car manufacturers, makeup suppliers, shoe vendors — you name it. They call it AR technology but more accurately, these apps are mixed reality (MR) technology and it all takes place on your smartphone or tablet. MR in case you’re unfamiliar with the term is the environment where virtual objects can be placed in the real world setting and be interacted with as if they were real objects. There was a time when this type of technology required expensive computer power and bulky headsets. It was also limited to very narrow tasks, but that is no longer the case. MR apps have matured to the point that they have been transitioned to smartphones and tablets, and that has changed everything.

Assisted Reality

Smartphone apps have opened doors for online shopping, and many are predicting it will do the same thing for the workplace. This is especially true for the remotely connected workplace, which is why a press release (PR) I read the other day piqued my attention. So much so, it got me looking into MR technology. The headline shouted at me that AR is for grownups too. Then it went on to compare Pokémon Go with the technology being used improving employee training or managing warehouse inventory, and that kept my attention. Another PR compared the technology we use to draw mustaches and beards on people in digital photographs to MR apps being used by utilities to implement operations and maintenance management applications. This press release said that instead of drawing bunny ears on photos with AR technology, these apps let utility personnel annotate grid assets with helpful guidelines to assist technicians with complex tasks. Past attempts at using virtual reality (VR) for the consumer had not been successful due to the complexity of the technology, and they were not very user-friendly. With the move to smartphones, MR developers got the message. Their technology became more cost effective and extremely user friendly. Interestingly, several studies are predicting that these extended reality applications are destined for the workplace big time. This is already happening as I witnessed a presentation of interaction between technicians in the field and engineers in offsite locations. A technician took a digital photo of a control panel. It had a problem that no one in the field had seen before and it would take hours for someone to be to the site. An engineer drew circles (mustache technology) on the photo displayed on his tablet screen and added step numbers at each circle. All this information was seen on the tech’s screen. The procedure was explained, and the numbered steps led the tech through what needed to be done to correct the situation. MR technology saved a lot of time and resources, but it doesn’t stop there.

Wearable AR Technology

There has been a lot of development in moving MR technology into the realm of wearable devices such as hardhats and glasses. They are calling the glasses application smartglasses. Granted there have been several attempts to get smartglasses on everyone’s head only to have the devices fail, but that was then, and this is now. The technology has matured while prices have fallen, making them cheap enough to play with. The smartglasses look like the normal glasses. All the processing has been moved from the glasses to the smartphone via a Bluetooth connection making them less clunky and helmet like than older models. Smartglasses seem like a natural method for utility personnel to interface with a smart grid. It will not replace hands-on interaction, but it is a powerful enhancement. We can work safer and more efficiently with a MR supplemented environment and the timing couldn’t be better!

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of T&D World, create an account today!