Augmented Reality And The Science Fiction Future Of Work

The “Pokemon Go” phenomenon that swept the globe in 2016 gave millions of consumers their first taste of augmented reality. In 2017, augmented reality developer platforms including Apple’s ARKit, Google’s ARCore, Amazon’s Sumerian and Facebook’s AR Studio all launched, signaling a belief amongst major tech giants that AR holds significant value for a consumer technology ecosystem focused on gaming, special effects, social interactions, and shopping. These new platforms give developers and early adopters the tools to experiment, test and scale novel forms of gameplay and interaction based on AR. Yet many remain unaware of what else augmented reality technology is used for.

As I discussed with NPR’s “On Point”, there is already massive interest in how AR can go beyond gaming and entertainment to serve more practical needs in fields such as education, medicine and industry. In this post, I’ll focus specifically on AR applications in industry.

Manufacturing and Assembly

AR can very effectively be used to convey the orientation, placement, and scale of component parts, thus guiding manufacturing technicians step-by-step with visual instructions that are spatially rendered in a real-world environment. These augmented guidelines help new workers get up to speed more quickly and reduce unnecessary errors.

To understand how AR works in industry, let’s look at a groundbreaking Boeing study conducted with Iowa State University comparing the efficacy of traditional desktop work instructions with augmented reality work instructions. The team observed first-time trainees doing complex manufacturing tasks, and tracked a few key productivity stats. Major increases in efficiency, accuracy, speed, and worker satisfaction were found. Here are some highlights:

  • Accuracy: Trainees utilizing AR instructions made fewer errors than those using desktop instructions by a factor of 16-to-1 on the trainees’ first time completing a task. On the second time around, those using AR had perfect performance — zero errors. Overall, the AR work instructions improved first time quality by 94 percent.
  • Speed: Trainees using AR instructions were able to complete tasks significantly faster than their counterparts, reducing job completion time by an average of 30 percent and, in some cases, as much as 50 percent. These improvements in efficiency often translate directly to the bottom line.
  • Greater focus: AR allowed workers to maintain focus on the task at hand. Trainees using AR looked at their instructions less frequently and for shorter periods of time, demonstrating that comprehension was happening rapidly. As the team put it, “The fewer number of looks meant that participants were not ‘bouncing’ back and forth between the instructions and the physical task.”
  • Satisfied workers: How did they feel about the experience? A post-action survey asked participants if they would agree with the statement, “I would recommend work instructions like this to a friend.” The answer was a resounding “Yes,” at rates roughly 4 times higher than the median score for questions like this at more than 400 companies in 28 industries.

The AR instructions in this study enabled employees to complete tasks faster, more accurately and with greater enjoyment. Such results promise cost savings and improved outcomes for industrial businesses, while also enhancing quality of life for workers.

Another study,

Augmented Reality Robots on Factory Floor

Image Source: Using Augmented Reality to Cognitively Facilitate Product Assembly Process by Lei Hou and Xiangyu Wang

Inspections and Preventive Maintenance 

In addition to manufacturing, inspections and preventive maintenance are another key area where AR is being successfully deployed. A study conducted by DAQRI with Siemens focused wind turbine hub inspections showed the benefits of AR in the following areas:

  • Time savings: Overall, hub inspectors were 43.85% faster using the DAQRI AR App, as compared to current methods.
  • Increased accuracy of the inspection and report: The inspector no longer needed to rely on memory for the inspection points, and does not need to review and order the pictures taken during the inspection, since that is now done in real-time via the DAQRI AR App (running on the DAQRI Smart Helmet).
  • Increased inspection quality: Documentation occurred in real time, eliminating the need for taking photos with an external camera and later trying to recall the significance and relevance of each, in the report-writing stage. Furthermore, the ability to take photos and voice-to-text memos allowed for the collection of a richer dataset from each inspection.
  • Ensure consistency/standardization across inspections: The linear flow of augmented reality work instructions placed directly in and around the objects the inspectors were interacting with as they moved through the task provided a way to structure the inspection progression in a way that is not possible with current methods, thus ensuring consistency across inspections.

Looking ahead, the future of AR is bringing the technology to all areas of people’s lives. Just as automation in the last century created new jobs with higher cognitive skills, the implementation of AR platforms in the workplace will create new opportunities and increase organizations’ ability to innovate. When people are no longer tied down by non-strategic, repetitive work, the possibilities increase vastly.

Across all industries, augmented reality can help people communicate more effectively, be more productive, and learn new things faster. Gaming, art, education, medicine, industrial design, science, engineering and many other fields will all be transformed by myriad AR applications we can scarcely imagine today. Augmented reality will be the next major communication platform, one that gives individuals the power to express themselves, connecting to the world in a whole new way. And right now, millions of users are catching a glimpse of that vision.

A version of this article was published in Manufacturing Business Technology Magazine.