Extended reality sees pickup from pandemic, growing interest in industrial use

The global pandemic has increased interest in virtual reality (VR) devices, which holds promise for extended reality (XR) use in industry settings as well as consumers playing games and exercising at home.

Research firm CCS Insight recently said 70% of VR consumers in a survey bought their device in the past year, suggesting a rapid expansion.   Gaming continues to be the killer app, with more than 90% playing games on their headset at least once a week.

Of interest to the industrial sector: the survey also found that more than 80% of VR owners are receptive to using the technology at work while a majority said they have already used their headset for work in some way.

The findings follow an earlier CCS Insight projection that 134 million augmented reality (AR) and VR devices will be in use in 2022, up from 59 million in 2020.  

Digital consulting firm Kalypso, a Rockwell Automation company, recently published a case study of its work with a consumer-packaged goods company to design an AR platform to provide manufacturing equipment training for workers with immersive experiences that could be used anywhere in the world at any time on any equipment.

Kalypso designed a customizable training program using AR based on existing digital content, including CAD models, simulations, IoT data, video recordings, animations and other media. Users didn’t have to own a VR headset to interact with the content and could rely on a smartphone or tablet.

The simplified interface made it possible to save up to four weeks of development time per training experience, Kalypso reported.  In addition, trainees were able to quickly grasp the concepts for starting up a complex machine to turn on various valves and electricity. “It’s not simple and it could be dangerous,” said Dave Hadfield, director of life sciences at Kalypso.

Overall, the benefits of extended reality include interactive training to help workers better understand procedures of using machines and maintenance and to help employees assemble components correctly, Hadfield added. Simulations of machine configurations without their physical presence enable faster validation of a project such as a medical device in the planning stages, he added.

A big benefit of an immersive XR experience is user retention of information, Hadfield said in an interview with Fierce Electronics.   When used to assist technicians with field repair, XR helped reduce the average time for repairing a machine from 30 minutes down to 10 minutes, he said.

digital twin of factory
Kalypso's digital twin of a factory

Hadfield also shared a video example of a digital twin of a cookie factory that showed avatars moving through the factory shown in its proper proportions. It gave the XR user the ability to click on a symbol to get a sensor reading of pressure, heat and other variables.  Once the actual factory is built, the twin could be used as an overlay to monitor alerts from a remote location and then advise workers what steps need to be taken. One benefit is that the twin is interfaced with CAD drawings and other technical information for almost instant visualization when changes need to be made.

Coming versions of XR will add complexity with better graphics and connections to AI, he predicted.

“I’m excited for what’s coming,” he said. “There’s no limit to your imagination. It’s not too hard to imagine a situation that’s a fully immersive world where full AI is helping you through a task with unbelievable graphics.”

Kalypso was purchased by Rockwell more than a year ago and now employs 352 workers. The company partners with computer software company PTC on many of its projects. “We’ve seen acceleration in the past year with Rockwell’s sales force,” he added.

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