PTC Makes Push to Bring AR Technology to Enterprise
AR initially will have its most significant impact in services, Heppelmann said. It will enable product service people to more quickly locate, diagnose and correct problems, and will lower the amount of initial knowledge needed to make fixes. Some problems handled by service professionals now will be able to be dealt with by the customers themselves, PTC officials said. Fewer technicians will be needed to send into the field, and big user manuals could be replaced by AR applications, they said. At the Boston event, PTC and customers—including KTM, a performance motorcycle maker from Austria; Schneider Electric, which makes data center power management equipment; and Sysmex, which makes clinical testing systems for health care facilities—offered demonstrations of how AR applications can be used. With a motorcycle from KTM, a clinical diagnostic machine from Sysmex and a power supply appliance from Schneider, technicians were able to use tablets armed with PTC's Vuforia technology to guide them in a step-by-step fashion to solve a problem. Through the tablets, the technicians were able to see live images of the machines, and superimposed on the images was text that diagnosed the problems and the steps for correcting them—from which screws to remove to reach the part at issue to how to fix it. There also were images demonstrating each step. The AR technology enables technicians to more easily understand the product, and will lead to faster and less-expensive service calls, according to Jens Tuma, head of customer service at KTM.Also at the show, PTC executives announced a number of new and enhanced offerings to push AR in the enterprise. A key one is what they are calling VuMark—essentially a barcode for the AR world. The VuMark is placed on products and that can be detected by the AR application. The information encoded in the VuMark—such as a URL or product serial number—can be reached by the application and displayed on the screen. The VuMark also can be used with a company logo. Each of the systems used in the PTC demonstrations came with a VuMark. The application on the tablet read the VuMark, and the application instantly knew what the machine was and called up the data onto the screen. Heppelmann also announced that the Vuforia software, which works with Apple iOS and Google Android devices, now also supports Microsoft's Windows 10 operating system. VuMark and Windows 10 support will be available to all developers in the spring, though they also will be available to selected developers as part of the Vuforia Early Access Program. Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst for IoT and emerging technology at Forrester Research, told eWEEK that the potential for AR in the enterprise is broad, and that it will take time for all the use cases to develop. "It's extremely early," Gillett said. "A lot of people don't understand what is possible with AR." The demonstrations at the PTC event did a good job showing that potential in the services arena, he said. However, it was unclear whether PTC officials were looking to expand its AR capabilities beyond its core CAD, PLM and services markets, Gillett added.
Eventually AR technology will become more proactive, monitoring and tracking systems through virtual dashboards and alerting technicians when a part is failing or something needs to be ordered.