PTC Enhances AR Platform With VuMark, Microsoft Support

The vendor's Vuforia offering includes VuMark, an AR visual code for products, and support for Microsoft's HoloLens and Windows 10 devices.

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Software maker PTC is building out its augmented reality platform with a new feature that enables enterprises to put a customizable code onto their products and adds support for Microsoft's HoloLens technology and tablets that run Windows 10.

Vuforia 6 is the company's latest iteration of its platform for augmented reality (AR) development based on the technology PTC inherited last year when it bought Qualcomm's Vuforia AR business for $65 million. Company officials have been expanding the company's efforts around Vuforia, extending support to a broad range of smartphones, tablets and smart eyewear, putting more than 30,000 Vuforia-powered apps onto the Apple App Store and Google Play, and fostering a developer ecosystem that has more than 250,000 registered developers and more than 30,000 projects in development.

Vuforia is part of a larger transition at PTC, a billion-dollar company that at one point was best known for its product lifecycle management (PLM) and application lifecycle management (ALM) products. However, PTC officials are turning their attention to such emerging markets as the internet of things (IoT), AR and virtual reality (VR). Along with Vuforia, PTC has bought other companies in those areas, including ThingWorx, Axeda and Kepware.

Those efforts were on display earlier this month, when PTC officials hosted a webcast event in Boston to demonstrate new technologies that they said will help accelerate the growth of AR in the enterprise. Among those technologies was VuMark, a visual code that enables AR capabilities to be attached to any products or objects. The VuMark—which officials at the event said was essentially a barcode for the AR world—can be customized to work with the customer's brand and logo and can be detected by a PTC AR application. The information encoded in the VuMark—which can include a URL or product serial number—can be read by the application and displayed on the screen of a smartphone or tablet.

The AR experience can then include such capabilities as step-by-step instructions for the assembly of the product, its use, repair or inspection. PTC also offers the VuMark Designer, which lets users of Adobe Illustrator customize the VuMarks by using existing graphics and logos while also encoding any type of data into them.

The support for Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform (UWP)—which enables developers to support their Vuforia projects on HoloLens and such Windows 10 tablets as Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book—is part of the support for Microsoft technology that officials talked about at the event in Boston and later at the Microsoft Build 2016 conference.

"With VuMark, we have paved the way for product manufacturers and marketers to add AR experiences to any product," Jay Wright, president and general manager of Vuforia at PTC, said in a statement. "With support for Windows 10 and HoloLens, we're creating new opportunities for developers to address the growing need for enterprise solutions."

Augmented reality brings together the physical and virtual worlds by superimposing computer-generated elements to augment what a person sees, and has seen widespread adoption in consumer products, with the Pokemon Go craze being the latest example.

However, PTC officials and others see its greatest potential in the corporate world. It's already being used in some areas such as marketing, but it will have a significant impact in other segments, including services, the officials said.

"These consumer applications just scratch the surface of the potential of AR," PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann said during the Boston event. "Now is the time for enterprise AR. Where AR already impacts how we play, it's about to disrupt how we work."

Juniper Research analysts have forecasted that the use of AR applications in the enterprise will grow from a $247 million market in 2014 to $2.4 billion in 2019.