Augmented reality has been primarily a consumer technology in these early days of its development, finding its way into video games and marketing efforts, and into some early products like Google Glass.
However, Jim Heppelmann, CEO of software maker PTC, believes it is in the enterprise that augmented reality (AR) will have its most significant impact, and he is pushing to position his company to the forefront of the evolving market.
That effort was on display this week at an event in Boston, where Heppelmann and other PTC executives joined with partners and customers to demonstrate what AR already can do in the enterprise—particularly in the world of services—and to introduce new technologies the software vendor will be rolling out. People already are experiencing augmented reality in some of the video games they’re playing, and some businesses are using it for consumer marketing.
But AR will find its way into the enterprise and industrial space, and its reach will be significant, Heppelmann (pictured) told more than 100 people who attended the event and the 14,000 people around the world watching the event on the Internet.
“These consumer applications just scratch the surface of the potential of AR,” the CEO said. “Now is the time for enterprise AR. Where AR already impacts how we play, it’s about to disrupt how we work.”
PTC officials said the market will grow fast, pointing to a Juniper Research report that projects that the use of AR applications in the enterprise will grow from a $247 million market in 2014 to $2.4 billion in 2019. AR is not a new idea, and a range of other vendors, including Apple, Google and IBM, are pursuing AR development. However, PTC officials said the rapid growth in connected devices and the IoT is accelerating AR’s potential.
PTC is a billion-dollar company that has evolved from its design and manufacturing roots into a significant player in the product lifecycle management (PLM) and application lifecycle management (ALM) spaces. More recently, Heppelmann and other executives saw an opportunity with the rise of the Internet of things (IoT) and the potential of the AR and virtual reality (VR) markets.
Over the past two-plus years, the vendor has spent more than $700 million to buy companies to broaden its capabilities around connected devices. The acquisitions have included companies like ThingWorx, ColdLight, Axeda and Kepware. In October 2015, the company spent $65 million to buy Vuforia, a small company that had built an AR platform that is being used by more than 200,000 developers who had built more than 20,000 apps for smartphones, tablets and digital eyewear. The platform also had been used to market consumer product brands.
“Today, we have a huge enterprise opportunity in front of us,” Jay Wright, general manager for Vuforia at PTC, said at the event. “Our data suggests that acceleration [in the number of developers of AR apps] is being driven by the enterprise.
Augmented reality is used to bring together the physical and virtual worlds to supplement and improve a person’s experience of his or her environment. Computer-generated elements are used to augment what the person sees, displayed on screens through smartphones and tablets or through wearable devices like smart glasses and goggles.
“While the future of AR is on our head, it’s actually starting in our hands,” Wright said.
It will go beyond the failed Google Glass experiment and move into a range of other devices from vendors like ODG, whose goggles were used during demonstrations at the event.
“The Google Glass idea was brilliant. It just didn’t work,” Heppelmann said, adding that it didn’t mean the industry was giving up on the idea of smart glasses, only the implementation. “The devices are rapidly improving, and I think people will forget what Google Glass was all about.”
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.
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.
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.