Industrial Giant Siemens Seeks VR/AR Startups To Help Revolutionize Manufacturing

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“ready for prime time,” or they hadn’t seen a practical use for it.

Siemens sees applications for VR and AR in every phase of the product life cycle, from design and engineering to training and maintenance, Rezayat says. The need arises from an exponential increase in the complexity of current technological systems, he says. If engineers and operators can see and interact with prototypes and products by using these data visualization technologies, they can enhance their understanding and reduce errors, Rezayat says.

The biggest “low-hanging fruit” among potential VR and AR applications can be found in collaboration tools such as remote training platforms, Rezayat says. For example, an expert trainer could be represented in real time as an avatar, which would be able to give hands-on instruction to trainees in a distant location as they work on machines.

Some of the technological advances Rezayat says will support such uses include:

Improvements in hand tracking—-A Microsoft lab is working on technology that could make it possible to detect detailed hand movements to the tips of the fingers, Rezayat says.

Increased scanning capabilities—-systems can quickly scan an entire factory and construct a virtual duplicate of that environment.

Better object recognition—-scanners can detect the differences between machines in a physical location and sort them into categories, Rezayat says.

However, there are substantial challenges ahead, especially for virtual reality, he says.

First, VR developers will have to cope with the lack of a standard format, because the field is still fragmented among many devices using different operating systems. Second, customers will need to see a solid return on investment to justify the substantial expense not only for equipment, but also for creation of the content displayed, Rezayat says.

Batteries, which are part of the equipment worn by the user, will need to be lighter and last longer in order to take full advantage of the potential of VR and AR. For example, Microsoft’s Hololens, which allows headset wearers to see 3D holograms within their real physical environments, now presents only a 33-degree field of view, Rezayat says. That’s because heavier batteries would be needed to widen the range, he says.

The last limit is the human ability to adapt to the VR experience—-many people suffer from motion sickness. “NASA astronauts are used to G-forces you and I can’t tolerate,” Rezayat says. “Yet some come into that [VR] environment and in two minutes they’re sick as a dog.”

The market for VR and AR is estimated to reach $150 billion by 2020—-a forecast cited by PwC that traces back to consulting firm Digi-Capital. But augmented reality could capture $120 billion of that total, PwC says.

Rezayat says the combined forecast of $150 billion for VR and AR seems credible to him, despite the hype surrounding VR this year. The time is right for VR and augmented reality in industrial applications, he says, because customer demand is already evident.

“Before, we had to sell ideas to our customers,” Rezayat says. “Now, they’re coming to us.”

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