I have seen the future, and it’s written in Chalk (PTC’s Vuforia Chalk, that is!)

I just had to take time out from my live blogging of PTC’s LiveWorx ’18 to focus on one of the topics Jim Heppelmann mentioned in passing in his keynote: the new variation on the company’s Vuforia AR app: Chalk.

Significant in its own right, I suspect Chalk will have an additional, critical impact: democratizing AR.

It is an app aimed at, and accessible to, both corporate audiences AND the general public.  Downloadable for both iPhone & iPads & Android devices, I suspect that it will quickly become popular both to support remote repair staff for companies and just plain folks who are trying, for example to help a family member far away to deal with a car or plumbing repair. Not to mention the fact (mandatory disclaimer: while I work part-time for Apple, I’m not privy to any corporate internal strategy) that the spiffy new $329 6th-generation iPad really facilitates AR, and Chalk was developed in conjunction with the Apple ARKit technology so it should really become popular.

Chalk has two components:

  • real-time video and voice sharing of the same view
  • Chalk Marks, simple handswipes that allow one of the participants to highlight the part that is the subject of the question.  The “Marks” appear to be anchored to the subjects they’re “drawn” on.

Real-world uses vary from a remote super-expert helping a field technician to identify and deal with a rare problem to your millennial helping Mom master her personal technology. I saw an amazing demo this morning with one mechanic in Germany (ok, he was actually 2′ away…) directing the mechanic working on a Mercedes how to add coolant.  As the press release announcing the app said:

“Today, remote assistance can be frustrating and cumbersome. People struggle for words to describe things that are unfamiliar, whether it be a new appliance or the back of a cable box. And when the problem can’t be described clearly, it becomes almost impossible for someone else to solve. Vuforia Chalk provides a simple and intuitive solution where people can now use Chalk Marks to get a common understanding of a problem, and the steps required to solve it.”

I’ve written before that I suspected many companies got into e-commerce in the 9o’s because a CEO’s kids got him to order a book from Amazon during the holidays & he came back raving about this new device.  I can’t help thinking that this will be just the kind of low-cost (heck, in this case, no-cost) introduction to AR And the IoT that will break down some companies’ skepticism, pay off with immediate bottom line benefits in cost savings and efficiency in service operations, and get them interested in most expensive AR such as PTC’s digital twins and predictive maintenance.  Or, as ABI analyst Eric Abbruzzes said:

“Mainstream augmented reality is at the beginning of a strong positive inflection point, and Vuforia Chalk is a great example of how AR can transition from enterprise-only to use in everyday life,” said Eric Abbruzzese, ABI Research. “We see Vuforia Chalk as a fundamentally disruptive form of remote communication that will be well received across multiple sectors and for multiple use cases.”

Now to get my granddaughter to download the app so we can collaborate on the 3D-printer that I got her for her 12th- birthday!

Game-changer! AR Enables IoT merging of physical and digital

Several months ago I wrote about an analogy to the world of business prior to the Internet of Things,  in which a metaphorical illness called “Collective Blindness” affected every human for all time, so that we were unable to peer inside things. We just accepted that as an inevitable limitation, creating all sorts of work-arounds to try to be able to cope in the absence of real-time information about things of all sorts.

I then said that the Internet of Things would allow us to end Collective Blindness, getting — and sharing — the real-time data we’d need to make better decisions and work more precisely.

Now I’ve seen the tool that allows us to end that Collective Blindness: PTC’s Augmented Reality (AR), tool, Vuforia.

At last week’s PTC Liveworx conference, there was a mind-blowing demo of Vuforia by Terri Lewis, director of solutions and tech at Caterpillar, as it applied to the company’s XQ Gen Set, a portable power generator for job sites and special events.  As PTC CEO James Heppelmann reiterated several times, the software is creating

a single new reality that’s physical and digital at the same time….. and democratizing AR.”
(my emphasis)

Used as a sales tool, Vuforia Studio Enterprise lets the customer look inside the product, as contrasted with a static brochure.  That’s neat, but what’s really incredible is how it lets maintenance people peer inside the device, and do so in a way (as Heppelmann said, “humans prefer to use sight an sound simultaneously”) that is much more effective in terms of zeroing in not only on what’s wrong, but also these specifics (such as replacement part numbers, etc.) to quickly repair them.  Incidentally Heppelmann and Harvard Prof. and biz guru Michael Porter are collaborating on another article, this one on how to apply AR in a business setting (turns out that Porter is a member of the PTC board, and in the past few years he’s been using it as a lab to evaluate business use of the IoT).

Another example of Vuforia’s work in maintenance demonstrated at the conference was by Flowserve, the world’s largest flow control company. Vuforia helps them manage devices in real-time (the person at the pump can see what is actually happening), cutting the number of repair trips from three to one, because they are able to diagnose the problem at the beginning, and bring the replacement parts with them. Then they can do do real-time simulations to see if the problem has been solved. The company believes they saved $2 billion in excess repart costs in 2015 alone.

 Vuforia Studio AR lets users set up augmented reality simulations in minutes without writing code, and can also be used in product design review.

I had a chance to try the XQ Gen Set visualization with an AR headset myself, and it was as powerful as promised.

I must admit the first time I tried on an AR headset — and almost jumped on one of the other users because I was jumping back to avoid falling several hundred feet off a sharp cliff into the ocean — I was amazed by the realism, but didn’t really think much about its serious business uses.  PTC’s Vuforia Studio AR made me a believer: it’s helping us cure Collective Blindness, and AR will be yet another tool to bring about unprecedented precision and efficiency in every aspect of manufacturing and product maintenance!

http://www.stephensonstrategies.com/">Stephenson blogs on Internet of Things Internet of Things strategy, breakthroughs and management