Workplace Reality: The View from Augmented World Expo

Smart glasses and other devices have the potential to change everything from factory workflows to customer-service support, but they need a strong infrastructure backbone, which some workplaces still lack.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jun 16, 2015

Last week, I attended the sixth annual Augmented World Expo, a technology conference at which representatives from the augmented-reality (AR) and virtual-reality (VR) industries show off their wares and measure the in-roads that the technologies are making in the gaming industry, in enterprise applications and in many other areas.

In case you're unclear on the difference, in augmented reality, text or video is projected onto the transparent lens of a pair of glasses or on the screen of a handheld device, such as a smartphone, enabling a user to see not only what is in front of her, but also the projected information. In virtual reality, the user wears opaque lenses in order to create an immersive view of information or imagery projected in 3D onto the glasses' stereoscopic display.

I had come largely to attend a session called "Internet of Things and AR," but the session room was already overflowing when I arrived five minutes before start time, and I could not even shoulder my way in. It was a real bummer. But I reached out to the speakers and heard back from one: Simon Heinen, the founder and CTO of bitstars, who shared with me the slides and video from his presentation.

Bitstars, based in Aachen, Germany, offers an online photo-stitching tool known as Holobuilder, which can be used to create either virtual- or augmented-reality videos. The company also offers a service by which it will create an AR or VR app for mobile phones, smart glasses or smart watches. A customer provides bitstars with media for things like instructional, safety or operational manuals and maintenance checklists, and bitstars then uses Holobuilder to incorporate that content into the app.

Once an AR or VR video is generated, bitstars overlays graphics to illustrate information about the thing being viewed—for example, it might show an alert indicating that a part of a machine has overheated, based on a sensor reading that the smartphone, glasses, watch or VR viewer is receiving wirelessly. In other cases, instructions on how to interact with the item—how to remove and replace a part, for example—are displayed, with the user being able to scroll through, step-by-step. The IoT technology in these scenarios includes not not only sensors but also phones, glasses or other devices, through which the AR or VR information is conveyed.

It's pretty snazzy stuff, and a number of other companies that presented at various sessions offer similar and, in some cases, far more elaborate solutions. This type of technology shows a great deal of promise, in terms of reducing workplace errors and improving operational efficiency.

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