Virtual / Augmented Reality

Virtual training
Virtual Reality is a very popular theme nowadays. There is almost no day without publications about new developments in this field. Some media even declare 2016 as ‘The Year of VR’.
And not without reason. The number of announcements of new VR glasses is exploding. Big companies, like Microsoft and Google, show their Hololens and Magic Leap systems on Youtube.
Google has recently founded a whole division for VR. Facebook took over Oculus for 2 billion dollars. Apple bought AR manufacturer Metaio etc… A major booster of these developments is the ‘computer games’ market. Gamers will be able to fully immerse themselves in the latest games, by putting on a VR headset.
Due to the rapid increase of processing power (think about ‘Moore’s Law’) and fast price erosion, which is due to the application of high-end chips in consumer electronics ( PCs / smartphones), the area in which VR and AR can be utilized is also increasing rapidly.
‘Serious’ VR is already applied in many different places: Defence, Health, Education & Research, and also industrial companies, like ASML and Océ for activities such as technical trainings. In the latter situation the dependence on expensive, not always available, training devices can be reduced.

VR, AR and MR

Virtual reality, Augmented reality, Mixed reality. How do these technologies differ?

Oculus Rift
Consumer version of the Oculus Rift (https://www.oculus.com/)

Virtual reality

means that a situation has a high level of fidelity, but it is not ‘reality’.
In a broader sense you could say that also the reading of a book, looking to a movie, or making things up in your own fantasy could be labeled as Virtual Reality. The same could be said of physical models that represent reality in one way or the other, think about a ‘Globe’, ‘dolls’,..
However, nowadays when we talk about Virtual Reality we mostly mean a digital, computer generated, representation of reality.
In the VR world you can act without directly causing ‘real life’ consequences. This is especially interesting in situations in which reality can cause difficulties. Think about dangerous situations (acts of war, fire disasters,..) or (too) expensive equipment (airplanes, high-end printers, wafer-steppers,..), which are not always available.
Virtual Reality can be more or less ‘Immersive’. A computer screen can show a (quasi) 3D virtual environment, but it really becomes impressive by using a HMD (head mounted display), like an Oculus Rift, in which you will be fully immersed in a virtual world.

Augmented Reality

makes use of reality, but it adds an additional ‘layer of information’ to it. This can be done with a Smartphone or IPad. Probably you also still remember ‘Google glass’, although this product is not on the market anymore, it is just a matter of time till successors will come. You see your environment and the glasses will project an additional layer of information on your eyes. This method has large potential for ‘maintenance’ purposes : Imagine a service technician only has to put on a pair of glasses, and looks at the device he wants to repair. Automatically the device is being recognized and the service technician receives visual and auditory information about how to repair it.

In the case of <h2>Mixed Reality<h2> you can think of all kinds of variations between a real and a virtual world. Systems are for instance Canon MReal or Microsoft Hololens (near future).
Augmented reality is also part of that, so is Augmented Virtuality. With this latter concept is meant that you also can add reality to a virtual world: Think about playing games on the Wii, or Xbox with Kinect, were ‘real’ body movements influence the virtual world (for instance, playing tennis). In training situations, the application of Augmented / Mixed Virtuality is a powerful method. A trainee can mimic the real physical actions. Because of this the retention of what has been learned will be higher.

Virtuality_Continuum_2

Paul Milgram en Fumio Kishino (IEICE Transactions on Information Systems, Vol E77-D, No.12 December 1994.)

Smart Industry

How can better products be developed and be brought to the market at higher speed?
In Germany, it’s called Industry 4.0, in the Netherlands the term ‘Smart Industry’ is used, in the US the Department of Defense, and companies like Boeing talk about the ‘Model based enterprise’.
Product development processes should operate in parallel, instead of sequential. This reduces ‘Time to Market’. IT developments play a crucial role in achieving this. For each ‘process’ the most optimal visualization / virtualization can be chosen.
For instance the design process: fully virtual, training: ‘Augmented 3D Virtuality’ and maintenance: ‘Augmented Reality’. By making use of VR and AR technologies, an improvement and acceleration of product development can take place. Customers can be involved in an early phase by communicating via 3D virtual models. While the product is still in development, training can take place with virtual models. We are at the beginning of an important development, which will have a large impact on our world.

Written by William.