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VR for IIoT: Oculus used for crane operation system

VR for IIoT is coming: Hiab is planning to launch a crane operation system that uses real-time virtual reality video technology. The innovation offers safety and productivity gains.

VR for IIoT has the potential to transform many industries by enabling remote operations. Thanks to virtual reality (VR) video, operating forestry cranes from a crane cabin might soon be a thing of the past. Indeed, Hiab, a world-leading provider of on-road load handling equipment, is planning to launch later this year HiVision, a new system for crane operation using real-time virtual reality (VR) video technology. The Oculus-based system enables crane operators to load and unload woods logs from the comfort of the truck cabin.

Typically, operators of forestry cranes load wood logs in the forest, drive the load to the paper mill, unload it, drive back to the forest and repeat the procedure five to seven times per shift. Drivers are alone in the forest when they load wood logs, climbing back and forth between the crane cabin and the truck cabin. The new VR-based system combines VR goggles with cameras and connectivity, enabling operators to see the working area and operate the crane remotely using VR goggles. This is how it works: four cameras have been mounted on top of the forestry crane where the operator’s head would normally be, which enables a 240-degree view. The goggle image switches from two forward-looking cameras to two sideways cameras when the operator turns his head. ”Climbing in the cabin, which is shaky, is not a very safe operation; if you slip on the ladder and fall down, no-one can help you,” said Rafal Sornek, vice president, technology and quality development at Hiab, to Industrial IoT 5G.

The new VR-based system offers multiple short-term and long-term benefits to customers, said Sornek. ”Short-term benefits include safety and comfort. And then, if you can get rid of the cabin that weighs a lot, you increase the payload of the truck. You can transport the same amount of wood in five rounds instead of seven.” On the longer-term, this innovation could entail that the entire on-road wood handling process is executed remotely. The next generation of mobile communications will however be required to make that happen. ”The long-term benefit is that you can open this job for people performing this task remotely. The infrastructure is not really there yet. We must wait for 5G networks to transfer this huge amount of data, but it will be possible in a couple of years,” Sornek said. Looking at a 2025 horizon, driverless trucks could also come into play. ”All our equipment is mounted on the truck so the VR goggles are the first step towards the driverless truck…I trust that the technology will make this safer than human-operated trucks.”

Partnerships for faster development

It was back in 2014 that a group of Hiab engineers came up with the idea of putting a camera on top of the forestry crane in order to provide a realistic view of the truck cabin so that crane operators could stay in the cabin. ”We are not expert on image processing so we found a small company, Voysys, that produces software for games on VR goggles. We teamed up with them and ran a short trial run with off-the-shelf software,” explained Rafal Sornek. The trial run results were a bit rough but promising enough for Hiab to go ahead and decide to develop a concept product. They tested a second, improved version, with internal customers. ”Our internal test customer, who had been working 20 years with traditional cranes, managed to grab and move a test object at its first attempt. This was a start signal for us,” said Sornek.

While Hiab is not alone with this idea, Rafal Sornek said that the company has been the fastest at developing this concept into a working prototype. ”Thanks to our collaboration with Voysys and West Pomerania University researchers in Poland, it took Hiab less than a year to make this happen.” The response the product received at construction fair Bauma in late April exceeded the company’s expectations by far. ”We were a little bit afraid about the response at first because the general view is that forestry guys are quite traditional. But actually, they really liked the product and 3,000 people queued to try it at Bauma,” said Sornek.

The forestry industry is currently facing some challenges with recruiting truck and crane operators. The new VR-based system could be a game-changer, according to Sornek. ”When we make the technology available remotely, it can open the operator market for disabled people,” he said.

But because HiVision uses the Ocuclus VR goggles, Hiab is facing the same problems as other VR fans: getting orders through. ”We are competing with gaming fans to get the goggles. And we are hoping that they (Oculus) will deliver in August as stated,” said Sornek.

Hiab is a subsidiary of Finland-based Cargotec, a leading provider of cargo and load handling solutions operating in 100 countries. The group employs 11,000 people worldwide and recorded sales of €3.7 billion in 2015.

IIoT News Recap: Vodafone; the UK; Otto; NXP Semiconductors; Pittsburgh; Milton Keynes; Fitbit

VR for IIoT

Vodafone and Huawei complete pre-standard NB-IoT trial in Melbourne

Vodafone has announced the successful completion of a trial of pre-standard Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) across central and suburban Melbourne, Australia. “We’ve been able to achieve significantly greater coverage both in terms of distance and depth, compared to those offered by existing 2G, 3G and 4G technology,” said Vodafone Chief Technology Officer Benoit Hanssen in a statement. NB-IoT is expected to bring benefits such as deeper and further coverage, improved battery life , lower costs and the possibility to scale with up to 100,000 devices per cell. “We’re hearing a lot of hype about 5G at the moment but there is still plenty of mileage left in 4G, such as NB-IoT,” said Hanssen.

The UK launches open consultation on 5G

The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has launched an eight-week open consultation, ”5G Call for evidence”, in order to gather views on the infrastructure requirements for the deployment and development of 5G in the country. The consultation asks about uses envisaged for 5G, scale benefits, regulatory and legal challenges and infrastructure requirements among other things.”It is important for the commission to understand the benefits that 5G mobile technology can deliver and the advantage for the UK of being at the vanguard of deployment. The commission also wants to understand the challenges the UK will face in deploying the infrastructure needed for 5G roll out”, said the NIC in the consultation outline. The NIC was established by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in October 2015.

Google veterans want to turn commercial trucks into self-driving vehicles

Otto, a new company founded by a number of veterans from Google, Apple and Tesla, has plans to retrofit autonomous driving technology into commercial trucks, making them fit for autonomous driving on highways, The Verge reports. 

NXP unveils new platform for fully autonomous driving vehicles

NXP Semiconductors has demonstrated a new platform leveraging the company’s new BlueBox engine and deploying NXP silicon and software solutions at each ADAS node, enabling car manufacturers to roll out Level-4 self-driving cars by 2020. The BlueBox engine is an open-platform, Linux-based solution programmable in linear C language that ”automotive manufacturers can easily customize to their needs for optimal product differentiation,” said NXP in a statement. According to NXP, four of the top five largest carmakers in the world use the BlueBox engine today and eight of the world’s top 10 largest carmakers use ADAS processors from NXP.

Pittsburgh’s Smart City proposal could receive $11 million investment from PennDOT

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has said they would contribute $11 million if Pittsburgh wins the $50 million federal Smart Cities Challenge grant, according to the Trib Live. Pittsburgh, which final application is due on 24 May, is one of the finalists for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s grant, alongside Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Portland and San Francisco. The winner will be announced in June. The grants will go towards building technology addressing transportation and transit challenges in cities.

Milton Keynes trials collection of sensor data to improve cycling infrastructure

Milton Keynes Council, United Kingdom, has teamed up with technology company See.Sense to collect data from sensors on connected cycle lights supplied by the council. The goal of the trial is to better understand the city’s cycling infrastructure, UKauthority.com reported. The trial should begin this month.

Today’s forecast: Fitbit undisputed leader in wearables market

Fitbit is still the undisputed leader in the growing wearables market, according to new research by IDC. In the meantime, Chinese Xiaomi took the number 2 spot from Apple. Total shipment volumes of wearable devices increased by 67.2 percent to 19.7 million units in the first quarter of 2016 compared with 11.8 million units shipped in the first quarter of 2015, according to IDC. “The wearables that we see today are several steps ahead of what we saw when this market began, increasingly taking their cues from form, function, and fashion. That keeps them relevant. The downside is that it is becoming a crowded market, and not everyone is guaranteed success,” said Ramon Llamas, research manager for IDC’s Wearables team, in a comment.

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