Industrial AR surges on COVID-19 demand for remote assistance – and free licences
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put focus on various communications technologies, if only as an adjunct to disciplines like healthcare and government, and as a means to work and play in lockdown.
As well as driving stay-at-home video traffic to services like Netflix and Zoom, for entertainment and conferencing, and putting strain on broadband infrastructure, the lockdown has also revealed the value of more novel digital technologies.
These include an array of sensing (sensors, IoT) and sense-making (analytics, AI) technologies, which have limited direct application so far in healthcare management, despite the promise of remote patient care (and surgery), but find increasing use in tracking, monitoring, and scheduling functions in hospitals.
More decisively, these tools are being used in automation systems for buildings management, in general, and in process management in the enterprise space, at large. Here, they are enabling many industrial sectors to carry on during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as non-essential workforces are diminished.
In particular, they are combining with video streaming in augmented reality (AR) solutions, which are providing businesses of all stripes, including in healthcare, a new communications platform to enable remote assistance to support their critical operations when resident experts are kept away from the controls.
Indeed, usage of industrial AR for remote working has soared in the past weeks, since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold and home working has been enforced. “It has been crazy, especially with remote assistance. We have seen hundreds of sign-ups per day. It has just exploded,” reflects Marc Schuetz, vice president of AR product management at PTC.
PTC has made its remote assist tool, Vuforia Chalk, available for free from Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store during the COVID-19 crisis. “It is super simple; you just download, and share what you see and what you know. It means front-line workers can access the knowledge of remote experts – and keep factories and machines running.”
Vuforia Chalk enables two-way video calls that can be easily annotated, to allow remote experts to guide on-site workers to resolve issues and tasks. It works on smartphones and tablets. PTC is not the only one to make its remote-assist wares available without charge, to support enterprises (and also drive awareness) during lockdown.
Santa Clara based Atheer is doing the same, offering free licences (“as many as you need”), as well as on-boarding and support, for the Atheer AR platform until the end of June. “These are tumultuous times. In just a few short months, we have found ourselves in a new reality,” says Amar Dhaliwal, the company’s chief executive.
He adds: “Our key purpose at this moment is to support the organisations and front line teams that are risking their lives every day to ensure our well being and safety,… We hope that by helping you support your front line teams, [you can keep] people safe, [and keep] the economy moving.”
(Separately, but on the same theme of freeing-up technology to combat COVID-19, the US arm of French firm Sigfox yesterday announced it was offering free airtime for any new IoT innovation to help during the pandemic.)
IDC has suggested the market for industrial AR will decline by 10.5 per cent in the first quarter, as a result of supply chain disruptions created by COVID-19. But the market will rally, thereafter, with growth of 23 per cent later in the year, forcing a rise of nearly 24 per cent overall compared with 2019.
The AR for Enterprise Alliance (AREA) notes, in a blog post, that AR and VR are the “new darlings of remote workers”. While the consumer market for AR and VR, traditionally tied with smartphones and computers, is operating at lower capacity because of the closure of retail, the enterprise market is surging.
Jitesh Ubrani, research manager at IDC, says: “The spread of the virus is having the opposite effect on demand as an increasing number of consumers and employees stay indoors and look to AR and VR solutions for ways to collaborate with colleagues and entertain themselves and their families.”