Augmented and Virtual Reality – Safe, precise and accessible work environments

Alongside 3D printing and robotics, Augmented and Virtual Reality (VR/AR) are emerging as key Industry 4.0 technologies. Thanks in part to cost reduction and advances in consumer-level equipment, VR/AR applications are becoming well-accepted in product development and manufacturing environments. The novel interaction techniques, including multimodal interfaces and gesture control devices, support traditional manufacturing processes by improving safety, flexibility and precision.

Modelling a facade element using virtual reality (image courtesy UAP)
Modelling a facade element using virtual reality (image courtesy UAP)

Virtual Reality

Computer generated 3D environments that respond in real time to human gestures, usually experienced through immersive head-mounted displays. Handheld controllers are used for hand and body tracking, and may provide haptic feedback.

In industrial applications VR can be used as a tool to visualise how different hardware and software can collaborate with human and robot systems, in programming, maintenance and error handling. This is beneficial for understanding spatial relationships in assembly processes, as well as aspects of ergonomics and “viewability” critical for certain processes of product assembly and repair.

VR can also facilitate interactive development and decision making within product design teams. Teams can review the product at scale in a collaborative environment, exploring any limitations in the design or assembly.

Augmented Reality

AR is an environment where computer generated 3D objects, text or graphics are overlayed on the realworld view. In industrial prototyping these techniques can be used to augment a virtual robot or machine into a real-world space.

AR environments allow for safe and precise manipulation of tools in industrial applications– particularly where other methods are not feasible – and can provide context-awareness to increase levels of trust in systems. Recent work is exploring the possibilities of free-form modelling and flow-sculpting.The intent of these developments is to support more natural human gestures in conceptual design. The technology may sidestep the level of skill required to work with CAD technologies, as well as open up the possibility of cross-department workflows within organisations.

Challenges & Considerations

AR/VR systems can still be complex and expensive to set up. In some cases, the virtual environment may be time consuming to create, increasing human labour and causing it to be an expensive alternative to traditional modelling and prototyping. Despite increased accessibility of commercially available equipment, the interface also has limitations – gesture recognition can be unreliable, the head-mounted hardware uncomfortable, and extended use has been known to cause simulator sickness. Interestingly though, successful simulation in VR is supported by a user’s real-world knowledge of the task. When used as a training tool, VR has had a positive impact in a number of industries, from manufacturing to medical surgery. VR/AR technologies have also been successful in reducing the risk of costs associated with training, particularly in environments that are complex, hazardous, or difficult to access.

Adding Value to Design and Engineering Outcomes

AR/VR can add value to design and engineering outcomes by:

  • Effectively communicating internally across departments, and externally with clients and contractors.
  • Providing more clarity of production requirements and processes for the manufacturing and construction team.
  • Drastically reducing or helping eliminate the amount of documentation which is required for assembly of structures.
  • Establishing more efficient iterative design changes, more effective collaboration across disciplines and departments, and faster design process.
  • AR can also help in Visualising the scale of a structure and its relationship to a site through the use of AR.
  • Assisting in assessing the aesthetic quality of the work.
  • Identifying errors earlier in the production.
  • Evaluating and assessing compliance of Australian standards.

Considerations for SET UP

  1. Map out opportunities and potential use-cases with employees
  2. Identify a ‘champion’ within your organisation to lead the projects
  3. Audit current in-house workforce skills
  4. Explore potential technology – including options for ongoing technical support and training, some examples:
    1. Microsoft HoloLens – microsoft.com/hololens
    2. Oculus Medium – Oculus.com/medium/
  5. Set aside a physical space (for AR)
  6. And provide training and practice time! –
    See our brief on workforce considerations.

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