A couple of years ago we looked at what might be the future for consumer and industrial augmented reality technologies. What we saw back then, from the middle of a global pandemic, was a bright future for AR in a world where people had to work together but remote from each other. Facebook became Meta - named after Zuckerberg’s drive to create the metaverse, a virtual universe where people could work, chat and play together - even if they were legless. Though the metaverse isn’t an AR technology, they have rolled out Meta Spark which is a simple to use AR product. Microsoft was throwing money at developing its amazing HoloLens technologies, which were targeted at business and industrial users - with prices to match.
If you’ve been following the news you will know not all has been well in bringing these technologies to market. Microsoft has effectively halted work on HoloLens by firing all its mixed media (AR/VR) teams. Meta laid off 11,000 people in 2022, with reportedly more on the way. Apple have put their much anticipated AR glasses on hold - albeit to focus on a mixed reality product that will combine AR and VR functionality.
So does this mean there are no opportunities for AR in instruction manuals? We think the opposite. We think the market place is settling down from all the hype that was generated in the rush to provide virtual spaces for people to work in - that still haven’t solidified within the public’s consciousness. We have seen something similar with other technologies, for example NTFs and Web3, where there is a boom of hype and then a disappointing path to realisation. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said "I'm not really sure the average person can tell you what the Metaverse is." He went on to say "AR will go much, much farther… AR is a profound technology that will affect everything… Imagine suddenly being able to teach with AR and demonstrate things that way. Or medically, and so on. As I said, we are really going to look back and think about how we once lived without AR."
When viewed in the context of Tim Cook’s recent comments, Apple’s switch from AR to a mixed reality headset isn’t a step away, it’s a double down. Meta have over invested in a range of technologies no one is ready for and Microsoft are finding it is difficult to convince anyone but the military to buy their expensive headsets. While the blind optimism of getting everyone on the metaverse or expecting industry to invest in expensive AR headsets and develop specialist software has faded, the use case for easily accessible AR remains strong - especially in areas mentioned by Tim Cook such as education. Apple’s new mixed reality headset is due to be launched 2023, with the developer toolkit to be launched shortly after the probable announcement of the device in spring.
As you would expect, we at Cadasio are always thinking about how we can deliver a better user experience; what do our end users need to help them better understand whatever instructional content they are consuming? It occurred to us long before Tim Cook made his comments in September 2022 that AR could be an interesting functionality to investigate. We are not the only ones. Others in our market space have already implemented the technology. One such product to introduce AR effectively is PTC’s Vuforia.
Vuforia is an enterprise level AR platform that is mainly targeted at large scale industrial users, though it could be used across a range of markets. It can be used on a range of AR enabled platforms from smartphones and tablets to HoloLens type devices. It provides tools for tracking objects and images in the real world, and overlaying virtual content onto them in real-time, creating an interactive and immersive experience for the user. It does this by recognising the geometry of the objects in the user's environment from the 3D data used by the content creators. It is an incredibly powerful and impressive solution. It is also beyond the reach, in terms of price and complexity, of most people needing to create better instructional content. Vuforia validates the ideas we’ve been having about how Cadasio might be extended into AR.
What are the key AR functionalities that could benefit Cadasio?
Firstly, being able to see a representation of the 3D model in situ, at 1:1 scale, is useful - especially when combined with interactivity and assembly animations. Agencies such as Demodern have already built webXR apps for their clients that help potential customers visualise how machinery would fit into their shop floor.
But as we have seen with Vuforia, AR really comes into its own when real objects are augmented with digital information. This requires the ability to perform object identification and once this has been achieved the potential of AR in instructional content is substantial. The ability to overlay information and animations on physical objects would bring a world of options to content creators using Cadasio. Imagine either looking at a car engine through your smartphone or, even better, AR glasses and being shown where the distributor cap is with animated instructions of how to remove it?
This sort of object identification with AR overlay could be used in Cadasio to help the end user identify which parts are required at each stage within the assembly instructions. The range of applications for information overlay, and animations, of digital content applied to real world objects is only limited by the imaginations of those who use Cadasio to create content.
This is fine when the objects in question are large enough to be detected using their geometry, or when the objects within a 3D digital asset are easy to distinguish from each other. But what if we needed to identify small and complex objects? Would geometry data be enough? We think we might have a solution to this, which we will discuss in our next post, so stay tuned..
If Apple’s new headset launches this year and gets traction with consumers then we will have to seriously consider extending our product to support AR. But like with so many hardware devices success very much depends on developer support - without a critical mass of software, consumer motivation will remain low, especially if it accords to Apple’s normal pricing policy. It’s a catch-22 situation - without the apps what would anyone do with it and if no one is buying it then why commit serious development budget to supporting AR? Smartphones are ok for AR - but do you really want to be holding your phone up while making some flatpack furniture? Meta got around this catch-22 problem with a degree of success by selling the Quest 2 VR headset at a loss for quite some time - we’re not so sure Apple will follow suit, they are not known for being wallet friendly.
Regardless, we will be keeping a keen eye on AR developments this year. It remains to be seen if Apple will do to AR what they did to the home computer, the MP3 player and the mobile phone. We hope they do. We think Cadasio AR would be cool.