Virtual vision changes reality6 March 2020
‘Mixed reality’ may be a new expression for some people, but it is entering the world of work with the promise of many benefits. WBPI looks at what Microsoft is doing with its latest technology to empower companies.
Holographic computers, artificial intelligence, mixed reality – sound a bit like science fiction?
What might have seemed like something out of Star Wars is not as fanciful as you may think.
In a WBPI article back in 2016, we told how Industry 4.0 had arrived in the wood-based panel manufacturing sector, with the likes of Pfleiderer featuring smart technology and enhanced data flow at its Neumarkt plant.
And at the European Panel Federation’s AGM and conference in 2019 delegates were told that unless companies got involved in the digital world they would be left behind within a few years.
Industry 4.0 has of course been well signposted. Anyone visiting the Ligna exhibition in the past two or three shows would have seen a great number of digital and enhanced data transfer platforms being promoted and while it is still some way from being fully realised, people understand what it represents and are coming to terms with the potential benefits.
Technology does not stand still and there are some very exciting developments taking place in the world of ‘mixed reality’.
Computing giant Microsoft has been organising events to discuss the future of work, including a focus on how its HoloLens2 mixed reality platform can assist in a variety of industries.
This ‘third wave of computing’ as Microsoft calls it, is of course something of relevance to many different industrial fields. By covering this, we want to signpost some of the digital innovations that are coming to the fore and how they may provide benefits and changes to the world of work, including to the panel industry, be it primary board manufacturing, downstream panel processing, furniture design and production, or even construction related applications. Whether it's design, production or engineering, there are some potential benefits out there.
The third wave of computing is being seen as a step beyond smartphones and locationbased services. It is mixed reality, AI and use of the intelligent cloud. This brave new digital 3D world is able to help people achieve more than in the past and realise new possibilities.
Microsoft is targeting companies and industries with its HoloLens untethered holographic computer. The technology was originally released in 2016 but now version two is here – HoloLens2. Effectively wearing a computer on your head in the form of a smart lens device means 3D information can be projected that you can interact with, using your fingertips to control the flow of projected data and with no need to consult physical manuals, no need to be at a desk and still being able to see the world around you.
"Mixed reality, to me, is that ultimate blending of the human experience with the computing experience,” Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella has said of the HoloLens.
“Your field of view, what you see, is a blend of the analogue and digital. I walk into my office and I put on my HoloLens, I have all of these dashboards I've created with all these pie charts that are all floating around in my room like it's an infinite screened room.”
An optional additional feature is Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, which lets the wearer video-conference with a colleague, giving onsite feedback with real-time annotations and directional cues.
The technology can fit over a wearer’s normal pair of glasses and it adapts to the individual’s hand gestures, tracks eyes in real time, and is secure with Windows Hello. The visor flips up when not in use.
Multiple holograms can be viewed at once in your real-world environment through the see-through display, allowing users to see intricate details on 3D assets.
Users can literally reach out and move holograms with their hands as though they were real objects. Using the Layout feature, holograms can be created in planning a physical space, with editing of layouts in realworld scale, so better decisions can be made before things are actually built.
The AI feature is designed to understand people, environments and objects.
Holograms can be shared among stakeholders that are HoloLens users or with iPhones, Android devices and tablets, with the ability to stream the user’s experience to a wireless display in seconds.
The system integrates with Azure Active Directory to enable quick access and management of profiles and settings.
Microsoft identifies four main areas where such mixed reality use can boost company operations: improved training, empowering frontline workers with new tools, remote servicing and collaboration, as well as efficiency and quality gains.
Use of Dynamics 365 Guides with HoloLens2 is designed to bring benefits in lowering on-the-job training costs while increasing knowledge retention and comprehension by creating engaging experiential learning modules. HoloLens can bring up manuals and guides while employees are working, offering a richer learning experience whenever they need it. It also provides training for situations that are hard to replicate in real-life, without real-life consequences such as machine breakdowns. When you think that you will on average forget about 80% of what you learn after 30 days, the benefits of hands-on visual learning at the touch of a button are more understandable.
Frontline workers are also being empowered in the same way as knowledge teams have been in the past. As staff that are closest to products and customers, their use of mixed reality is designed to help them work quicker, make fewer mistakes and stay connected to others. One study said mixed reality could boost productivity by 25% while reducing errors to almost zero.
Remote servicing applications can greatly reduce the costs and time of maintenance. Machine experts can get a real-time view of a problem to troubleshoot efficiently. This also has the impact of allowing frontline workers to gain training on how to solve the problem.
Another study found that mixed reality improved field service and maintenance by four times, with 80% of companies reporting that it improved collaboration.
Finally, Microsoft believes use of such technology can attract the next generation into industries, allowing new recruits who are growing up in a digital world to work quicker and use technology that helps them learn more easily.