This Filter Makes You Smarter: Industrial Workers Are Gaining Expertise Through Augmented Reality

As the pace of technological innovation increases, industry is looking to augmented reality to rapidly transmit knowledge and expertise across the organization.

Augmented reality may have already arrived on our smartphones, but for many people, the technology still feels like science fiction. So it should come as no surprise that for Scope AR, an Edmonton-based provider of augmented reality solutions, science fiction was where it all began.

Well, more like automotive fiction. In 2011, BMW released a video imagining a future when mechanics would slip on augmented reality glasses to work on car engines. The video was purely conceptual; BMW didn’t have the technology yet. Even so, David Nedohin and his co-founders Scott Montgomerie and Graham Melley decided to treat it as a challenge: “We said we’re going to do that for real.”  

It took a few years, but now Scope AR is a leader in augmented reality software for industry. Augmented reality can be as silly as adding rabbit ears to a selfie, but in the energy, mining, and manufacturing sectors, the applications are a lot more pragmatic.

What is augmented reality?

“Augmented reality at its core is putting digital information into the real world,” explains Nedohin. That digital information could be anything from a bit of text or a photo to live-annotations on a piece of machinery.

The real aim is to remove constraints on how information is shared. “Our products are focused on allowing organizations to scale their expert knowledge,” Nedohin explains.

Scaling expertise across the workforce

At the root of this demand for scalable expertise is an aging workforce. “The main challenge that we hear over and over again is that the workforce is growing old and retiring, and organizations are struggling to find ways to capture their expert knowledge and deliver it to those in the field who need it,” says Nedohin.

But finding new ways to easily transmit expertise won’t just benefit greenhorns and novices. As the pace of innovation accelerates, knowledge gaps are proliferating among experienced workers too. Technology is changing so fast, it has become impossible for everyone to be trained on everything they might encounter.  

Augmented reality offers a tool for solving this dilemma. Subject-matter experts can use simple tools to create content and then publish it for anyone in the company to use on a smartphone, tablet, or specialized glasses like Hololens.  

Adding instructions to the real world

Augmented reality is especially useful for inspection, maintenance, and manufacturing—basically, anywhere that pre-defined instructions might come in handy.

For example, GE is experimenting with overhead projectors in factories to display instructions on workbenches. Based on sensor feedback from ceiling-mounted Kinect systems by Microsoft, the computer lets the operator know which steps to take next or if they’ve made an error.

In order to use augmented reality instructions, operators need a device with a camera that knows what it’s looking at. The Kinect is one example, but often object-recognition is achieved with the assistance of special stickers or labels, or with a depth-sensing device like HoloLens. But object-recognition software is improving rapidly, and this facet of the technology will become easier.

In the meantime, the main benefit is already here, says Nedohin: “Putting your knowledge in the hands of someone who needs it in real time.”

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