Sunday, December 15, 2013

Manufacturing Augmented Reality (MAR) - December 2013 IMTS Insider

Note:  I wrote this article for the December 2013 IMTS Insider

 Manufacturing Augmented Reality (MAR)

By Dave Edstrom

While working at Sun Microsystems, I had the privilege of hearing firsthand from Steve Jobs the story when he was given a tour of Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). As the story went, Jobs was in his mid-twenties and knew PARC’s reputation for amazing technology and had offered a trade of stock for a tour of PARC’s famous facility. Jobs saw the mouse and Graphical User Interface (GUI) demonstrated. I remember Jobs said to us, “Any of you who saw what I had seen would realize that this was the future of personal computing.” I remember whispering to my friend and fellow employee, “Probably not, that’s why he’s Steve Jobs and we’re not.” What happened next with the Macintosh and the GUI with a mouse is a significant event in computer history. Sometimes when you see a demonstration, it hits you completely over the head, just like when Jobs saw the mouse and GUI demonstrated at PARC. When Joel Neidig, technology manager at ITAMCO, showed me what he was doing with Google Glass, it was a similar feeling that this was not just a cool demonstration of technology, but has real practical use on the shop and plant floor. Let’s explore what Joel is up to now and how he is reinventing manufacturing.

For those not familiar with Google Glass, it is quite amazing technology in a very streamlined package. It is not a new idea, but it is certainly the most famous at this point. At a quick glance, Google Glass appears to be a typical set of glasses, albeit without lenses, with a thicker temple frame on the right-hand side which houses the computer. Currently, Google Glass is limited to those who are in the Google Glass Explorer program, which is a beta program for early adopters. According to Wikipedia, Google Glass sells for less than $1,500 and has a bone conduction transducer, voice command through microphone, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, touchpad, 5 MB camera, 720p video recorder, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and micro USB. According to Tech Radar’s article on Google Glass by Stuart Houghton on November 7, 2013, “The rechargeable battery last for roughly a day, although that's with the standard "typical use" caveat, which probably excludes a lot of video capture or playback. There's 16GB of flash memory built into the device, although only 12GB is currently available for user storage. The device will sync to your Google Drive, giving you both a place to stash your photos and video clips as well as a stash of documents and files you can call up from the cloud.” This is not a commercial for Google Glass, but I list these features to illustrate the many new and impressive capabilities that are now available to augment reality on the shop floor.

At the MTConnect Technical Group (MTCTAG) meeting in St. Louis, Joel brought his Google Glass to show off the technology. It is very impressive technology that I first, incorrectly, thought fell in the “cool, but not yet practical” category. My view changed entirely when Joel explained to me how he was going to use Google Glass in a very creative and pragmatic fashion. A few weeks later, Joel sent me a note with a link to a video that he created. The video starts out with Joel saying, “OK Glass, let’s revolutionize manufacturing.” The video ( is of Joel walking through one of his plants at ITAMCO wearing his Google Glass. As Joel moves through the plant Google Glass augments to what he is seeing. When he is in front of different machine tools, he sees the MTConnect data on what the machine is doing; as he looks at newly-completed parts, the CAD diagrams appear in his view; and he reaches out in real time to ask his cousin, Ben, for his opinion on a particular part. This is an excellent example of augmented reality because, as Joel is walking through the plant, his Google Glass is communicating via Wi-Fi to get specific information on what he is seeing, as well as getting real time information by asking questions and communicating with others in the plant.

I spoke with Diyana Hrzic of AMT - The Association For Manufacturing Technology, who made some very interesting and compelling points (she always does) regarding this technology and where to take it next. As Diyana pointed out, there are situations in manufacturing where, in addition to the MTConnect data, the possibilities exist of incorporating information other than shop floor data. For example, imagine when you walk through the plant that you also have access to the business intelligence of your company, industry trends, marketing data, customer information and a myriad of other data that could transform into actionable intelligence. Imagine as you walk through IMTS 2014, the exhibitor information that is important to you appears in your view and you hear the specifics of a particular piece of equipment. Yes, you could stop and pull it up on your smartphone, but the point is that you did not have to – the information you need appears when and where you needed it. Imagine your marketing team working with the MTInsight Team at AMT, so your sales reps can have access to the market data they need in real time. Imagine that as your sales rep is walking up to a customer, the important information regarding the customer pops up instantly. Imagine what happens when you say, “it would be really nice to have this information available as part of my day and not have to stop to access it.” This may see like Tomorrow Land, but the technology is here today for practical uses.

Google Glass is not without controversy. There are privacy concerns because it is not obvious if the person wearing Glass is taking pictures or recording a video. According to “The Week,” on October 29th of this year a woman in San Diego was ticketed for wearing Google Glass and had violated California Vehicle Code 27602a. Basically, this law states a driver cannot watch TV while driving. But, how is looking at a map on a small screen attached to your glasses different than looking at a smartphone? This appears to the classic case of new technology not fitting neatly into old laws. Today, we do not need to turn our phones off in planes. I would imagine that states will figure out the laws for Internet-enabled glasses too.

Are you ready for manufacturing augmented reality? If you’re Joel Neidig, you know what the future holds because you are inventing it! You can read more about what ITAMCO is doing with Google Glass here on their homepage. Google Glass could be a game-changer for manufacturing because this technology lends itself to the person on-the-go who does not want to stop and look at their smartphone, tablet or computer. The possibilities are truly endless with Google Glass for manufacturing and we will see these new applications in the next few years.