Progea’s vision of Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality not long ago seemed only possible in sci-fi movies, but now it has found space and importance in industrial software applications and is enriched with new functions as each day passes.
What is AR?.
Augmented Reality (AR) enriches reality with a series of information that is overlapped with what we can see in front of our eyes and what is referred to as our field of view (FoV). AR installed on wearable devices, such as Microsoft Hololens, allows users to view the area that surrounds them along with information that is projected onto the lens of the headset. This enables those wearing the device to continue working with their hands without occupying them with charts, technical data sheets or other documentation. In addition, the wearer can connect to the supervision software to invoke commands, set formulae or modify parameters.
AR can be found in all sorts of applications in the manufacturing and process control sectors where operators use it integrated with wearable devices, along with the classic SCADA/HMI visualization tools, to carry out different tasks accompanied with supplementary information. The devices, which are distributed to process control operators, are developed with the included development kit (SDK): smart glasses or helmets equipped with visors, cameras and audio systems, Wi-Fi connection and batteries to provide complete autonomy and flexibility in their use. This enables operators to consult information and instructions on the display screen in front of their eyes leaving their hands completely free to carry out manual work.
Just picture a big cruise ship with four to five decks: maintenance workers can easily find their way around the labyrinths of these mastodons by following maps and indications on their wearable devices. Once arriving at the exact spot of alerted error, they can capture and frame the component affected, may it be a circuit board, engine or pump, with their wearable device and automatically receive instructions to fix it. This is just one small example of the many fields and sectors where these comfortable wearable devices can be deployed. Another sector in which this device would be handy to use is the medical sector: surgeons would be able to consult the patient’s health record while operating on them. Also fireman would be able to view the exact scene of the fire and detect where the hydrants are positioned or study a plan of the building before actually intervening to extinguish the flames.
One of the most recent and interesting novelties are the Microsoft HoloLens. This wearable device is a headset and was unveiled at the same time Window 10 was released and with which Progea has already developed an app that functions as a Web Client. Basically, Hololens is a wearable holographic computer headset equipped with movement sensors, microphone and audio surround – or rather spatial sound – in addition to depth sensing video cameras like those used in Microsoft Kinect, to allow users to detect from where and which object the sound is coming from. The way Microsoft HoloLens functions may seem rather complex to say at least scientifically fictitious. Basically, the photons hit the lens formed of blue, green and red layers, until they reach the back of the eye. The light particles, at this point, pass through the device’s Light Engine at a certain angle generating holograms displayed by the user. Many other augmented reality devices are also emerging, such as the Smart Glass based on a Head Up display with the Android operating system, Monocular Glasses that come equipped with a video camera and microphone, and not forgetting the various Tablets and Smartphones that can also be used as AR tools.
Progea and Augmented Reality
Progea has been working on AR for quite a while. Applications with AR devices can already be integrated with Progea’s Movicon.NExT™ SCADA platform. Users can interact, control and request information from the Movicon Server directly and natively. The Movicon Web Client App can be installed on Microsoft HoloLens devices to connect to the Movicon.NExT HMI Server in order to visualize and control the Automation System directly using hand gestures and vocal commands while wearing the device.
The AR device can become a Client application connected to the supervision system and HMI by simply configuring the WiFi connection with the Server’s address.
From this point onwards, the supervision server can be used as a «blind» server or gateway towards other systems.
AR in action
The Progea App is ongoing test runs in the field for a major client in the manufacturing sector who wishes to use this technology in their facilities. Those who wear the AR device will be able to directly interact with the dozens of machines used in the production lines, verify measures (pressures, velocity and other) and change parameters using hand gestures that are recognized by the Hololens. In addition, alarms can be managed and machines can be reset and started up using vocal commands predefined in the application.
The App is in continuous development and is currently being tested for Cognitive Object Recognition. In this case, the device will be able to recognize any object (a motor, sensor or other) simply upon framing it. As soon as the object is automatically recognized, the operator will be provided with the relative information, which includes hours in operation, configuration parameters and data sheets, to help them fix any malfunctioning detected or carry out maintenance work.
Let’s summarize the characteristics and capabilities:
• Wearable headset displaying all the automation system’s real-time information.
• Immediate information on operations to be performed according to context.
• Alarm alerts and relative instructions.
• HMI interactivity to invoke commands vocally or with finger pointing gestures.
• Guided maintanance.
• Bar Code or QR Code reading with instant contextual feedback.
• Connectivity and dialog with other operators in Remote Control Centers.
• Interactive 3D visualization and holographics of automation systems.
• Web information accessibility
• Guided operations
• Environment recognition
• Recognition of objects in the facilities/machines.
Sci-Fi or not, one thing for sure is that AR is here to stay and will see an increase in use and integration throughout the industrial environment. Progea has invested a great deal in these applications and is ready to face whatever challenges AR will bring.
Key Account Progea srl