So far, virtual reality and augmented reality have been slow to find their way into companies and our everyday lives. Although the technology offers many opportunities, getting started with it appears complex at first glance. After all, it is an unfamiliar subject. Numerous companies in Bremen want to change this.
With virtual reality (VR), users put on a VR headset that fully immerses them in a simulated world. The headset’s display takes up almost the entire field of vision, making users feel like they are completely surrounded by the 3D world. In contrast to conventional 2D screens, objects appear three-dimensional and thus more realistic than has ever been possible before. This tricks the brain into processing the simulated view as a real one. Someone who is afraid of heights and stands on the edge of a cliff in the virtual world will feel their legs turning to jelly.
Augmented reality (AR), on the other hand, is when our environment is augmented with digital content. Unlike a VR headset, AR glasses are transparent and do not shut out the real world. Users can see through them, but virtual objects and digital information are superimposed onto the lens or onto a mini-screen. AR smartphone apps, which work in a similar way, use a camera to capture our surroundings and add digital content. This can be manipulated in real time, e.g. rotated, resized or its colour changed.
AR and VR are very important technologies for Anymotion, a specialist in 3D modelling. This small business mainly creates visualisations of models, for example of houses or machinery. It has brought its augmented reality expertise to bear in research projects such as AR Maintenance. This project involved developing an assistance system incorporating smart glasses that supports service technicians who maintain wind turbines. The system helps with navigation, for example, by guiding the technician to the right location within the complex wind turbine and displaying information on the tasks to be carried out.
RADIUSMEDIA is a digital agency specialising in AR and VR for engineering companies. On behalf of the Bremen-based combustion plant manufacturer SAACKE, for example, the ten-strong team developed an augmented reality application for Microsoft HoloLens, which is one of the most advanced headsets on the market. Visitors to a trade fair were able to gain a realistic picture of a SAACKE combustion plant by inspecting its digital twin:
Managing Director Udo Corleis has set up a 60m² Lab Space at the company’s headquarters in Bremen’s Überseestadt (New Harbour District). This provides a dedicated place for people to familiarise themselves with the new technology. “Augmented reality is still a big unknown for many companies,” he explains. “Once our customers have experienced VR or AR and tried it out for themselves, they soon come up with ideas about how to put it to good use. That’s why companies can come to our Lab Space to find out everything they need to know.” The next step after that is for RADIUSMEDIA’s IT and marketing specialists to think about how to turn these ideas into exciting augmented reality concepts.
DIGILAB, the innovation laboratory of Bremen’s Senator for Economic Affairs, Labour and Ports, is a place for companies to experiment. Here, they can attend regular innovation workshops on topics such as smart glasses and experience augmented reality for themselves. At the entrance to DIGILAB, visitors can pick up a tablet and use it to explore the lab in a fun way. Pictograms are displayed at various points that serve as markers for the AR app and show relevant content. A virtual flipchart presents the building plan along with background information on DIGILAB. On the creativity shelf, the screen shows the agile workshop methods for which the available work materials are particularly suitable.
“The app that has been developed provides a digital guide to analogue innovation activities in Bremen’s DIGILAB and thus connects the two worlds. Visitors come into contact with the digital world right at the start of the tour,” says Professor Sven Hermann, Managing Director of ProLog Innovation GmbH. Within DIGILAB, the SME 4.0 centre provides free, no-obligation advice to companies looking to join the digital revolution and comes up with initial approaches for AR and VR projects.
The goal of software provider engram is for virtual reality to be used in advisory meetings. It primarily works with companies in the financial sector, deploying virtual reality to explain complex topics such as housing finance and securities trading.
“We see V!EW, our VR world, as a tool that supports the advisor and thus enhances the advisory meeting. In the virtual rooms, difficult concepts can be explained to the customer using images, which are more memorable. The advisor accompanies the customer into the virtual world and is also given information on how to conduct the meeting,” says Julia Göttsche, Marketing Manager at engram.
Large financial companies are using engram’s sales solution as a way of explaining complex details to customers in an easy-to-understand manner. A demo is available at www.engram.de/engram-vr. Once a company has decided to work with engram, the team holds workshops with the customer to identify potential and come up with ideas. The inhouse development department then implements them.
This software company based in Bremen’s Überseestadt (New Harbour District) is running numerous projects in the two fields. For example, it has developed an AR bathroom design application for Rotenburg-based pds GmbH. Even if the room is still just a shell, users can put on the glasses to work out where they want to position the shower, toilet and other fittings within the space, try out different designs and let their creativity flow.
“Many people find abstract spatial thinking difficult. Perhaps they can’t imagine how a small patterned tile from the DIY store will look once it is used throughout the room. Augmented reality enables us to digitally alter the real room at will, for example by projecting the tile pattern all over the room,” explains Malte Wellmann, VR/AR expert at HEC.
HEC organises workshops for companies interested in using the digital technology and has a showroom where different approaches can be tested. “You really need to try it for yourself,” advises Wellmann. “The difference between 2D on a computer monitor and 3D with the AR glasses never fails to impress.”
If ideas emerge from the discussions between HEC and the customer during the workshop, HEC’s software developers implement them. “It’s not as complicated as you might think. We can implement a project in just two months,” promises Wellmann. “So far, VR and AR have mainly been used in sales and marketing, for example at trade fairs, but the possibilities are endless. We are only at the beginning.”
Sven Hermann from ProLog has made it his mission to find and implement new solutions for the logistics industry. In cooperation with the PTS Logistics Group, he has implemented the world’s first prototype for deploying HoloLens in project logistics:
The project was also supported by students: A workshop organised by LogistikLotsen was held for regional logistics companies and young students studying a variety of subjects at different universities who are interested in the digitalisation of logistics. In another project, an app for use at trade fair stands, PTS is using augmented reality to raise its profile. The app enables the full-size logo of the PTS Logistics Group – a wooden Trojan horse – to be constantly superimposed on the real world using a standard smartphone or tablet.
SALT AND PEPPER, a digitalisation and technology service provider, focuses on the manufacturing sector, offering custom software solutions as well as its own products. Its VR solutions include Boxplan, an assembly planning tool with which companies can create a virtual, explorable drawing of their production facility, and Forestage, which enables CAD models to be quickly integrated into virtual environments.
“At our development site in Osnabrück, we have set up several rooms in which VR applications can be tested and companies can familiarise themselves with virtual reality,” explains Anna Schulze-Smidt, Head of Marketing and Communications at SALT AND PEPPER. “We only use agile methods, such as SCRUM, when developing our software solutions and products, as they enable us to quickly achieve tangible results for our customers.”
This Bremen-based company is the global market leader for wearables and AR. Its xPick software is used in warehouses where employees pick goods, i.e. collect the items from racks that are needed for orders. Instead of the employee having to spend time searching for the right compartment and scanning in products manually, the AR glasses indicate the correct storage location and use a scanner worn on the back of the hand to register in the system that an item has been picked.
“The advantages are plain to see: Workers have both hands free to do the actual task, the error rate is reduced thanks to precise graphical instructions and every process step is documented digitally and can be traced at any time,” explains Leonid Poliakov, Head of Marketing.
Ubimax products are deployed worldwide, and not only for order picking. The glasses are also used for inspections, assembly support, quality assurance and remote maintenance. They are often used in conjunction with smartwatches and other wearables, such as hand scanners.
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