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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

PTC Continues to Get Real With Augmented Reality Acquisition Of Vuforia

 
October 16th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

As part of its ongoing acquisition quest, earlier this week PTC announced that it had signed an agreement to acquire the Vuforia business from Qualcomm Connected Experiences for $65 million. Vuforia is a widely adopted augmented reality (AR) technology platform, that PTC is betting will enrich its technology portfolio and further foster its strategy to provide technologies that blend the digital and physical worlds. In other words, the next phase of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Under terms of the agreement, PTC will acquire the Vuforia business, including its developers ecosystem. PTC is committed to continued investment in the Vuforia platform and to the ongoing support and growth of the Vuforia ecosystem, but why wouldn’t it? The deal is expected to close later in 2015.

It was first reported last month that Qualcomm was soliciting bids for Vuforia as part of its effort to cut costs and focus on its key mobile business. The surprise was that PTC was the ultimate suitor for the company and its technology.

Vuforia is a mobile vision platform that enables apps to “see” and connect the physical world with digital experiences that demand attention and drive engagement. Vuforia is supported by a global ecosystem of developers, and has powered more than 20,000 apps with more than 200 million app downloads and installs worldwide.

Vuforia’s technology lets people use their smartphone or tablet to bring advertisements, toys, and other real-world objects to life. The effort has attracted a notable base of developers, but let’s face it, augmented reality remains more of a novelty than a big business. Obviously, PTC is out to change that.

The combination of Vuforia and PTC leverages two major technology trends – IoT) and AR – to deliver what they envision is a new class of products that merge digital and physical worlds. When coupled with PTC’s IoT and analytics platforms, Vuforia provides possibilities for creating new ways of designing products, monitoring and controlling those products, and instructing operators and technicians in use and service methods.

Bridging the Physical and Digital Worlds | LiveWorx 15 | IoT Opening Keynote

“PTC continues to pursue a strategy of providing an innovative technology platform that customers can use to capitalize on the emerging Internet of Things,” said PTC CEO Jim Heppelmann. “Because of what IoT is enabling, more and more products are now a mixture of digital and part physical content. So, naturally, the ways in which we interact with these products will evolve toward a mixed-reality model that blends physical and digital interactions. “

 “By delivering powerful computer vision functionality through a simple API, the Vuforia platform has enabled developers and leading brands to deliver award-winning experiences to consumers around the globe,” said Jay Wright, Vice President of Vuforia, Qualcomm Connected Experiences. “As part of PTC, Vuforia will allow developers to realize this potential through integration with PTC’s industry leading applications and ThingWorx IoT platform.” Wright, who has been running the business, will move over to PTC and continue to lead the Vuforia effort.

“We are pleased with the prospect of adding the AR technology platform, together with its large developer community, to our technology portfolio. Vuforia will accelerate our leadership position helping companies to fundamentally change the way their products are created, operated, and serviced,” added Heppelmann. “We are excited about leveraging Vuforia’s technology leadership in the consumer market while unleashing the Vuforia capabilities into the enterprise. We look forward to welcoming the Vuforia team to PTC.”

Augmented Vs. Virtual Reality

So what’s the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality? Aren’t they the same thing. Well, yes, and no.

In the 1990s, virtual reality was a huge buzzword as many companies tried and failed to make it happen. In other words, get it widely adopted and actually make money from it. The most notable device back then was the Nintendo Virtual Boy. However, it failed very badly, and was discontinued a year after entering the marketplace. Since then, Nintendo has not attempted improve on the technology even as virtual reality is slowly creeping back into our lives.

Virtual reality is all about creating a virtual world that users can interact with. This virtual world should be designed in such a way that users would find it difficult to tell the difference from what is real and what is not. Furthermore, VR is usually achieved by the wearing of a VR helmet or goggles similar to the Oculus Rift.

On the other hand, augmented reality is something that has found more success in the consumer space when compared to virtual reality. Several applications with AR, along with video game and hardware devices such as the Google Glass have been developed. It is clear, though, that as things stand right now, AR has the upper hand against VR, and that probably won’t change anytime soon.

Augmented reality is the blending of virtual reality and real life, as developers can create images within applications that blend in with contents in the real world. With AR, users are able to interact with virtual contents in the real world, and are able to distinguish between the two.

According to Paul Ryznar, Founder, President and CEO OPS Solutions, in the emerging field of augmented reality for manufacturing, companies see success when they can ensure that every step in a process is completed correctly, when training becomes increasingly efficient, and when all components of a manufacturing system communicate with each other and the user. That’s where augmented reality brings real impact in addressing the customization, quality, consistency, efficiency and safety challenges present in advanced manufacturing.

Basic AR technology can be adapted and applied to virtually any type of manual process. Blueprints, production images, animations and training videos can all be projected onto the work surface. The result is that the spatial and experiential geometry of the workspace is reimagined and reconfigured in new and exciting ways: an environment designed to promote maximum utility, efficiency and functionality.

Another important component of augmented reality technology is the real-time feedback and reporting it provides. It’s essentially a “digital birth certificate” with full traceability for every individual build cycle, and metrics including cycle time and other critical information are gathered and stored for analysis. This detailed tracking and reporting helps identify bottlenecks and ensures procedural refinements and improvements are strategic and effective. The bottom line is that users can do more in less time while improving quality. Ultimately, augmented reality technology can reduce or even eliminate the need for downstream inspection stations and extensive/expensive quality controls. Getting it right the first time will always be a more cost-effective solution than correcting errors later.

So, what does all this mean for the future of PTC? How does this move into augmented reality square with PTC’s bigger push into the Internet of Things (IoT)? That’s hard to say at this point, but I will say this in the past couple of years the company has spent a good deal of money (over $600 million) on IoT by acquiring companies and integrating their IoT capabilities into the PTC ecosystem. A lot has been accomplished, but a lot more still needs to be done. IoT is a diversification and extension of PTC’s CAD, CAM, and PLM business that currently none of its competitors engage in, putting PTC in a unique and enviable position.

PTC realizes that “things” have evolved from just 3D objects to being smart and connected. These “things” are what PTC emphasizes in its IoT approach, as the new reality is a hybrid of the physical and digital — distinct, but inseparable. The “thing” and the customer’s roles are interchangeable, where one, the other, or both can act as the sensor. IoT also provides great potential for analytics and predictive behavior of products. This new reality comes down to technology platforms and enterprise applications that can provide business transformation, opportunities, and value.

Is PTC unique in this push for IoT? Not exactly. Just about any industry you can name is showing increasing interest — hardware and software vendors, machine and medical device manufacturers — the list goes on and on, and we’re just in the initial phases of IoT platforms, but PTC is ahead of the curve on many fronts. Also, not to be left out, the CEO of networking giant, Cisco, Chuck Robbins, recently said one of his major goals as CEO is to make Cisco the No. 1 information-technology company in the world, partly by helping to connect all kinds of business and consumer devices. Needless to say, PTC is not alone on the IoT frontier.

It’s still too early to tell what the ultimate outcome will be for IoT, from either PTC’s perspective or the larger digital universe, but PTC seems to be getting the parts aligned for success in this brave new world. At present and for the foreseeable future it’s very well positioned.

Today there is no standard definition for an IoT platform, but PTC is at the forefront for establishing that definition and expanding the IoT marketplace far from its current place in business and in life.

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