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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 »

Will Vuforia Bring Augmented Reality Euphoria To PTC?

August 25th, 2016 by Jeff Rowe

As part of its ongoing acquisition quest, less than a year ago PTC acquired Vuforia from Qualcomm Connected Experiences for $65 million. What a difference a year has made!

Vuforia is an 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).

When it was first reported that Qualcomm was soliciting bids for Vuforia as part of its effort to cut costs and focus on its key mobile business, PTC surprisingly was the ultimate suitor for the company and its technology.

Vuforia is a software platform that democratizes AR development. According to PTC, Vuforia is the most widely used AR platform in the world, powering more than 80% of AR apps in the Apple App Store and Google Play. In fact, more than 30,000 Vuforia-powered applications have been published on the App Store and Google Play – and have led to more than 275 million app installs. Vuforia also supports an active developer ecosystem with more than 250,000 registered developers, and more than 30,000 projects in development.

Vuforia Logo

Vuforia provides AR experiences across an evolving landscape of devices, such as phones, tablets, and eyewear. For developers, Vuforia includes SDKs for tools that include Unity, Xcode, Android Studio, and Microsoft Visual Studio. The Vuforia Engine has advanced computer vision technology that determines the precise 3D location of certain objects in the camera’s field of view. For example, by using this location, a developer can create AR content that will appear anchored to the object beneath.

In essence, 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 – hoping to make augmented reality a profitable business reality.

LiveWorx 2016 Keynote: Focus on Vuforia Studio

The combination of Vuforia and PTC leverages two major technology trends – IoT and AR – to deliver what it envisions as 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.

“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 was running the business, moved over to PTC and continues to lead the Vuforia effort as president and general manager.

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.

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.

AR Award #4
A couple months ago, PTC announced from Augmented World Expo 2016 that its Vuforia augmented reality technology was named “Best Tool” at the 2016 Auggie Awards, that recognizes the best SDKs, platforms, and other development tools that enable the creation of solutions and experiences in augmented reality, virtual reality, and wearable technology. Auggie Award winners are selected through a combination of public voting and a panel of judges at the event. This is the fourth consecutive year that Vuforia has received the Auggie Award for “Best Tool.”

“Receiving the ‘Best Tool’ award for the fourth straight year continues to validate Vuforia’s mission of democratizing augmented reality,” said Wright, president and general manager, Vuforia. “Developers around the globe continue to adopt Vuforia to build solutions that change the way we work and play.”

Newest Version of Vuforia
Earlier this month, PTC announced Vuforia 6, the newest version of its platform for AR development. Vuforia 6 introduced the VuMark, a customizable visual code that enables AR experiences to be attached to any product or object. Additionally, Vuforia 6 addresses the growing need for AR in the enterprise with support for Microsoft HoloLens and Windows 10 tablets.

Vuforia Coming To HoloLens

VuMark is a customizable visual code that can be affixed to any product or machine – either manually using a decal or automatically printed during the manufacturing process. It is intended to visually indicate to a user that an AR experience is available, such as step-by-step instructions for assembly, use, repair, or inspection.

Unlike other types of codes, VuMark Designer enables Adobe Illustrator users to create VuMarks from existing graphics and brand assets such as logos. This allows them to create VuMarks that are visually appealing, while capable of encoding any type of data, such as a serial number or URL.

“We just crossed two major milestones on our mission to democratize AR,” said Vuforia’s Wright. “First, with VuMark we have paved the way for product manufacturers and marketers to add AR experiences to any product. And with support for Windows 10 and HoloLens, we’re creating new opportunities for developers to address the growing need for enterprise solutions. This is an extremely exciting time for developers to get started with AR.”

Vuforia 6 is available at Support for Vuforia Engine on HoloLens is available as a public Early Access Program until the commercial release expected this fall.

What Does All This Mean For The Future Of PTC?
Although less than a year into it, how does this move into augmented reality square with PTC’s bigger push into the Internet of Things (IoT)? That’s still 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 by acquiring companies and integrating their IoT and AR capabilities into the PTC ecosystem. A lot has been accomplished, but a lot more still needs to be done. IoT and AR are extensions of PTC’s CAD, CAM, and PLM business that currently none of its competitors engage in; putting PTC in a unique and enviable position.

Is PTC unique in this push for IoT and AR? 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, said that 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.

Much like it did with IoT, though, AR is a big part of PTC’s future and is helping distinguish itself from being “just another CAD company.”

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.

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