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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 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 … More »

PTC Marches On With New Vuforia AR Platform Release

 
October 12th, 2017 by Jeff Rowe

This week PTC announced the upcoming release of the newest version of its Vuforia platform for AR development, Vuforia 7. The company says Vuforia 7 will introduce major advancements in the ability to attach digital content to more types of objects and environments, and a new capability for delivering enhanced AR experiences on a wide range of handheld devices.

PTC claims that Vuforia is the world’s most widely used platform for AR development. With support for mobile phones, tablets and eyewear, Vuforia has powered more than 475 million installs of AR apps from the App Store and Google Play. Vuforia Engine, the core of the platform, uses a device’s camera(s) and sensors to function as a digital “eye” inside an app. It “sees” objects and surfaces where content can be placed, and enables developers to create AR experiences using existing development tools.

Vuforia 7 will introduce Model Targets, a new feature for attaching content to objects that have not been recognizable using existing computer vision technology. Model Targets recognize objects by shape, in contrast to existing methods that rely on detailed visual designs typically found on print media, product packaging and many consumer goods. With Model Targets, content can be attached to objects such as automobiles, appliances, and industrial equipment and machinery. Model Targets will enable a new class of AR content that can replace traditional user manuals and technical service instructions.

Jay Wright, President, Vuforia: State of Augmented Reality

Responding to developers, Vuforia 7 will also introduce a new capability for placing content on horizontal surfaces. Vuforia Ground Plane enables content to be placed on the ground, floor or tabletop, whether indoors or outdoors. Vuforia Ground Plane extends the functionality of the Vuforia Smart Terrain feature, first announced in 2013 to take advantage of depth sensing cameras. Vuforia Ground Plane will support a wide range of today’s devices and provides an ideal solution for developers to build visualization apps, ranging from in-home furniture shopping to design review.

“If you’re a developer, there has not been a better time to get started with AR. It has never been easier with Vuforia now integrated in Unity. And there has never been the power to put your content in so much of the world,” said Jay Wright, President, Vuforia at PTC.

Vuforia 7 will also introduce Vuforia Fusion, a new capability designed to provide the best possible AR experience on a wide range of devices. Vuforia Fusion solves the problem of fragmentation in AR-enabling technologies, including cameras, sensors, chipsets, and software frameworks such as ARKit and ARCore. It senses the capabilities of the underlying device and fuses them with Vuforia features, allowing developers to rely on a single Vuforia API for an optimal AR experience. Vuforia Fusion will bring advanced Vuforia features to ARCore and ARKit-enabled devices, in addition to over 100 Android and iOS device models.

Vuforia 7 will be available with support for ARKit in an upcoming Unity release. Vuforia Ground Plane will be included in Unity as part of a new free deployment option. Vuforia Engine SDKs are expected for Xcode, Android Studio, and Microsoft Visual Studio later this year. Support for ARCore is expected early next year.

As part of its ongoing acquisition quest, last year PTC acquired the Vuforia business from Qualcomm Connected Experiences for $65 million that PTC bet would 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).

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.

Vuforia Chalk App for AR Communications

Last week, PTC also announced a new way to communicate with the new Vuforia Chalk augmented reality app.

Vuforia Chalk is a communication experience enabled by the Vuforia AR Platform and Apple’s ARKit technology that was introduced with iOS 11. It lets people in different locations share a live view of the same environment, and draw simple annotations called Chalk Marks. Chalk Marks appear anchored to objects and surfaces in the environment, as if drawn on the objects and surfaces themselves.

As we all know too well, remote assistance can be frustrating and cumbersome. People can struggle for words to describe things that are unfamiliar, whether it be a new appliance or the back of a cable box. And when the problem can’t be described clearly, it becomes almost impossible for someone else to solve. Vuforia Chalk provides a solution where people can now use Chalk Marks to get a common understanding of a problem, and the steps required to solve it.

“Vuforia Chalk represents one of the most practical uses of AR technology to date. It has the potential to improve our personal and professional lives – initially by helping each other,” said Jay Wright, President, Vuforia at PTC.

The Vuforia Chalk app for iPhone and iPad* is available for free on the App Store. It is expected to be available for additional handheld and headworn devices supported by the Vuforia AR platform.

What Is Augmented Reality Anyway?

Augmented reality is something that has found success in the consumer space when compared to virtual reality. Several applications with AR, along with video game and hardware devices such as the now infamous 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.

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 few years the company has spent a good deal of money 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 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.

I’ve said this before, but 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 continues to get the parts aligned for success in this brave new world. At present and for the foreseeable future it’s very well positioned.

PTC is at the forefront for further establishing and expanding the IoT marketplace far from its current place in business and in life.

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