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Augmented Reality’s Expanding Role in the Automotive Value Chain

AR in automotive

Recently I had the privilege of attending the international summit on Augmented Reality in Automotive, in Cologne, Germany. The two-day conference, hosted by EUROFORUM, featured speakers and presentations from a number of automobile manufacturers including Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar Land Rover, Opel, Volkswagen and Audi. Representatives from several research and design companies, as well as from AR software providers also spoke and presented their projects and findings.

The experts shared their experiences and passion for Augmented Reality and I appreciated the depth of their insights. This post contains highlight of the business, customer experience and legal trends about which summit speakers presented.

Use Cases for the Factory Floor

With successful conclusions of pilots and trials, Augmented Reality continues to move into areas where the overlay of virtual information promotes vehicle quality and helps employees work faster and better, but also where more experience with the technology is a prerequisite. As well, higher numbers of AR implementations put greater technical and organizational demands on projects.

One key trend is the growing number of use cases for Augmented Reality in pre- and post-production processes in the automotive industry. Vehicle design and development, and then final verification after assembly are the most popular use cases.

Lina Longhitano of Mercedes-Benz Vans leads the transformation of advanced manufacturing facilities through the Van Technology Center and has a wealth of experience with digital transformation in manufacturing and the use of Mixed and Augmented Reality in vehicle development. The center provides high-end visualization and analysis for ergonomics and buildability of vehicles.

In particular, she mentioned three Mixed Reality use cases for engineering:

  • The visualization of out-of-position and validation of flexible parts.
  • The overlay of digital crash simulation data on physical crash vehicles.
  • Digital assembly and disassembly simulations with collision testing.

Mercedes-Benz Vans uses Augmented Reality for factory floor layout and design, as well as for visually inspecting components to assess differences between virtual and physical objects.

In a similar vein, Hermann Gross of Opel is putting AR to use in pre-production processes, especially in vehicle development and component integration. Opel’s Augmented Reality-assisted systems also verify the quality of physical vehicle mockups. Gross provides a number of examples for these, such as verifying the final position of parts and optimizing cable positioning. He revealed a number of benefits of AR, including:

  • Shortening the duration of mockup builds and increasing their quality
  • Speeding up problem solving
  • Positively influencing data quality

On the other end of the production spectrum, Sebastian Rauh has in-depth knowledge about how Audi is using Augmented Reality for final assembly inspection. These range from vehicle start-up to engine parameter optimization and calibration of control units and sensor parameters. On behalf of Hochschule Heilbronn, Mr. Rauh is also working with Audi to design post-production verification workflows and equip personnel with Google Glass and the Epson Moverio BT-200 to execute tasks.

The Industrialization of Augmented Reality

Juergen Lumera of Bosch, an AREA sponsor member, is one of the first in automotive who is moving beyond simple AR prototypes and into larger deployments involving greater numbers of users, departments, processes and tools. Taking a holistic approach to the human, technological, financial and organizational aspects of incorporating AR technology across an enterprise, he outlined ways to expand projects beyond pilots. Mr. Lumera emphasized that AR adoption is a journey whose destination, as well as roadmap, has to be carefully planned in order to reduce risk and promote success.

Bosch’s Common Augmented Reality Platform (CAP) is an example of a system that integrates authoring and publishing of AR content across business units and technology silos, and can become part of a wider move towards the digital factory.

Matthias Ziegler of Accenture presented a framework for enterprise Augmented Reality adoption by Accenture’s clients and confirms the expanding interest in use of wearables that support AR for hands-free workplace performance. Accenture is expecting 212 billion devices and autonomously driven cars by 2020, with a doubling of IP traffic between 2013 and 2016. Bulky form factors will delay adoption by consumers, but Accenture sees enormous opportunity for hands-free AR-enabled displays in the enterprise space.

Their template, based on a number of pilot projects, compiles statistics and experiences and defines business value drivers and use cases, guiding investment in potential areas where AR can increase ROI. For example, if a company can quantify the length of time spent researching work instructions in paper documentation, and attribute a given number of errors to misinterpretations of drawings or procedures, then AR might promise higher returns.

Augmented Reality and Customer Experiences

Ashutosh Tomar of Jaguar Land Rover says the company’s vision is to use AR for enhancing the driver experience in their vehicles. Today’s typical car is packed with sensors and features—one type of vehicle having over 70 onboard computers and 170 “smart features.”

Customers are no longer judging automobile features as a selling point alone, but also expect a better customer experience. How can cars automatically change settings (e.g., music station, seat and mirror adjustments, etc.) based on who’s driving? How can cars communicate with drivers via other sensory inputs such as haptics? JLR is making large investments in human factors research and in ways to increase driver safety via Augmented Reality, for example:

  • Visualization of “ghost cars” in windshields driving ahead to clearly demonstrate the safest way to make turns in a city.
  • The projection of cones in windshields for training purposes.
  • “B pillars” enhancing a driver’s line of sight and situational awareness by turning car walls “transparent” in certain situations, like when making narrow turns in cities.
  • Haptic feedback in the seat behind a driver’s shoulder to alert them of another vehicle passing in their blind spot.

Legal Implications

New features such as the projection of information and images in the driver’s windshield will require new regulatory regimes. Brian Wassom, intellectual property attorney at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP, described the current regulatory environment and spoke about the principles of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Visual-Manual NHTSA Driver Distraction Guidelines for In-Vehicle Electronic Devices.”

  • Distractions in all forms, including cognitive and visual, should be recognized by designers and regulators.
  • Displays should be as near the driver’s forward line of sight as possible.
  • A number of distracting features should be avoided entirely: glare, social media interactions and text that scrolls or contains more than 30 characters.
  • Glances away from the road should last no more than 1.5 to 2 seconds.

The above principles apply to current systems (dashboard layouts with navigation and phone information), but might also be the basis of conversations about Augmented Reality safety and liability.

In his presentation, Ashutosh Tomar had also emphasized the need to minimize the amount of information displayed to drivers to reduce distraction, as a basic tenet of safety.

Conclusions

In addition to those already mentioned, there were interesting presentations by Volkswagen, Ubimax, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), Feynsinn, Frauenhofer Insititute and others on topics ranging from showroom use cases to the latest research on AR user experiences.

Overall it was encouraging to witness the depth of questions about Augmented Reality being asked by companies in automotive manufacturing, research, design and others, and to get the sense of its evolving acceptance in enterprise, complete with growing pains and successes.