Technical Communicators are Keen to Learn about Augmented Reality

Technical communicators are a technology-savvy audience so they’ve read and heard about Augmented Reality. But most people in this role have yet to acquire knowledge about how it works and hands-on experience with the tools. The 2015 edition of tcworld, the annual conference of the European Association for Technical Communication (tekom), offered a unique opportunity for attendees to satisfy their curiosity and begin filling the gaps in their understanding of this new technology, but left them hungry for more.

Held in Stuttgart, Germany, from November 10-12, tcworld drew over 4,200 delegates from 48 countries and featured ten sessions on Augmented Reality topics. To view abstracts of the Augmented Reality track sessions, you can select “Augmented Reality” from the “Topic Area” drop-down menu on the English language program here, and the German program here. All seats were filled and people stood along the walls during the AR sessions delivered in German, the primary language of business for the attendees and, while there remained open seats, English language sessions were also well attended.


Technical Communication Toolsets and AR Demos

In addition to the conference sessions, tcworld has an extensive exhibition floor. Over 200 vendors offering software and services filled two halls. In their own zone there were a half dozen technical communication associations, several emphasizing localization. Some exhibitors, such as Bosch, Cognitas, Semcon, Kothes! and others, demonstrated that their tools could produce and manage Augmented Reality experiences, and the added value of AR as an alternative or extension of traditional user manuals and service documentation. Although many questions about AR delivery hardware platforms such as smart glasses were asked, the tcworld vendors’ AR demonstrations exclusively used tablets. The Oculus Rift demonstration in the Canon/Cognitas booth attracted curious visitors, many of whom were unclear on the distinctions between VR and AR.

Some vendors shared that, compared with last year’s offerings, they are able in 2015 to demonstrate improved object tracking and more complete AR-enabled systems as a result of dedicating more internal resources to research and development. It’s clear that both those in the aisles and the booths consider AR a promising new technical information visualization and delivery method.

Enterprise Augmented Reality Use Cases

In contrast to some other events focusing on AR topics, the tcworld AR session speakers consistently featured real world use cases for the technology. Their high-quality presentations highlighted practical benefits of introducing AR, such as how employees can do their jobs faster and better with the technology, rather than using AR as a marketing gimmick to sell more products.

For example, Andrew Head of Semcon Product Information described and then demonstrated an AR-assisted training use case executed as part of a project with J.C. Bamford Excavators Limited (JCB).

In this use case, overlays of engine maintenance information offer advantages over standard service manuals such as:

  • Improved learning efficiency and knowledge retention as a result of users associating instructions with an object’s features and visual cues, thus promoting spatial learning.
  • Increased awareness and retention of the safety regulations, as a result of users being required to read regulations prior to starting the AR-based experiences.

Head reported that users were generally happy with the technology and were motivated to explore its further usage, asking such questions as, “When can I get this on my phone?”

In another presentation, Dirk Schart of RE’FLEKT GmbH presented projects underway for urban dwellers and service technicians and described experience delivery on a variety of AR-enabled devices, such as smartphones and smart glasses.

Specifically, Schart described use cases involving:

  • An AR-enabled emergency responders’ system (such as this one) for firemen that displays a user interface projected on a fireman’s glove and features remote streaming with dispatchers.
  • A smart helmet by AREA member DAQRI for providing both hard hat protection and AR visualization in the field of view.
  • A tangible UI developed by the MIT Media Lab, permitting AR-based visualization of additional user interface features overlaid on products.
  • Hybrid-city lighting that uses projection AR to guide pedestrians along walkways.
  • An AR-enabled window created by RE’FLEKT and displaying information for passengers as part of the Hyperloop transportation system.

Robert Schaefer of TID Informatik GmbH and Daniel Schultheiss of AllVisual presented interesting AR-assisted helicopter maintenance use cases, developed on the basis of the CAD models of Schaefer’s CATALOGcreator product.

The product not only enables real time guidance of mechanics in their daily work, but it showcases another, and just as important aspect of enterprise AR: the visualization of enterprise data and its role in industry 4.0.

Schultheiss spoke about the sheer amounts of data collected by their helicopters before, during and after flight, and how they leverage the data to enhance maintenance. For example, in-flight data can be collected and used for both (predictive) maintenance and insurance. They use tool chains from SAP, TID Informatik and Wikitude to simplify tablet-enabled helicopter servicing, and have developed an integrated data model and cloud technologies to support efficient data collection and usage.

Requirements for Augmented Reality Systems

Several sessions focused on practical aspects of implementing Augmented Reality systems in enterprise.

Representatives from Bosch shared their experiences and challenges with AR projects, and compiled a list of the right questions to ask. The presentation revisited many of the themes that AREA member representative Juergen Lumera spoke about at the AR in Automotive conference in Cologne on October 5th

Simone Schappert, a Masters student at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences provided a survey of tools and technologies for incorporating Augmented Reality in work instructions, and explained the basics of tracking methods (such as marker and markerless tracking), as well as the current landscape of tool vendors. She emphasized the strengths of AR technology in user manuals, such as providing a more immediately helpful (and emotional) experience for users.

In another session of the AR track, Rob Heemels from Canon Business Services discussed the creation of a Learning Activity Plan (LAP) using inputs from intelligent devices and sensors with Augmented Reality (along with some VR) for presentation. Based on recent projects with the Dutch Océ International Training Center

Mixed and Augmented Reality increases target audience engagement with training materials when the service professionals are remote. Professionals who successfully use mixed and Augmented Reality as part of training are likely to feel comfortable with extending its use in service and support use cases.

Augmented Reality is Technical Communication

At heart, the visualization of data in context with Augmented Reality is an important development in the field of technical communication. The presence of AR as a topic in the conference presentations, as well as the interest of traditional technical communication vendors for the technology serves are clear evidence of AR’s growing role. We’re sure to see increasing numbers of AR use cases in the workplace, as well as sessions at tcworld.

Did you attend tcworld 2015? What were your impressions of the Augmented Reality offerings? Leave your comment below.


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