5G and AR/VR: Transformative Use Cases with Edge Computing
AR and VR are still relatively niche technologies that have not yet been adopted at scale. Part of this is due to challenges that can now be overcome by 5G and edge computing. We deep-dive on specific use cases and real-life applications in this article.
With the commercial deployment of 5G, augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) encompass a host of new use cases which, augmented by edge computing, will bring great value to industry and enterprises. AR involves adding digital overlays to live views. This can be done using a smartphone but in industry is more likely to be deployed on a pair of smart glasses. VR is a complete immersion in the digital view and must be deployed using a pair of glasses that restrict the vision of the wearer from reality around them.
5G will improve AR/VR
While AR/VR technology has existed for a couple of years, adoption at scale needs 5G and edge computing. The ultra-low latency and high bandwidth that 5G brings is crucial in enabling the use cases. For many industrial and enterprises customers, private 5G solutions ensure that the applications receive the capabilities required to carry out mission critical processes, where public 5G networks either do not extend sufficient coverage or do not deliver a specific capability to the required level or are deemed not secure enough. Private 5G networks are networks owned by and dedicated to a private party and fully operated within the site of the party, this has benefits for security, latency, bandwidth and other areas. Particularly if applications require rendering of 3D models, the higher bandwidth supplied by a private network is required.
AR/VR latency requirements demand edge
The move to the edge means that images can be rendered much closer to the end-user (compared to the cloud) hence further enhancing the use cases. For AR/VR and the associated use cases, ultra-low latency and high bandwidth are so crucial that private 5G and edge computing are more necessary than for many other 5G-enabled use cases. End-to-end latency should not exceed 20ms for the wearer to have a comfortable experience, therefore private networks and edge are crucial to the success of most applications, as shown on the diagram below.
Figure 1: AR/VR latency requirements
AR/VR can bring a range of different use cases to industry, including remote experts, training, maintenance and repairs, among others. In this article we will deep-dive on 3 AR/VR companies that we believe bring innovation to the space and whose applications can add significant value to industrial settings: Holo-light, Arvizio, and Virsabi.
Use case 1: Remote expert
Remote expert involves a worker wearing a pair of smart glasses and an expert in a different location being able to see what they are seeing. This expert would then be able to give live direction to the worker on site, whether this be repairing a machine, constructing a new part, or cleaning machinery. This brings a number of benefits: reduced unplanned downtime, reduced cycle time, reduced defect rate, reduced carbon emissions from travel, and reduced cost of transporting experts.
Case study: Holo-Light
Founded in 2015, Holo-Light’s ISAR SDK remote rendering platform allows users to stream big data XR applications in real time. ISAR is easy to integrate into third party apps and already empowers Holo-Lights AR Engineering Space ARES Pro. The software enables engineers to visualize and interact with 3D CAD data in an AR environment. This allows engineers to use their highly specialised knowledge more efficiently. Experts can work with colleagues remotely, regardless of geographical distance.
Use case 2: Real-time collaboration
Real-time collaboration involves employees across multiple different sites interacting with the same virtual objects and collaborating on design. Real-time sharing of 3D models, documents and annotations drastically improves the ability of workers to collaborate remotely compared to a traditional video call, for example. In the manufacturing sector especially, this will have great value, not just during Covid-19 but in the coming years when increasingly firms try to reduce unnecessary travel and reduce barriers to expertise.
Case study: Arvizio
Founded in 2016, Arvizio’s XR software platform supports a range of spatial data formats which allows users to process and prepare 3D models for viewing with AR/VR devices. Their platform, XR Director, manages multi-user sessions and optimises complex 3D models for real-time session and sharing services. These sessions can be joined using smart glasses, VR headsets or mobile handsets. This allows all members of a team to collaborate in a meeting wherever they are located.
Use case 3: Guided maintenance, repairs, and operations
Guided maintenance, repairs, and operations (MRO) involves a factory floor employee wearing smart glasses and AR overlaying instructions or notes for them when carrying out tasks. Manufacturers can upload notes to be aware of when constructing a particular part, for example. A repairs technician located elsewhere could leave notes to indicate a broken part which on-site workers can then fix. There are numerous sub-use cases which make guided MRO a valuable use case for AR/VR.
Case study: Holo-Light
Holo-Light are also active in this use case. Their Stylus XR product can be used as an AR pen that can sketch 3D holograms, and mark and measure objects. Manufacturers or designers of machinery can leave notes and instructions for assemblers to see with an accuracy of 1-3mm. This solution reduces required resources, and reduces planning and installation errors.
Use case 4: Education
Using AR/VR for education and training is another emerging use case that will bring a lot of value. OEMs or vendors will be able to send their parts or machinery with building instructions loaded onto AR/VR headsets which mean any employee at the buyer is able to assemble it. Within a company all new recruits can be given AR/VR headsets which show them how to carry out actions correctly. Again, this reduces required resources and hopefully will minimise errors as well.
Case study: Virsabi
Virsabi are one of the first VR dedicated companies and have solutions for AR and MR as well. Their solution allows annotations to be left in real-time by engineers, inspectors, etc. so that virtual sticky notes are left on machinery. Other people can then follow instructions and be guided through the physical space by the virtual sticky notes that have been left behind. It is simple for someone who has expert knowledge to leave instructions, and simple for someone else to then follow these at a later date.
Training in VR has great potential for training, employees can train in life-like, potentially dangerous situations again and again without travelling to test centres. For example, Virsabi enabled an immersive safety course for Maersk Training so that employees could learn the right manoeuvres and behaviour when docking a vessel.
Use case 5: Sales and marketing
Sales and marketing is an area that has been using AR/VR solutions increasingly as well. For example, vendors of machinery for factory floors are able to walk prospective buyers through virtual versions of the factory floor using VR, or can show them where a new piece of machinery could fit onto the current floor using AR. Alternatively, vendors could set up model shop floors at their site and then buyers can be walked through this from their offices using an AR/VR headset. This is another use case which brings benefits through reducing the need for travel, both environmental and economic.
Case study: Virsabi
Virsabi is active in this use case as well. They helped a manufacturer to launch a new product in 2020 that would usually have occurred by flying sales representatives in from around the world, but because of Covid-19 had to be held online. Virsabi’s AR/VR solutions can be deployed in this way for large events, or on a small scale when a potential buyer wants to have a personal tour around a model set or shop floor.
Virsabi also helped Danish fashion and furniture brands to develop a sensory box to boost exports during Covid-19. The box was sent to selected buyers and influencers around the world and contained samples of materials, and a VR headset with a pre-installed application. In the application the user enters a virtual universe where they can see the products up close from every angle, watch 360-degree videos from showrooms and manufacturing facilities, and watch cinema style presentations of the companies. On top of this, Virsabi developed 3D webAR models of the furniture so that buyers could place them in their own living rooms using phones or tablets. See an example from one of the involved companies here: https://virsabi.com/takt/.
5G and Edge Computing transform AR/VR: Unlocking New Possibilities
5G and edge computing enable AR/VR for a range of new applications. Some of these may have been possible in some capacity previously, but their value has now been unlocked. Private networks are important generally in industry, for higher security amongst other things, but the higher bandwidth and lower latency that they enable is particularly important for AR/VR. Being able to render 3D images takes AR/VR applications to the next level. The lower latency that edge brings is also crucial for ensuring that the applications are comfortable for the end-user, and that they are able to carry out tasks effectively. We expect many more application providers in AR/VR to emerge over the coming years as the technology develops, but those listed in this article are certainly amongst the earliest movers.
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