27 May, 2016/Smart City

Augmented reality enters the world of utilities

A field still in the early stages but constantly growing: augmented reality, technology that allows digital information to “superimpose” itself on the physical world. Its real boom is expected, however, for 2020: according to ABI Research, in fact, by that date, augmented reality will build a 100-million-dollar industry. A huge development compared to virtual reality, which has caught the attention and investments of giants like Facebook, Google and Sony, but that, because of its immersive fruition that excludes the outside world, has a limited field of application. By contrast, Augmented Reality’s (AR) versatility and constant contact with reality, are pushing it to gradually grow, advancing it into a great future. Part of its luck seems to be the development of technological applications for the field of the industry, and in particular for the companies in the energy sector.

EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute) has lead the way with one study – still in progress – focused on the relationship between AR and the electric industry, studying the possible applications of augmented reality in utility work. In what way could technology contribute to improving efficiency and increase the safety of the industries that deal with energy? The answer, according to researchers, resides in the nature itself of the work that is carried out in this field: a sensitive work, which entails maintenance, reparation and often the construction of big infrastructures, made up of complex and expensive tools. Augmented reality could provide valid help, directly assisting workers from a pair of glasses, allowing them to get rid of large manuals or portable computers and facilitating their work. In order to carry out experiments that will bring EPRI to give concrete responses about the relationship between technology and work, different startup pioneers of augmented reality have been involved.

Among these, Atheer stands out, a company that has created, in addition to a pair of smart glasses, a platform that allows the creation of augmented reality programs, called AIR (Augmented Interactive Reality). Atheer assures that its applications are adapted to guarantee the perfect functioning and maintenance of industrial tools, thanks to software that recognizes gestures and vocal commands. What’s more, the use of augmented reality could simplify the procedure of some jobs. Maintenance, for example, usually requires the intervention of several experts on site, equipped with instruction manuals. With the Atheer glasses, you can have in your own visual field all the important information, and you can interact with it through simple gestures or vocal commands. It’s also possible to supply your own visual to experts who are far away but connected through live streaming and whose physical presence is no longer required.

«We’re doing research to provide electricity to the public in a safe, reliable and efficient way; in the same way, it’s crucial to assure a higher productivity and less risks for engineers of the companies in the energy field» said John Simmins, technical executive of EPRI. «There’s an enormous potential in the numerous applications of augmented reality, that allow us to develop safe and efficient work flows in order to maintain a reliable, safe and efficient electric system that respects the environment»