3D collaboration – evolving from playground gadget to serious enterprise solution
3D collaboration is not a new topic. We at Atos started developments around augmented (AR), virtual (VR) and mixed reality (MR) many years ago. Our focus has been on applications for the industry and especially on the improvement of operational excellence, e.g., to streamline maintenance and assembly processes.
Therefore, holographic work spheres managing collaboration with experts and peers as well as interfaces into back-end system to access work instructions and manuals in real time have been developed. Holographic digital twins support assembly and service tasks by showing the right position of bolts or flaps on to-be serviced objects.
This triggered a lot of customer engagements, fancy demos and exhibition presentations, but unfortunately the business as such has not been picking up. This had to do with limitations on the hardware. For example, smart devices that have been too heavy to be worn in an eight-hour shift, and rural areas or shop floors may lack connectivity.
Thus, one can argue whether the predicted market growth, e.g., AR and VR immersive collaboration solutions increasing from less than $12 million 2019 to $400 million in 20251), is realistic.
Have the hype and related R&D investments been in vain?
Business challenges and benefits of 3D collaboration will drive demand
The answer is no. Companies cannot afford to ignore 3D collaboration if they do not want to lose knowledge and therefore business in the future. A few reasons:
- The socializing of knowledge and expertise within an organization becomes critical in the advent of scarce experts in the future
3D Collaboration is not a new topic. Developments around augmented (AR), virtual (VR) and mixed reality (MR) began many years ago. Much technological progress has been made in the meantime, which triggered a lot of customer engagements, fancy demos and exhibition presentations. Unfortunately the business as such has not been picking up. Have these investment made been in vain?
- Increasing third-party competition in field services, for example, implies first-time right and efficient use of experts realizing cost advantages
- Shortened product lifecycles and time to market necessitate better collaboration in R&D, manufacturing and service
These challenges are reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic cutting off face-to-face collaboration and driving virtual and remote collaboration. 3D collaboration based on AR, VR or MR can contribute to bridging existing and future knowledge gaps, but more than that, to improving operations. Lockheed use smart glasses and AR in the assembly of its F-35 fighter airplanes. Overlays visualize each part to be assembled and its exact mounting position, and show assembly instructions. This results in better assembly quality and shorter assembly time.
In the future, we will see more interactive and 3D-collaboration spaces to jointly work on product developments or maintenance solutions. In these spaces, experts and employees bridge long distances and avoid time-consuming and costly travel. The success of 3D collaboration will be based on the ability of solution providers to manage customer relationships to:
- Customize collaboration stories to individual customers on all company levels in scope to address the customer pain points in collaboration
- Involve all relevant stakeholders in the design of the collaboration solution
Technology will pave the way for wide adoption of 3D collaboration
The lack of connectivity has been a severe limitation to remote and 3D collaboration up 'til now. The majority of shop floors or powerhouses are not equipped with Wi-Fi or UWB. To bridge this gap, Atos developed a portable device that creates a meshed on-premises network integrating cameras, tablets, video and smart glasses for the exchange of audio, video and AR/VR content. The connectivity to peers or remote experts is realized via LTE or VSAT. The rollout of 5G networks, e.g., in major European countries, will also drive the development of 3D applications as well as their use for collaboration. With 5G's high bandwidth and increased wireless capacity, it will allow for higher resolution and frame rate of visual content. Its low latency will reduce data buffering challenges and lag for interactive/immersive content. Other technology developments that will ease and enrich 3D collaboration include more powerful graphics for better visualization, e.g., of objects or 3D-sensing cameras for image capturing. The adoption of these technologies might take a few more years, but that will not reverse the widespread use of 3D collaboration.
Notes: 1. ABI Research 2019