Augmented reality is a technology often used in architecture, real estate and the automotive industry. It layers computer-generated information atop whatever a person is seeing, hearing or touching, thus “augmenting” the real experience. Some superyacht design firms have used AR for a number of years, and now, the technology has entered the production-boat industry.
Boston Whaler used AR at last year’s dealer meeting to display a 16-foot Montauk that wasn’t really there. Dutch firm Vripack is using AR to design new yachts. A technical college in Wisconsin shows students the internal workings of a diesel engine through AR headsets so they understand the practice behind the theory.
“We’re in the early stages of developing AR,” says Bart Bouwhuis, creative director at Vripack, a Dutch naval architect and engineering studio that has been using virtual reality for years. “We see AR as the next step. There will come a time when boatbuilding is nothing more than replacing a projected hologram with actual boat parts.”
AR refers to the technologies that layer digital information over a user’s view of the world. This digital information can be anything from 2-D data, instructions and interactive hotspots (which respond to gaze, proximity and gestures) to complex 3-D models created with computer-assisted design. Many people know AR from Pokemon Go, which used a smartphone’s GPS location setting to layer animated monsters over the phone’s camera view.
Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook are investing heavily in the AR field, making it all but certain to grow. Outside of games and entertainment, AR is being used in product design and development across different industries. In AR, 3-D CAD models of an object can be superimposed on the real world as holograms in full scale, so changes can be made without building physical models. A naval architect can walk around a boat’s hologram and make alterations without tooling or parts.
Troy Kollmann, who oversees a multidisciplinary team at Brunswick’s I-JET Lab at the University of Illinois, has been experimenting with AR for several years. Kollmann’s team designed the AR Whaler Montauk last year, employing a Microsoft HoloLens headset that allows a user to walk around the holographic, life-sized boat. The user can configure the boat with different colors and seat schemes.
“We see a few niche uses for AR,” Kollmann says. “One is for conceptualizing different designs and alternatives for a product, and the other is as a sales tool.”
As the next step, Whaler may give customers the ability to view different AR configurations over a base physical model of the boat, says Kollmann. Windworks Sailing & Powerboating Club, a Seattle-based Catalina Yachts dealer and sailing club, used a choreographed, multi-user HoloLens experience at this year’s Seattle Boat Show to convey being on progressively larger boats. “The experiential AR app puts a sailor on the deck of a life-size keelboat and then teleports them to the deck of a larger cruiser,” says Mark Evans, Windworks’ owner. “I do see the potential for this technology in our industry. This could be very helpful with selling a new line of boats.”
Unlike with a static boat show display, AR can showcase an entire product line in a small booth space. Potential clients need only smart glasses.
Ideas from other industries
In the automotive world, Audi created an immersive AR experience around a real Audi A7 to tell the story of its design and development. Kia Motors saw increased calls to dealerships after showcasing its 2018 Stinger GT with AR in Facebook Messenger. Users can view the car in their driveway, as well as take and share photographs of the car with their friends.
Furniture sellers Ikea and Wayfair are also putting AR power into customers’ personal spaces, with tables, chairs and more that can be projected into a potential customer’s home.
Training is another area where AR has value — perhaps to help the marine industry’s critical shortage of technicians. Jay Duca, an instructor with Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton, Wisconsin, added an AR learning component to diesel technology classes.
“Our students can look at an engine’s four strokes of combustion through all six cylinders through the HoloLens,” Duca says. “We normally can’t take a look at running engines while they are operating, so it reinforces the learning we’re doing in the classroom and speeds up the process.”
Mercedes-Benz Global Training is using the HoloLens to educate service technicians about repair techniques, and sales professionals about new car features. A technician can look at a physical model of a car and, using gestures, get an X-ray view of the interior components.
Another compelling use for AR is service and repair. Portland, Oregon-based Streem uses a smartphone app to give home-service technicians a peek into a person’s problem areas without setting foot inside the house. Using video chat, a technician directs the homeowner with a laser pointer, annotations and voice. The technician can take measurements, get part numbers, and shoot photos and videos remotely.
Porsche provides its field technicians with smart glasses to conference in specialists on difficult issues.
Challenges and the future
AR smart glasses are still a few years away from being a mainstream consumer product. The current generation of glasses are bulky and not designed to be worn for long periods of time. Younger clients are more comfortable wearing smart glasses. “The biggest hurdle is getting comfortable with the headset,” Bouwhuis says. “For many people, it’s outside their comfort zone.”
AR experiences also need 3-D content. Engineering firms that design with CAD are at an advantage. Others will have to create the 3-D models from scratch or do some form of 3-D scanning.
One of the I-JET team’s biggest challenges on the Whaler project was simplifying the Montauk’s CAD model to run on the Holo-Lens headset. Despite the expense, Kollmann says, the experience was so good that some dealers were open to investing in the technology for their showrooms.
New infrastructure, platforms and tools for AR development are being released monthly. Cloud-based 3-D content delivery is gaining popularity. Tools from companies such as PiXYZ Software and Umbra can assist with CAD model simplification.
Bouwhuis says the return on investment could be tremendous for marine businesses. “I have no actual numbers, but the ultimate value is a no-brainer, not only just money but more so in time,” he says. “Imagine the value of reducing errors in prototyping as well as production of one-off projects. There’s also value in allowing the owner to really understand their yacht. The owner can walk on and through it before it’s even built. That makes it a strong bonding tool, which makes it priceless.”
An AR Primer
What’s the difference between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)?
VR creates an entirely new digital world, where the physical world is completely hidden. Headsets including Google Cardboard, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift provide such an environment.
AR, by contrast, adds digital content to the real world. Some AR devices also can scan and recognize physical surfaces and environments. AR is observable through mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, and wearables including smart glasses.
AR is used far more widely in business applications than VR.
What is mixed reality (MR)?
This term carries different definitions from different users. The Consumer Technology Association defines MR as seamlessly blending a user’s real-world environment with digitally created content, creating a hybrid experience.
Why is AR useful?
We live in a 3-D world, but interface with 2-D screens. Visualizing a complex, 3-D object using a 2-D screen is difficult. That is why Google is introducing AR to Google Maps, where navigational directions are laid over a smartphone’s camera view of the surroundings. AR brings contextual data to the physical environment. Imagine seeing instructions through a pair of smart glasses, overlaid directly above a diesel engine you are repairing.
What about AR glasses?
AR smart glasses are expected to be the next generation computing medium. Current smart glasses are much more sophisticated than Google Glass. The HoloLens, for example, is a standalone computer that allows natural modes of interaction based on a wearer’s gaze, gesture and voice. Magic Leap just released a similar pair of smart glasses. Rumors are that Apple may release smart glasses in 2020.
What is changing in the AR industry?
The number of AR companies has grown 50 percent since the end of 2017. Computer vision technology and artificial intelligence are now getting integrated with AR. For example, ARKit, a mobile AR software development kit from Apple, has integrated spatial awareness, 3-D object recognition, face detection and tracking technologies.
What does all this mean to consumers?
AR features are now available on more than 500 million devices that are present in almost every home. AR is going to become more mainstream, with platform support from Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook. AR development no longer requires very specialized sets of skills. Real value will emerge with the growth of creative, contextual and connected use cases.
Suzanna Kovoor is the technical director at Applied AR, a Seattle-based creator of AR apps. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the October 2018 issue.