Case Study

Engineering & Art Intersect at New Augment Reality Center to Boost Immersive Technology Adoption in Manufacturing

Dr. Khalid Mirza
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The AR Opportunity  

Augmented Reality (AR) offers a means to present information in a highly intuitive and immersive way by superimposing digital images and data on real-world objects in real-time. This merging of the 3-dimensional physical world and digital data can open new and better ways to interact with machines, effectively bridging the digital and the physical worlds. It is a fundamentally new means of engaging with people that helps individuals absorb and act on information and instructions [1].

The global augmented and virtual reality market size was $11.35 billion in 2017, and the augmented and virtual reality market forecast is projected to reach $571.42 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 63.3% from 2018 to 2025. The gaming segment dominates the overall market and is expected to continue this trend due to the growth of the mobile gaming industry. Other segments projected to see large growth are the entertainment, health care, and manufacturing industries.

The market growth is expected to be driven by smartphones/mobile gaming and an increase in the adoption of augmented and virtual reality solutions in education. One of AR’s limiting industry adoption factors is the lack of effective user experience. This was the driving force behind the idea to create a center where we can leverage the rapid adoption and advancement happening in the gaming industry to give a big boost in the development of interfaces and content for the AR experience in the industrial sector.

AR can offer a cost-effective and efficient solution in training and skill development by replicating the real-world scenarios with AR-enabled solutions. These solutions can create a virtual environment superposed onto the real world, where a trainee can understand and tackle challenges with strategic mapping.

Industry 4.0 globally has forced the industry to “adopt or die.” There is a need in Michigan for industrial companies to understand the AR segment of Industry 4.0 and how using these technologies will help them remain competitive globally and change their image.

As more companies begin using this AR technology, the region is going to need the workforce to be able to implement, use, monitor, and troubleshoot AR technology in the manufacturing industry. ARC at Oakland University is strategically situated to be the ideal leader in this workforce space. By helping students to become a workforce knowledgeable in AR, ARC will provide the skills to help our region be competitive in attracting the global AR/VR technology companies here in our community.  


If we have a workforce knowledgeable in AR for industrial applications, our companies become more globally competitive, which in turn, helps them become more stable in our community. Southeast Michigan in particular has a concentrated collection of leading automotive, defense, and manufacturing companies that can become one of the largest future users of AR and immersive technologies.

Additionally, ARC can not only benefit the interests of higher education and corporations but will also be available to our broad community to educate them on this emerging technology.  


Merging Creativity & Engineering 

One of the key decisions made when forming the vision for this center was to merge creativity with engineering innovation. Even though the AR applications are realized using cutting-edge hardware and software technologies, it is also a very visual experience whose effectiveness highly depends on a properly designed user interface and user experience. Combining Oakland University’s engineering faculty and students with proficiency in computer vision, embedded hardware technology, and artificial intelligence with that of the College for Creative Studies (CCS) creative faculty and students is the magic recipe for ARC to venture into immersive technology. This integration of two diverse fields not only helps develop cross skills in engineering and creative students who will become the workforce for the industry around us, but also helps the industry to realize innovative and highly effective immersive technology applications.


The Importance of Industry Collaboration

The ARC has been primarily created to meet the needs of the Southeast Michigan industry and beyond to develop a workforce that is skilled in immersive technology for a broad sector of industries.  Therefore, it only makes sense that the center collaborates closely with the industry around us. The other key decision made when establishing the center was to form an industry advisory board that will play a significant role in the operation of the center by guiding the development of immersive technology programs at OU and CCS. These programs will include a curriculum focused on immersive technology and its applications for the industry, along with workshops for students and industry. A creative and immersive laboratory will be established to showcase state-of-art AR and VR technology where students and industry can engage with and explore this technology and its industrial applications.  At this time, the ARC founding industry partners include ABB Inc., AM General, Continental, Epic Games, General Motors, Hirotec America, KUKA Robotics, Magna International, MAHLE Industries, Rave Computer, Siemens, and US Military Ground Vehicle Systems. ARC membership will be available to other companies who want to support and utilize the center for the many benefits it will provide.

Many Southeast Michigan companies are starting their journey to develop immersive applications. One of the important topics that ARC is going to address for industry is the adoption and promotion of open interfaces and standards for developing applications in this area. This will enable the portability of applications for cross-platform experience and simplify software development. With various hardware and software components for immersive applications working together on common interfaces, hardware scalability becomes a much easier problem to solve where the same AR application can be experienced on different devices like smartphones, tablets, head-mounted displays, smart glasses, etc.  

Content creation for immersive applications is another major issue that is keeping the industry from fully embracing this technology. ARC has a two-fold approach to tackle this issue head-on. Providing curriculum and workshops for students and industry will help develop the workforce skilled in creating immersive content. Additionally, using a powerful gaming engine as a platform to build immersive applications will enable the simple-to-develop approaches and multitude of powerful tools available to the game development world to produce feature-rich, photorealistic, interactive content for industrial applications.

The future of immersive technology is very bright for industrial applications with its use from the design review to the digital showroom. This in itself is one of the enablers for the Industry 4.0 transition.  Adding virtual collaborative environments for a cloud-hosted multi-user/multi-platform experience, and AI/machine learning for smart AR applications will open the door for many other industrial applications. ARC is well-positioned to leverage the guidance from industry, state-of-art technology, and a mix of engineering and creative students to support this future in a center where engineering and art intersects.

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