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How Asset Maintenance Can Benefit from a Magic Leap

How Asset Maintenance Can Benefit from a Magic Leap

As augmented reality technology expands into the commercial market, so will the need to integrate predictive maintenance and asset management into working practices.

Six years. Almost $2 billion raised from tech investors, including Google and Alibaba. Dozens of teaser videos on YouTube, coupled with exclusive demos to selected members of the media. A startup so secretive that it hasn't shown a single piece of working technology to the general public. Until now.

On December 20, Florida-based Magic Leap finally unwrapped the first version of its augmented reality platform to the world. Numerous media sources all leaped at the chance to report on what has become a bit of a mystery to the average person, with the company pulling back the curtain to reveal wrap-around goggles, a computing pack that you wear on a belt and a wireless controller.

What Do You Get for $2 Billion?

According to Magic Leap's website, the hardware will ship to developers at some point in 2018, with a caveat that the product is "continually advancing and may be different at the time of shipment." To put it into simple terms, the Magic Leap One Creator Edition is essentially a pair of smart glasses (Lightwear) with a battery pack (Lightpack) and a controller that the company has called "Control." The glasses will integrate computer graphics into the real world via mixed reality, a virtual experience that is more commonly thought of as augmented reality. Which it isn't.

Mixed reality is a hybrid form of augmented reality which "mixes" actual reality with virtual reality. On a very basic level, MR overlays the real world with virtual objects and data that make it seem as though that information or visual cues are really in the room. In other words, anybody who is wearing these goggles will be able to see and interact with virtual places, people and things in a physical location.

And that is why the long-awaited arrival of Lightwear et al. is very interesting for companies that integrate predictive maintenance and asset management into their working practices. By 2021, according to IDC, there will be around 25 million AR headsets shipped, 83 percent of which are destined for the commercial market.

Granted, Magic Leap is certainly not the first company to introduce a head-mounted device (HMD) into the marketplace, and there are other models already in use in the engineering sector. The difference is that the company's hardware uses an array of embedded outward-facing sensors that map a physical environment to place virtual objects properly within it. Wired reported that these sensors are likely to include RGB and infrared cameras plus depth sensors, although the exact specs of the HMD itself are not available. What this really means is that the goggles are likely to be a self-contained computer for the user.   

Unlike the Microsoft HoloLens—arguably the only true mixed reality headset currently available to developers—Magic Leap's product has been designed to become iconic. In today's connected society, smart glasses and virtual reality headsets have gained a level of consumer awareness that is often linked to how useful they can be. In terms of usefulness, it is hard to argue against the benefits HMDs bring to the industrial sector.

Data-Centric Asset Maintenance 

"This isn't a pair of glasses with a camera on it," said Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz, in an interview with Rolling Stone. "It's what we think of as spatial computing. It has full awareness."

If that sounds intriguing, then it is worth thinking about which industry sectors could use smart glasses that are both robust and reportedly comfortable. According to a 2016 Cisco report, the number of internet-connected devices will reach 50 billion by 2020. Many of these assets will be part of industrial machinery, creating an ecosystem where the machines talk to each other, leverage data and communicate with humans when there is a problem.

With that in mind, the aforementioned HoloLens is already being used by companies such as General Electric to build a virtual interface for digital twins. This partnership is allowing engineers to not only interact visually with an asset in a virtual space but also monitor that asset for potential wear and tear. The caveat is that the HMD is not going to win any style awards. 

In the vast majority of cases, predictive maintenance or asset management relies on a mix of visual cues and data from the asset itself. Visual capabilities are something that people always understand. In an engineering or manufacturing workplace, if you don't understand something, then you walk to an area and point to it. On a flat screen, you don't really know what you are looking at. In a virtual environment, you are tracking field of vision.

For that reason alone, an effective, lightweight and comfortable HMD could become the missing link between asset operations and predictive maintenance. Time will inevitably tell if Magic Leap has made the breakthrough in mixed reality that we have all been waiting for, but after more than six years of smoke and mirrors we now have a point of reference in terms of hardware. And that is a good start.   

To find out more about how GenesisSolutions can help with your data management and predictive maintenance needs, contact our enterprise asset management specialists today.

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