Since the early years of this decade, “big data” and “the cloud” have gone from flashy buzzwords to fundamental terms and concepts for nearly every business. Together, these two technologies are ushering in an era known as the fourth industrial revolution (or 4IR). Since the end of the eighteenth century, each industrial revolution has made lengthy complex tasks simpler, increasing the rate at which civilization can produce goods and conduct business. And, the coming 4IR is no exception.
Of course, big data and cloud computing are still young; data scientists and networking gurus are still working to understand and implement them. Fortunately, mechanisms which may radically simplify the use of big data and cloud computing are emerging right now — augmented reality (AR) and the Internet of Things (IoT) may soon be the driving force behind the 4IR.
Current Implementations in Production and Construction
In fields like construction and manufacturing, networked sensors and heads-up displays (HUDs) are already being planned and implemented. For example, consider how Caterpillar is changing the handling of heavy equipment. Using a series of networked sensors, Caterpillar is already revolutionizing the way their machines are designed, used, and serviced. Furthermore, workers outfitted with HUDs — fed information from nearby IoT devices — are able to see equipment capacities, product specifications, and component information. Caterpillar is implementing the heavy equipment of the future, designing and testing machines in a completely virtual environment.
For construction site personnel, AR and the IoT work together. Coresystems (which offers cloud-based field service) and SightCall (which offers cloud-hosted AR video conferencing) have combined their technologies to make workers safer and more efficient. IoT devices on construction sites give workers real-time feedback. If anything goes wrong, those workers are able to pass that information instantly to offsite engineers. Of course, in the past, engineer visits to construction sites caused delays and cost construction companies thousands of dollars a day or more. Now, however, construction engineers can use AR technology to visit sites remotely, diagnose issues, and instruct crew members to change plans. And these advances won’t just affect construction: in manufacturing, the convergence of AR and IoT will allow plant managers to use HUDs to view production environments remotely — and they’ll be able to more accurately monitor conditions with the help of intelligent sensors installed throughout facilities.
Currently, high-speed wireless networking is possible only through a series of wireless routers connected to a broadband network. For the convergence of AR and IoT to truly make an impact, 5G wireless technology is needed. This technology will allow businesses in all industries to process data at a rate one thousand times faster than it’s being processed on today’s wireless networks. With the arrival of 5G wireless, battery-operated IoT devices will no longer need a broadband connection to send data to the cloud, empowering deeper and more complex networking to be rendered in AR. As faster connection speeds give way to higher video quality, the quality of renderings themselves will also improve.
5G connectivity will also have a significant impact on the use of AR and IoT in farming. Farms and grazing lands, often thousands of acres in size, are far too vast for current technology to provide high-speed insights for. However, when IoT devices are powered by 5G connectivity, farmers will be able to use sensors to track animals or analyze moisture levels in the soil — as though they were standing in the fields themselves. Machines will also be remotely controlled using AR technology, revolutionizing manual harvesting techniques that have continued, essentially unchanged for decades or more.
Some of the advantages of the AR and IoT convergence are already here. As technology continues to advance (and 5G connectivity offers an improved network on these technologies to run), the 4IR seems closer than ever. Smaller, more sensitive IoT devices are already being developed, as are more seamless and functional AR experiences.
Is your business ready to take advantage of the changes these technologies will bring?