This week I attended PTC’s LiveWorx18 conference in Boston, where the company demonstrated some of the ways its customers are leveraging AR technology today. PTC is an interesting company because it has a wide range of solutions beyond AR, and it has done a good job of telling a story that shows how industry verticals can utilize its Internet of Things (IoT) technology as well as its Computer Aided Design (CAD) products to drive next-generation AR experiences.
Back in 2015, PTC purchased the Vuforia business from Qualcomm. Vuforia is a mobile vision platform that uses a device’s camera to give apps the ability to see the real world. It was among the first software developer kits (SDKs) to enable augmented reality on a wide range of mobile devices, long before Apple launched ARKit or Google launched ARCore (today Vuforia works with both of those platforms). Today developers can use it to create AR apps for Android, iOS, and UWP. As a result, there are tens of thousands of Vuforia-based apps in the real world.
In addition to the Vuforia Engine, PTC also has software called Vuforia Studio (formerly ThinkWorx Studio) that lets use create AR experiences such as training instructions using existing CAD assets using a simple drag-and-drop interface (I’ve watched PTC executives create new AR experiences on stage during events using this software). Vuforia View (formerly ThingWorx View) is a universal browser that lets users consume that Studio-created content. And Vuforia Chalk is the company’s purpose-built remote assistance app that enables an expert to communicate and annotate with an on-site technician through an AR interface. Most companies today are utilizing PTC-based technology through mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones already present in the enterprise. But a growing number are testing on headsets from partners including Microsoft, RealWear, and Vuzix.
In addition to these shipping products, the company recently acquired new technology that it will deliver in future products that enable the creation of step-by-step AR experiences by a person wearing an AR headset (Waypoint) and to later edit that experience for consumption (Reality Editor). Training is one of the key use cases for AR across a wide range of industry verticals, and this type of software will make it much easier for companies to streamline knowledge transfer between experienced workers and new hires.
IoT Plus AR
I’ve long suggested that one of the powerful things about AR is that it has the potential to let us humans see into the Internet of Things. PTC demonstrated this ability during its keynote. It also showed a very cool example of moving a digitally created control switch from an AR interface to a physical world control panel (in this case, the notebook screen of an IoT-connected machine). The company also created a real, working manufacturing line on the expo floor that demonstrated the integration of IoT, AR, and robots.
There are plenty of companies doing good work in AR today, but one of the things that make PTC stand out is the fact that its software is straightforward to use, it helps companies leverage many of the digital assets it already has, and it promises to help them make sense of data generated by the IoT.
I attended several of the working sessions during the show, including one on connecting AR to business value. PTC isn’t just talking the talk: During that session, the presenter gave real-world advice to IT decision makers trying to utilize AR in areas such as service, sales, and manufacturing.
The Future Requires Partners
One of the things I like about PTC and its CEO Jim Heppelmann is that the company is confident in its product line but humble enough to know that partnerships are key to building out new technologies such as IoT and AR. In the weeks leading up the show, and on the keynote stage, the company announced strategic partnerships with companies including Rockwell Automation, ANSYS, and Elysium. And earlier this year it announced a key partnership with Microsoft (PTC even had Alex Kipman, Microsoft Technical Fellow, present the day-two keynote).
As a software company, PTC depends upon hardware partners to bring the next-generation of hardware to market. It knows that AR on mobile devices is powerful, but AR on a headset is game-changing for workers who need to use their hands to get work done. Like me, executives at PTC are eager–and a bit impatient–to see new hardware from companies such as Microsoft, Magic Leap, and others ship into the market. This hardware is going to be key to moving AR forward in the enterprise. I look forward to seeing what PTC and its partners can do with it once it finally happens.