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5 February 2016

PTC’s Vuforia announces augmented reality upgrades

With a studio audience of some 200 journalists and over 14,000 livestream viewers, business software specialist PTC announced some fairly significant upgrades to its Vuforia Augmented Reality division – which it acquired from Qualcomm for some $65m back in October.

The announcement includes support for Windows 10 app development and Visual Studio support for adding AR to Windows 10 applications, but more significantly, the launch of VuMark – Vuforia’s QR-code equivalent for AR apps that will help them identify and interact with products in the wild.

Augmented reality is emerging in enterprise deployments, with consumer uses somewhat lacking. Google Glass’ launch wowed the consumer electronics press, which envisioned a world of information overlays. But such a reality has not yet come to pass – whereas certain enterprise applications are demonstrating a proven business value for the technology.

And PTC is determined to use Vuforia’s AR expertise to expand on its CAD software and product lifecycle management (PLM) systems – with AR-enabled service and maintenance applications using the 3D modelling used by a customer in the design process to carry out in-field repairs and maintenance.

“PTC believes the technology has arrived to completely transform the way we interact with and experience things, and that technology is augmented reality,” said Jay Wright, Vuforia general manager & senior vice president, PTC. “Our goal with Vuforia is to deliver an augmented reality experience on top of all types of things – and fundamentally change the future of work.”

With the Windows 10 support, Vuforia says that its customers will be able to target the new generation of Windows devices, including Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 tablet and Surface Book laptop. It adds that developers will be able to make use of Unity, one of the leading tools for 3D app development, to build cross-platform apps that will run across iOS, Android and Windows 10. In addition, Vuforia notes that developers would be able to use Microsoft Visual Studio to add AR functionality to their Windows 10 applications.

The VuMark is a small pattern that developers would include on their products, designed to look like a product sticker or logo, which encodes data for the reader-device in a pattern around its border. When scanning the VuMark, the reader device would decode the pattern and generate a prompt or URL, which would be processed by the application.

In the on-stage demo, PTC showed a KTM motorcycle technician using a tablet to locate the oxygen sensor on a bike, and receive step-by-step instruction on how to go about changing the unit. Aided by 3D diagrams and models, the technician would be guided through the process, and could then register the completion of the work with a management app – which could be tied into a CRM or warranty management system too, likely managed on PTC’s ThingWorx application PaaS.

For businesses, there’s an obvious benefit to being able to provide their in-house service personnel with such technology. But the technology would also allow more effective outsourcing and partnerships, without the need for the designer to train technicians to such an extent.

Other AR demonstrations feature control-room operatives guiding field-technicians through the maintenance process, or those remote workers using the platforms to identify products and diagnose problems more efficiently – using PTC’s Thing Experience (ThingX) browser, which was on-show during the ThingEvent.

For companies like KTM, technologies like VuMark allow it to sell into markets that don’t have such an extensive servicing and maintenance knowledgebase, with more of a reassurance that its products can be reliably maintained in these new opportunities.

To this end, AR allows companies to sell increasingly complex products into emerging markets, while still being able to offer some reassurance to these new prospective customers that the necessary technicians required to keep those products running will be available as and when they are needed. That’s a big advantage for companies like KTM, but also for larger industrial companies too.

“At PTC, we realized we needed to transform our technology portfolio to align with the transformation happening in products today, so over the past two years, PTC has invested more than $700 million dollars to expand our technology platform in a way that leverages our proud heritage with physical products together with new technology for connectivity and cloud-based product capability,” said CEO Jim Heppelmann, at PTC’s ThingEvent event and livestream.