Augmented Reality (AR): The Future of Supply Chains?

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What was once considered science fiction is now reality

Holograms and augmented reality have been in popular culture for years. This technology has been shown in popular movies and TV shows such as Star Wars, Gundam, and Ironman. Today, this technology is moving beyond the Hollywood big screen and entering our daily lives.

Modern automobiles use this technology to superimpose a heads up display (HUD) onto your windshield. The goal is to project the most useful information directly in front of the operator’s eyes without obstructing his/her visual line of sight. Companies such as Google, Samsung, Oculus, HTC and Microsoft have been fighting for market share in the augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) space.  Microsoft has recently released their version of what they think is the future of modern computing. No smartphone, no tethered wires, no mouse and keyboard, just a Windows 10 hologram projecting supercomputer for your face.

Enter the Microsoft HoloLens

“Microsoft HoloLens is the first self-contained, holographic computer, enabling you to engage with your digital content and interact with holograms in the world around you.” –Microsoft

With any new technology, the questions are all similar. What is it? How does it work? What are the “real world” applications? How will this technology be used across multiple industries?

There has been confusion between augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) . Often, the two get mixed up and misused in conversation.

  • Virtual Reality immerses the user into a 100% digital environment to interact with. VR headsets are most popular in the video game industry. Gaming is taking advantage of this technology by placing the user into an environment with no real-world consequences.  Want to experience racing super cars but don’t have the funds to purchase a Lamborghini? A VR headset such as a Oculus Rift or HTC Vive can help you experience that car in an adaptable simulator (minus the smell of fine Italian leather). Photo credit: www.unboxedtechnology.com

 

  • Augmented Reality devices, such as HoloLens, juxtapose holograms over our physical environment. AR blurs the line between the physical and digital world. With augmented reality, you can race a real Lamborghini and have intelligent information displayed in front of your eyes such as a racing line, speed, and obstructions on the road.

 

 

How does this apply to material handling and the supply chain?

Your customers want goods faster. You want more accuracy and streamlined processes from your employees. Recently, there has been talk about the use of augmented reality (AR) within the distribution center. Using AR, we can redefine our current processes and integrate with today’s most advanced automation technology.

  • Supply Chain Software – While this is a revolutionary piece of hardware, software is the key factor here. Within a distribution center the Warehouse Management System (WMS) mainly focuses on inventory and labor requirements. Communication to inventory levels and employee performance will play a vital role for HoloLens. A warehouse control system (WCS) can also benefit from holograms. As problems arise on the floor, we rely on our human machine interface (HMI) display to alert us. With HoloLens the user can walk the physical floor and receive real-time updates as he/she passes each section of the material handling system. With more advanced functions of HoloLens, it can even provide holographic step-by-step instructions on how to fix the issue.
  • Picking for example, can be improved drastically by empowering employees with HoloLens. The operator can now view real-time location of items and quantity to pick. Enabling faster cycle times to fulfill orders and a more efficient workforce without the expense of pick-to-light hardware.  If voice-picking is better suited for your operation, HoloLens will be able to enable hand’s free picking using the operators’ vocal commands.
  • Collaborative Robotics – Robotics and humans will come together to augment each other.  The human can map out the robot’s path, while the robot will listen and take over the tedious repetitive tasks that a human may not be capable of doing alone. We can use the human for his/her strengths such as awareness, perception, and decision making, while the robot’s strengths are precision, physical strength, and repetitiveness.  HoloLens can be the bridge of communication between the two.

 

Visit us in booth S3646 during ProMat 2017, April 3-6, in Chicago to experience virtual reality and augmented reality. Attendees can try on a Microsoft HoloLens headset and be directed to pick from a flow rack and place in a tote on an Adept AIV. Attendees can also try on an HTC Vive headset and be immersed in a material handling system environment.

Mark Curtis
Mark Curtis is the Software Development Manager at Bastian Solutions’ software division, headquartered in Louisville, KY.

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