Technical Authoring as a game-changer of Augmented Reality projects


Augmented Reality (AR) stands for the merging of the digital and the physical world. A typical example is of a person wearing AR glasses, looking at his surroundings. The AR glasses recognize the physical environment and projects context-relevant information in 3D into the field of view of the user.

This information appears as three-dimensional holograms and can be directly placed on real items, such as a machine that needs maintenance. This is the big difference from the little brother of AR – Virtual Reality (VR). With VR, a user is wearing a headset that entirely encases the eyes and masks out the real environment, completely diving into the virtual world.

While this digital information (such as the machine instructions mentioned earlier) is already available in a two-dimensional format on mobile devices, the true potential of AR lies in bringing them to the physical, real world.

The potential of AR

While AR is already being used in the enterprise context by a small number of pioneers for a couple of years now, an ever-increasing movement in the market for AR products and services has been noted since 2016. The varied use cases and the related advantages mean that companies are increasingly investing in AR, and this investment is estimated to reach $ 50 billion by 2020. Companies that are already working on the subject recognize the added value of AR as a part of their product and as a channel to improve their performance.

The enterprise AR use cases are innumerable. In their after-sales service, our client Bühler is implementing industrial-grade AR glasses intended for the area of die-casting. They use this enterprise AR technology as a communication device, to encourage their customers to make use of their services. When the Bühler Service department is contacted, their experts can look through the eyes of the customer and provide instructions directly through his field of vision. This will solve problems faster and reduce the travel costs as well as machinery downtime.  Step by step instructions for maintenance can be viewed directly on the machine, allowing less experienced staff to perform complex operations while also to reducing the error rate.

In marketing and sales, the customer stands next to the salesman anywhere, without having to travel to supplier showrooms or production halls, and can view a machine as a hologram in real size. He also gets an insight into parts of a machine that were previously unrecognizable to him and sees animations and descriptions of individual components and how they work.

The well-known management theorist Michael Porter also mentions the advantages of AR for businesses, as listed in his article "Why Every Organization Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy" where he preaches the following:

Effective AR experiences also require the right content, so people who know how to create               and manage it—another novel skill—are crucial too.

Porter & Heppelmann, Harvard Business Manager, 2018

The AR how-to: content, software and automation

But what type of content do companies really need to produce AR apps? An AR app consists of text (.xml) and 3D data. These two components are combined in the technical authoring process and then deployed to end-devices, illustrated in the following graphic:

The AR how-to: content, software and automation

The question around augmented reality content is as interesting as the authoring process itself. Where does AR-relevant content come from? This question quickly leads to Technical Editing and content-managing systems.

The technical authoring team

The technical editorial team has detailed key knowledge of the company's products, will know how to work with structured content and the requirements of the various user groups. This predestines a technical writer to create effective AR experiences. In addition, many editors have already gained experience with 3D data and actively include it in documentation.

The augmented reality content is created, maintained and updated in systems such as Component Content Management Systems (CCMS), or, in simplified form, Content Management Systems (CMS). In these systems, content should already be prepared for AR authoring. The two most important factors for this are data management within the CMS and an intelligent interface with the authoring environment for AR.

The authoring environment

When realizing AR projects, we rely on the scalable authoring environment of the technology company RE'FLEKT. With their mixed reality platform REFLEKT ONE, even users without programming knowledge can create AR content and play it in form of apps on different end devices (data glasses, tablets and smartphones).

Let’s head back to the content: Adobe and, for example, SCHEMA ST4 are currently some of the most relevant CMS. The system is well suited for the professional processing of multilingual, varied content and enables cross-media content consistency.

Many of our customers in the AR area work with CMSs like AEM and SCHEMA ST4 or comparable solutions. For this reason, Acolad, RE'FLEKT, SCHEMA and Adobe discussed the topic of AR from a content management perspective at an early stage. The two main results of our partnerships are direct interfaces between the CMS and the AR authoring platform RE'FLEKT ONE, as well as the development of concept and methodology for AR-compliant data management.

The advantage of this integration is the communication among the systems. While a “traditional” app must be manually adjusted by a programmer in order to make changes, with the CMS integration, all updates are automatically transferred to the app, e.g. a product update adjusts the content in the documentation. This single source publishing principle saves time and guarantees the consistency of the content.

Acolad approach to Enterprise AR Solutions

"So what good is the AR format if it is not scalable and cannot be integrated into automated content publishing processes?" asks Michael Porter, calling on companies and manufacturers to find solutions. Acolad offers integrated Enterprise AR Solutions and relies on cooperation with its partners such as Adobe, SCHEMA ST4 and RE'FLEKT in the implementation of AR projects. In doing so, we create a customized proof-of-concept to the client, which measures the benefits of the technology. When companies decide to internalize the topic, we provide the knowledge and training necessary as an induction phase.