VR technology has in a very short span grown into a strong human-computer interface. It has treaded the paths of medicine, entertainment, education, military and e-commerce to step into the extremely complex and enticing industry of manufacturing. In the fourth of our five-part series on Virtual Reality technology, our bloggers take you through a liberating experience of augmented reality, haptic technology and 3D printing.
Visualize. Manipulate. Interact. Manufacture.
Interactive three-dimensional computer simulated environments have helped create complex engineering scenarios with ease. From virtually assembling factories to maintaining them and manufacturing products, everything can be reverse déjà-vued in real through augmented reality technologies. (Read about VR technology to test production centres)
Nanoscience and biotechnology are exploring virtual reality techniques to create a more immersive experience and enhance haptics. It is common knowledge that fabricating and controlling nanoscale components and devices that work in microenvironments is a herculean task. As of today, space applications and nanomedicine make up for the two most interesting microenvironments that employ interesting VR technologies.
This iRunway Research report analyzes the popularity in application of Virtual Reality technology for gaming, identifies monetization strategies adopted by top assignees and much more. For insights, click here.
VR in bionanotechnology
Pathological diseases such as AIDS and cancer are caused at the atomic level. While the popular method until recently was conducting bulk chemical reactions, pathologists soon realized that the reactions were only stochastical, offering average ratings. Bionanotechnology techniques have helped develop microfabricated tools that allow pathologists to dissemble cancer cells, invalidate virus, alter DNA and RNA chains and do much more to repair tissues and restore damaged cells.
While biomolecular interactions are often represented by electrostatic field data of molecules, it is insufficient in providing tactile and kinesthetic information. However, connect a molecular dynamics simulation code to an immersive VR display and voila! you have a complete visualization of a molecule with interactive capabilities. Augmented reality can further provide haptic interfaces to sense interatomic collisions and electrostatic charges, allowing scientists to interact with atoms in a virtual environment and then manipulate them in the real environment.
Nanorobots explore space
Since nanorobots are invisible to the naked eye and manipulating them becomes a tad complicated, virtual reality techniques are being explored to enhance the vision of the nanorobot’s operator. Nanorobots operate in microenvironments that are very different from conventional environments. This means that scientists need to make estimations based on theories. VR makes the task easier by allowing scientists to view these microenvironments in a simulator, interact with the nanorobot and make more accurate predictions and data computations.
The durability of nanorobots makes them perfect for space exploration where they can be deployed to gather information of the nether world by remaining operational for decades on end. Their small size makes it easier to propel them into orbit and in a shorter time span. This works as a great boon for astronauts who are unable to spend beyond a couple of years in outer space, and that with the risk of exposing them to interstellar radiations which can alter their DNA and cause diseases.
In a virtual reality avataar
Aerospace technology manufacturer Lockheed Martin has predicted that the next decade would find satellites being made using 3D printing technologies. This, the manufacturer says, will vastly reduce costs and allow more senors to be placed in a spacecraft that can offer more accurate data of the outer space. In fact, Lockheed Martin has already deployed 3D printing technology to create parts of its A2100 commercial satellites and the Juno spacecraft that NASA is currently using to investigate Mars.
3D printing has been popular with NASA for a while now. In 2013, the space explorer printed a rocket injector that outpaced all non-printed injectors and offered an impressive record thrust of 22,000 pounds. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has also been deploying 3D laser metal printing since 2012 to print spacecraft components.
Taking augmented reality a step forward for the manufacturing world, Lockheed Martin has created a simulated environment called the Collaborative Human Immersive Laboratory (CHIL). This lab combines virtual reality technology and motion tracking to virtually create spacecraft, help engineers solve technical concerns, validate, test and understand a product before creating the physical product.
Designing gets easier
While testing products in a virtual environment has eased the manufacturing phase of products, the Virtual Reality Mechanism Design Studio, popularly known as VRMDS, has eased out the entire designing phase for instrumentation engineers. Using the Python script, VRMDS helps provide 3D stereoscopic immersive visualization, combining it with a haptic environment and a GUI that allows designers to assemble a machine completely within a virtual environment and test it before taking it into physical production.
The advantage with this VR tool is that a designer can either run the system in a desktop environment or take it to a new level and test it in a simulated VR environment. Similar is the function of SHARP or System For Haptic Assembly & Realistic Prototyping.
Siemens celebrates 25 years digitally
In September this year, Siemens’ digital factory celebrated 25 years of VR success. This digital factory, popularly known as the Industry 4.0 Demonstrator, offers Siemens’ engineers with a 3D virtual environment that mimics a continuous production world. The lab has, over the years aided engineers and university scholars to innovate and improve productivity, energy efficiency and quality, practically placing Europe in the centre stage as the global leader for research and development in manufacturing.
Ford gets behind the wheels before you do
Ford’s German headquarters in Cologne has a state of the art Computer Automated Virtual Environment (CAVE) that allows engineers to test prototypes in a simulated environment. Test engineers at Ford are using VR goggles to assess the interiors and exteriors of cars before they hit the market. With this, Ford’s engineers can now step into a virtual car and study its internal and external components before taking it to production.
IBM takes maintenance mobile
IBM, in collaboration with the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), has developed an AR system that allows field engineers to maintain and repair critical equipment with ease. Field engineers can make use of the virtual reality-robotics tool using a smartphone and QR codes to locate and assess a problem. The supervisor can monitor the situation remotely and issue instructions to the engineers, pinpointing valuable information.
The tool also allows a remote expert to support the field engineers with real time video and audio links using a camera that is mounted on a controlled robotic arm. Information such as freehand sketches, assembly instructions and CAD images can be projected onto a nearby wall or workspace as well.
While virtual reality has ushered in an era of wondrous technological developments, it is still in its nascent stage with much left to explore. Scientists are facing multi-challenges at every step of AR development. Our final blog of this series pitches for some of the most interesting challenges that VR technology faces and offers innovative solutions to crack those codes.
(Featured image source: https://pixabay.com/en/abstract-hi-tech-cyber-technology-1392404/)