Walk down any street in Chicago where I live and you’ll see people walking around staring at their smartphones with rapt attention. So what’s new, you ask? Haven’t people been strangely addicted to these pint-size computing devices for a while? Well, yes, but what’s different in this case is the fact that they are also holding up their phones in the air and using them to guide them to some seemingly invisible target. Strange, I thought, at first glance, but I soon learned that these people weren’t just interacting with their phones, but on the lookout for Pokémon characters lurking about in the augmented reality of Pokémon Go.
If you haven’t heard of Pokémon Go, you need to push that rock off the hole you must be living in and enter the new world where reality and fantasy merge. What started out as an April Fool’s joke back in 2014 when Google released a video that mashed up Google Maps and Pokémon, has turned into a social phenomenon and major time-sucker. It has overtaken both Snapchat and Facebook in terms of daily time consumption (43 minutes/day for the average user) and within a week of its release became the most downloaded app on Apple’s App Store.
In Pokémon Go, players enter a world of Augmented Reality (AR) to try to “catch” and train characters, such as Pikachu or Squirtle, who are seemingly lurking about in everyday familiar surroundings superimposed on their smartphone app. The app is being applauded for getting people off their couches and forcing them to be active to search for these little virtual critters. What it really should be applauded for is bringing AR to the masses and getting people comfortable with meshing the real and virtual worlds.
What is augmented reality?
As a former journalist in the tech industry, I’ve been covering the Augmented Reality (AR) technology and its closely associated brethren, Virtual Reality (VR), for decades but while both seem to hold such promise, neither has really materialized in a meaningful or useful way in terms of professional applications. AR refers to a view of the real-world environment whose elements are overlaid (or augmented) with computer-generated images and sound.
For product design, the applications are rather obvious. Engineers know the benefits of creating virtual prototypes of their products so they can conduct simulations to prove out designs long before manufacturing. But what it you could immerse that virtual product in its real-world environment to determine whether a complicated assembly can be put together at that factory? Or show a customer how a product would look in their real house before it exists in physical form?
eDrawings and AR: together since 2013
Back at SOLIDWORKS World 2013, it was announced that eDrawings would be adding an AR-based update. For those unfamiliar with eDrawings, it has been the go-to solution for many engineers and designers who need to quickly and easily show off and share product designs, including full assemblies of parts at full scale. What AR brought to the app is the ability to accurately communicate scale and proper context when it comes to virtual products.
That’s important because whether you’re designing a small product, such as a remote control, or a mammoth-sized object, such as a car, everything ends up being the same size on your computer, iPad or smartphone screen. While you can zoom-to-fit to maximize the work space, there is no visual reference on the screen to give you context in terms of its real size and how it would compare with objects in it real-world environment. Traditionally, you would not know this until a physical model is built, which we all know is way past when affordable tweaks can be made to it.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could take your design and place it virtually on the table right next to you so you could then look at it next to real products, slide and spin it around on the table, and get a complete sense of the product’s true size, scale, and proportions? And what if you could do this at any time in the design process, and as often as you like?
Well, you can with eDrawings. Available on both the Standard and Professional versions for iOS and Android, it lets everyone on the design team—as well as customers and partners—see the product at full scale so its true size is clearly communicated with all stakeholders. You can use Configurations to load an entire product line in eDrawings, and then use AR to place any specific product variation on the table in front of your customer.
With the AR capabilities in eDrawings, you can give everyone involved in your design process a realistic context of how your virtual product will look like in the real-word environment. Unfortunately, what it can’t do is help you catch any of those elusive Pokémon characters.