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Combining Spatial Computing & IoT Can Unleash Data’s Full Potential

by Stephen R.
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The enterprise has been talking about Digital Transformation and Industry 4.0 for years. We have seen transformation accelerate and the adoption of artificial intelligence, connected devices, and even virtual reality speed-up over the last few months due to the pandemic. As enterprise digitization continues to be top of mind and data becomes even more critical in this process, we need to look at how all the data created can be better visualized to generate better business outcomes. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) allows devices to talk to each other through connected sensors – producing real-time data. Companies had to learn how to process large amounts of data from IoT devices. They quickly transitioned to dashboards on screens to view the data in meaningful ways.

These dashboards are great for displaying charts simplifying high-level data. They’re even mobile-friendly. Visualization is the key to understanding data from IoT devices, but it doesn’t have to be displayed in the same way as it has been centuries: graphs and charts on 2D surfaces. With virtual, augmented and spatial computing, data can tell a story in three dimensions and help decision-makers make more informed decisions. 

recent report from Boston Consulting Group and PTC identified augmented reality as a key to realizing IoT’s potential. “85% of respondents manage IoT and AR together, with 77% having dedicated AR budgets.” Not to mention, “75% expect paybacks from IoT-AR investments in three years or less with 50% already demonstrating the value of using both IoT and AR.” From smart cities to manufacturing and defense, it’s about unlocking the full potential of IoT, allowing us to walk inside our data and provide more context and information to make better decisions.

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In Iron Man, Tony Stark uses J.A.R.V.I.S, a virtual assistant, to help him build his suites and run his business. J.A.R.V.I.S displays data from all the different devices, machines, and Iron Man suites in extended reality. Holographic images of the systems and parts help Stark make decisions. Eventually, J.A.R.V.I.S was uploaded into Vision, a completely new being in a synthetic body. 

While IoT data isn’t yet represented and displayed in J.A.R.V.I.S level quality, companies, retailers, and consumers are starting to use extended reality to view and understand data transmitted from the devices around them. People can now make their own E.D.I.T.H. Glasses (the AR glasses Tony Stark gives Peter Parker in Spiderman: Far From Home). Michael Darby, also known as 314Reactor built his own pair of E.D.I.T.H glasses that can take photos (and analyze who’s in them), read the news or weather with text to speech, and has voice control. The glasses even have a lens that’s used on VR headsets for image display. Companies like Magic Leap already offer spatial computing headsets that allow enterprises to visualize complex data. 

“Organizations who don’t incorporate such solutions into their strategic roadmap risk being left behind both from a strategic and economic perspective,” says Zia Yusuf, managing director, and senior partner and leader of BCG’s IoT. The making of the E.D.I.T.H. glasses shows that the technology is available. It’s up to organizations to get started on the journey.  

By combining IoT and spatial computing, businesses will be able to to take data visualization & data analytics to new frontiers and unleash big data’s full potential.

XR & IoT: A Service Experience

Industry and technology concept. INDUSTRY 4.0

In manufacturing, digital transformation is changing the way companies look at what they’re making. Digital transformation is more than “just building stuff” or “just selling things.” It’s about using technology to create a service experience out of every process in manufacturing and the supply chain. 

Traditional thinking in manufacturing is that happy customers are loyal customers. With digitization in manufacturing, customers expect more from their buying experience. Now, a great product isn’t enough. It’s the customer experience that turns buyers into loyal customers. “Now the way manufacturing is done, you’re buying an experience. Extended reality visualization of IoT data powers experiences like remote assist. Through AR headsets or AR-enabled devices, operators can learn how to run a machine or fix a broken one with a J.A.R.V.I.S-like format. AR can highlight parts of the device that need to be prepared or the next step to run a machine. Live video stream from a real human can talk an operator through complicated repairs based on the real-time data from the sensors on the machine. 

XR and IoT integrated with enterprise software can “digital experiences that empower service teams to better solve problems remotely so work can be completed efficiently and safely.” That’s what CareAR and ServiceNow worked together to achieve for ServiceNow’s customer service, field service, and IT service management products. 

Augmented reality delivers a frictionless approach to integrated workflows. In the CareAR use case, augmented reality lets customer service representatives and technicians see problems, visually guide the solution, and capture the solution so that it was available for other teams. 

This scenario not only saves time and increases customer service, but it also is a great way of overcoming tribal knowledge. Visually capturing processes and workflows with digital instructions in real-time is a great way of capturing the “real” way things work in an organization.

Chris Kibbee, chief delivery officer at NTT DATA Services, says that augmented solutions help teams deliver faster and are aligned with the customer experience. “Capabilities such as AR, AI, and integrated digital workflows are transformative to enabling greater operational efficiencies and enhancing customer experiences.” 

BadVR is one such example of a company using spatial computing and data visualization to give customers a whole new perspective on their data.

BadVR’s technique makes it so anyone can get value from their data, even without special training. Dashboards do represent more data, but for inexperienced users, they can lead to analysis paralysis. BadVR uses AR and VR “to create a single, holistic, multi-dimensional “data experience” that’s created from the user’s datasets.” For the enterprise, that means data is accessible to more people. “Immersion — when applied properly — allows users of all technical skill levels to ingest huge amounts of complex data without increasing their cognitive load.”

Another example of immersive data visualization is from a company called Flow Immersive. Flow Immersive is using spatial computing to help visualize and track data on Covid-19 cases across the globe.

Flow’s data tools were used by the World Bank to visualize their data “to see global progress and where growth in electricity access is needed the most to provide universal access.” The visualization uses voice, along with 3D graphics to show users the electrical access of the world in a natural way. 

Beyond Just Visualization

One of the great things about extended reality is that it is more than just visualization. Visualization is important to humans who are 90% visual. That doesn’t mean we should abandon our other senses, especially as it comes to understanding and reacting to data. 

Headsets and eyeglasses don’t work for every situation. Fortunately, there are ways to interact with data from IoT devices without eyesight. In manufacturing, cameras don’t always catch that a machine is still running, putting operators in danger of injury. In one plant, an operator was killed by a machine because the camera failed to notice that it was still in motion. 

After the tragic event, the plant “installed sensors on the equipment that notify operators of its status based on the sound of the equipment. The sensors can detect if the equipment is running more finitely than a person or camera.” Operators equipped with haptic feedback wearables like a watch or glove could be notified from the equipment with buzzes to their wrist. Different haptic touches could represent different machines on the floor. 

The IoT Enabled Consumer 

Connected devices are everywhere, not just manufacturing plants. A 2019 forecast from the IDC “estimates that there will be 41.6 billion connected IoT devices, or “things,” generating 79.4 zettabytes (ZB) of data in 2025.” Decreasing camera costs and higher bandwidth options make homes the next hotbed of connected devices from internet-enabled security systems, to washing machines, and smart fridges. All that data can quickly become overwhelming, especially as push notifications through smartphones or tablets. 

Just like how extended reality creates an experience out of data in the plant, so too can it for consumers. The problem is, consumers don’t understand what the Internet of Things is. Vodafone, a mobile and broadband provider, is stepping into consumer IoT. Pamela Brown, chief marketing officer at Vodafone Smart Tech says while consumers might not understand IoT they “do know what smart tech is… The category is more embedded in consumers’ mindsets, especially with the explosion of smart speakers.” For consumers, the ease and convenience of connected devices balanced with concerns for security and privacy will create the digitized world. 

Imagine it’s cleaning day. The dishwasher needs to be loaded, the washing machine is running, and the fridge needs to be restocked. First, you vocally tell the fridge it needs to be restocked. It starts analyzing its contents compared to your normal shopping list. The fridge talks to the pantry to see if there are any meals that can be made, and if not, adds ingredients to the list.

While the fridge is running, you start loading the dishwasher. Using AR glasses, you scan the countertops and kitchen table. The AR interface highlights one pot, two dishes, and a mug that missed getting loaded. As you go to rinse off the dishes and load them, the AR interface highlights the mug. It’s not dishwasher safe. 

As you finish up the dishwasher, your smartwatch buzzes three times, indicating the washing machine ended a while ago and still has wet clothes in it. After taking care of the laundry, the smart doorbell rings. Your security system analyzes who rang the doorbell and notifies you it was a delivery person who dropped off two boxes.

You head back to the fridge. The AR glasses display three meals that can be made, highlighting the ingredients in the pantry and fridge that correspond to each meal. You click a virtual button to accept the meal, verify the shopping list, and click “shop”. Chores are done.

A Future Where Data, Machines, & Humans Meet

According to an industry report from PTC, 86% of enterprises expect their AR pilots to go live in the next 12 months. Companies realize that augmented reality and IoT can empower employees in design, manufacturing, marketing and sales, service, and more. Companies are doing this by creating AR compatible ecosystems. 

REFLEKT, an operating system for enterprise AR says, that with AR, “information will be digitally attached to the physical world, waiting for us to access and use it to further develop our goals and ambitions without ever having to turn our attention away from what it is we wish to do.” Extended reality is more than a nice feature. It’s critical for the future of production, visualization, and experience of IoT data.

Combining IoT & Spatial Computing Can Take Data Visualization & Analytics To New Frontiers

Cityscape with abstract light trail at night

The Internet of Things, unleashed with spatial computing and 5G will create endless possibilities for the enterprise and consumers. 5G offers low latency, dense coverage that combined with higher bandwidths, will be able to unveil previously unreachable places. 

While IoT and spatial computing open a new window to our world, it’s worth noting how security and individual privacy will have to evolve in an ever more connected planet. Used ethically and without treating humans as another connected thing to harvest data from, we can use IoT and spatial computing to see the best in each other and our world, and in turn, make more informed business decisions that not only have a positive impact on the bottom-line but also on humanity.

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