Technical Communicators, Get ready: Here comes Augmented Reality! Rhonda Truitt

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Technical Communicators, Get ready: Here comes Augmented Reality!
Rhonda Truitt

Director, Technical Communication Innovation & Best Practices

Chief Information Architect and Content Strategist

Huawei Technologies (USA)

Bio: Rhonda Truitt is a well-respected leader in technical communication with years of experience directing Fortune 500 Companies’ technical documentation and training departments. Rhonda is passionate about innovative prototyping, user experience, and standards development. She founded the Huawei Augmented Reality Think Tank with leaders from around the globe to brainstorm AR as a delivery mechanism for technical communication. She is the convener and co-chair of the OASIS AR in Information Products Technical Committee. She and her team at Huawei are in constant pursuit of ways to improve the user content experience. She holds an M.S. in Computer Education and Cognitive Systems from UNT and a B.S. in Journalism from BSU.
Scott Hudson

Sr. Consultant

Comtech Services, Inc.

Chair OASIS ARIP Outreach SC

Bio: Scott Hudson is an experienced standards expert and information architect, specializing in designing and maintaining content models, mapping and migrating legacy data, implementing content management systems, driving content and editorial standards, and evaluating new information technologies. Visit my blog at:

Augmented Reality adds value to technical communication

Figure Lowe's Innovation Labs Holoroom 2014
Augmented Reality (AR) experiences are becoming more and more common place in our daily lives. We use AR when backing out of parking spaces via the rear camera with built-in distance scales feature in newer car models. Our kids use it by holding up a Lego set to a “Digital Box” kiosk in the Lego store to virtually display a 3D image of the assembled set. A print ad for a Ford Explorer comes to life when the page’s QR code is scanned through our smart phone which is then laid on the ad displaying the Explorer’s new features in a visually interactive way. The IKEA catalogue AR application allows us to try out a new look by superimposing a to-scale 3D image of the furniture in a room in our house using the physical catalogue as an anchor. The Lowes Holoroom lets us design our bathroom, then step into the 20 x 30 Holoroom and view a 3D Augmented Reality bathroom that matches our selections for tile, counters, sinks, faucets, and paint in seemingly infinite configurations. According to Juniper Research, AR users will approach 200 million by 2018. holoroomview1_toronto_11-21-14+(1).jpg

AR assists us by giving a composite view by overlaying generated images on top of the real world view. This guides us while performing tasks, helps us to conceptualize, to imagine and to see the unseen. AR technology superimposes content such as images, text, audio, or video on top of the real world object or scene that is being viewed through a smart device camera. The AR experience is always a function of the user’s context at a specific point in time. Not only is Augmented Reality cool, but it has the potential to make our lives easier, too.

The user benefits of Augmented Reality coupled with wearable technology and other smart devices, makes it a compelling delivery mechanism for technical documentation, technical training, and user assistance. There is evidence from several studies that show that user efficiency is improved when using information products delivered via Augmented Reality over traditional methods. Iowa State University and Boeing’s study results prove that when completing a task for the first time, assembly task performers, (with AR as the instruction mode)

  • were 90% more accurate,

  • were the fastest to complete the task by 30%, and

  • Had the least number of looks between the physical task and the instructions.

This could add up to big cost savings for large corporations.
Augmented Reality maintenance procedures coupled with smart glasses can overlay actual equipment guiding the technicians step-by-step through their tasks decreasing the amount of time it would take them to look back and forth from a manual to the equipment, while leaving their hands free to perform the tasks. Colombia University Professor, Steven Feiner, also found in his studies that procedures delivered via AR decreased task completion time as well as errors.
Benefits of AR in the Enterprise recorded by AR vendors are:

  • Contextual instructions at the point of use (DAQRI).

  • Increased productivity (DAQRI).

  • Fewer new product trainings are required before a technician is sent out into the field on a maintenance call.

  • Reduced quality errors (DAQRI).

  • 23% faster task completion (NGRAIN).

  • 75-96% first time right task completion (NGRAIN).

  • 30% decrease in training time (NGRAIN).

  • Reduced risks to technicians working in dangerous environments (DAQRI).

  • Up to $14M in yearly savings to the organization from AR field support and training applications (NGRAIN).

It is no wonder that AR and wearable technology are expected to have phenomenal growth in the next few years. The Augmented Reality market is projected to generate $120 billion in revenue by 2020 (Digi-Capital April 2015). In an article in Fortune Magazine, Merel, the managing director of Digi-Capital, states that he believes by 2020, AR and VR will be main-stream. VR will generate another $30 billion in revenue by 2020 according to Merel. Wearable technology revenue will hit $19B by 2018 (Juniper Research).

Many AR experiences show the user how to do something and involve procedural task-based instructions. This is where the skill set of technical communicators come into play with AR.

Augmented Reality in technical communication in use

The following are examples of a few companies that are already utilizing Augmented Reality in technical communication:

  • Volkswagen- Volkswagen is using the Mobile Augmented Reality Technical Assistance System (MARTA) iPad application that provides step-by-step instructions on how to remove, repair, and replace all of the parts of the XL1 model.

  • Lockheed Martin – has its engineers use AR coupled with smart glasses to display visual instructions while they assemble F-35s, ensuring that each part on the plane is correctly installed.

  • Boeing- Boeing worked with Iowa State University to test AR Wing assembly instructions, against traditional desktop documentation and mobile documentation.

  • Mitsubishi Electric Cooling and Heating-

    1. Uses a maintenance- assistant application with optical object recognition and tracking augmented reality technology called MeView. This app allowed contractors and sales reps to show homeowners what the HVAC would look like on their walls, prior to purchase and installation. 

    2. Uses a maintenance AR application from a sixty page manual using edge tracking technology to reduce call center volume. Step-by-step procedures were shown on the equipment.

    3. Uses a post-sales operational AR application that shows how to operate system features.

  • Newport News Shipbuilding-

    1. Uses an AR safety application to highlight safety information in a dangerous work environment.

    2. Uses an AR maintenance application to enable all sailors to quickly become experts on complex systems.

    3. Uses an AR training application for new operators that overlays work instructions directly on top of the complex equipment.

Figure Newport News Shipbuilding Operations AR App
Uses an AR operations application to allow users to see data about the ship and its components, while they are in context.

np news solutions_construction_02.jpg

  • US Mail- USPS Virtual Box Simulator allows consumers to select the Priority Mail box size needed to ship their items by using their webcam to view the items they want to ship. The program requires users to print a U.S. Postal Service icon and hold it under the object so that the Virtual Box Simulator will know where the box should go. Together the webcam and the Virtual Box Simulator create a 3D hologram of different box sizes so the customer can determine which size is needed to fit the item.

  • Audi – Audi provides the eKurzinfo Augmented Reality Application that enables drivers to point their smart devices at a section of the car for step-by-step how-to maintenance information. The A3 eKurzinfo application identifies maintenance procedures for more than 300 elements of the car.

Whether an AR experience is being used to show people how to operate features on their new cars, or if it is being used to guide a novice technician on how to repair an air conditioning system, each of these scenarios involves procedural task-based instructions. This is the skill set of technical writers and instructional designers.

The importance of technical communicators in AR projects

Technical Communicators have an important role to fill in Augmented Reality projects today. This need will only become greater in the future. Most of the examples of AR experiences listed above are task-based procedures. Besides developing the 3D models and working with the actual AR software, someone involved in developing the AR experience must develop accurate, task-based content that meets the user’s quality requirements and needs. Thorough knowledge of the user’s job, tasks, and work environment is vital to ensure that AR is the appropriate medium for the target audience. The procedures should be tested for accuracy, and to ensure that the steps are in the correct order (and that none are missing). The person best suited for this role is a technical communicator.

Technical Communicators bring these important skills and benefits to an AR project.

  • Knowledge of the user and how he interacts with a product,

  • User task analysis,

  • User requirements collection,

  • Persona development,

  • Relationship with design (bridging subject matter expert (SME) and customer needs),

  • Information architecture,

  • Content re-use,

  • Modular content development,

  • Content management,

  • Usability testing,

  • Quality and accuracy testing,

  • Minimalism,

  • Clear and concise writing,

  • Editing, and

  • Metadata development

In the future, we may also see AR experiences delivered as an automated and continuous service called AR discovery. The generic concept of information discovery originated in the geospatial data community that needed advanced software and interfaces to mine the large data sets that sensing systems (such as environmental monitoring stations) generate. According to Christine Perey, the chair of the AR Community for Open and Interoperable Augmented Reality and a member of the AR Discovery task force, “the user of a system designed to deliver AR discovery receives the real time results of continuous contextually-driven search of AR experience directories. Based on the result of the contextual search, the AR experiences from many diverse sources are uniquely filtered for the user and can then be presented, at the user’s discretion, in an Augmented Reality view”.

Discovery of Augmented Reality experiences will result from new software intelligence that is built into network-based identity and data management systems and mobile user agents connected to sensors and continually monitoring the user’s context. Digital assets encoded with triggers matching any stimuli in the user’s environment will be delivered (though their presentation will depend on other factors, usually in the user’s settings). These digital assets will be made up of descriptive or instructional context sensitive content. The content will need to be assigned metadata and will need to be managed. Technical Communicators and Information Architects already know how to do this. They are experts at organizing granular pieces of information, reusing it, cataloging it, and managing it. This Herculean effort will require a Technical Communicator’s experience and expertise when the time comes.

Introducing the OASIS Augmented Reality in Information Products Technical Committee

The goal of the OASIS ARIP TC is to develop standards, specifications, and guidelines to promote the use of augmented reality (AR) as a new feature for information products.
By raising awareness of the benefits offered by AR, the ARIP TC expects to increase the demand for, and availability of, AR-enabled products and services, resulting in a greater choice of tools and platforms.
The Technical Committee has established several sub-teams to assist with this effort:

  • Glossary Sub-Team – consolidating industry terms into a useful AR glossary for technical communicators

  • Research Sub-Team – investigating industry practices, tools and standards to create best practice guidelines for technical communicators

  • Outreach Sub-Team – evangelizing best practices and other TC work through conference presentations, articles and other forums.

As AR has such varied potential applications, our members include representatives from various industries, including: Geospatial, Healthcare, Aircraft Manufacturing, Enterprise Software, and Services.

Join the Cause!

The ARIP TC is formally organized under OASIS, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards. OASIS is a nonprofit consortium that drives the development, convergence and adoption of open standards for the global information society.

OASIS promotes industry consensus and produces worldwide standards for security, Internet of Things, cloud computing, energy, content technologies, emergency management, and other areas. OASIS open standards offer the potential to lower cost, stimulate innovation, grow global markets, and protect the right of free choice of technology.
OASIS members broadly represent the marketplace of public and private sector technology leaders, users and influencers. The consortium has more than 5,000 participants representing over 600 organizations and individual members in more than 65 countries.
If you are interested in joining the ARIP TC at OASIS, it takes just a few steps:

  1.  Complete the OASIS Membership Agreement if your employer is not already an OASIS member.

  2.  Create a username and password so you can access the members-only features of the web site. If your employer is an OASIS member, there is no limit to the number of employees that may participate (and no extra fees).

  3. Select a Committee you want to join from the All Groups List.

If you are interested in following the progress of the ARIP TC, the mailing list is publicly archived at:
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