Why technical writing is essential for the introduction of augmented reality

Recent developments are making the indisputable potential of augmented reality (AR) clearer and clearer – but how is AR influencing content management at companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland? And what opportunities does SCHEMA ST4 present for providing content for AR applications?

Augmented reality (AR) means the fusion of the digital and physical worlds. A typical example is someone wearing AR glasses and looking at their surroundings. The glasses perceive the physical environment and start to project context-relevant digital information into the user’s field of vision. This information appears as three-dimensional holograms and can be directly overlaid onto real objects, for example onto a machine that needs to be serviced. This is where AR differs considerably from its little brother, virtual reality (VR).
In VR, the user wears a headset that completely covers their eyes and cuts out the real surroundings. This completely immerses the user into the digital world.
While we still currently consume the flood of digital information two-dimensionally on mobile devices that we hold in front of our faces like a board, new technology can blend the digital world with the real one – that is where the real potential of AR lies.

While AR has been being used by a small group of pioneers for several years already, since 2016 a growing movement in the market for AR products and services has been observed. The versatile applications and the associated advantages are causing companies to make increasing investments in AR. The global investment in AR has been estimated at USD 50 billion by 2020. Companies that have recognised the potential and are already working with a partner or are working on AR themselves can see the added value of AR as part of the product and as a tool to improve the service of the value chain. There are extensive applications:
In after sales service, our customer Bühler is implementing AR glasses for industrial use in pressure die casting. They are used by their customers as a new communication device, both for internal use and to make use of Bühler’s service features. When someone contacts the Bühler service team, the experts at Bühler can see through the customer’s eyes and instruct them within their field of view. As a result, problems are solved more quickly, and travel costs and downtime are reduced. Maintenance work can be displayed directly on the machine, based on step-by-step instructions. This also allows less experienced employees to carry out maintenance and reduces the error rate.
In sales and marketing, the customer can stand in their production hall with the sales representative and see a machine as a hologram in full size. They can also be introduced to parts of a machine that were not previously visible, and they can see animations and descriptions of individual components.
The advantages mentioned here are also covered by the well-known management theorist Michael E. Porter in his article “Why Every Organization Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy”, in the January edition of the Harvard Business Review, in which he emphasises the following:

“Effective AR experiences […] 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)

But what content do companies need to produce AR apps? An AR app consists of text (.xml) and 3D data. These two components are combined in the authoring process and are then prepared for terminal devices. This is shown in the following diagram.

reflekt one publication engine

At least as interesting as the authoring process is the question concerning the content. Where does AR-relevant content come from? This question soon leads to technical editing and content-management systems.
Technical editing involves having vital detailed information on the company’s products, knowing how to work with structured content and understanding the requirements of the different groups of users. This predestines a technical editor to create effective AR experiences. In addition, in many cases editors have already had experience with 3D data and also actively incorporate these data into documentation.
The content is created, managed and updated in content management systems such as component content management systems, abbreviated to CCMS, or simply CMS. In these systems, content should already have been processed for the AR authoring. The two most significant factors in this are data management within the CMS and an intelligent interface with the authoring environment for AR.

When implementing AR projects, we rely on the scalable authoring environment from the technology company RE’FLEKT. With their mixed reality platform RE’FLEKT ONE, users without any programming skills can create AR content and display this content in the form of apps on different terminal devices (data glasses, tablets & smartphones). In this, we usually support companies through a proof of concept that we create for our customers, and this is what is used to measure the benefits of the technology. Many companies then decide to deal with AR internally. To do this, customers need training and an induction phase. We also provide this knowledge transfer in that case.

But back to the content: For AMPLEXOR, SCHEMA ST4 is, on the basis of dissemination and adaptation rate, currently one of the most relevant CMSs in the German-speaking world. The system is well suited to the professional processing of multilingual, varied content, and allows consistency of content across different media. Many of our customers in the AR sector work with SCHEMA ST4 or plan to introduce it soon. For this reason, AMPLEXOR, RE’FLEKT and SCHEMA discussed the idea of AR together from a content management perspective at an early stage.
The two main results are a direct interface between SCHEMA ST4 and the AR authoring platform RE’FLEKT ONE, and the development of concepts and methodology for AR-suitable data management.

The advantage of this integration is communication between the systems. While, for conventional apps, an app has to be ‘re-opened’ for changes and updates and manually adapted by a programmer, changes and updates applied in the CMS are also automatically applied in the app thanks to the interface. In the event of a product update, content is adapted in the documentation, for example. So that this content is also in the AR app, it is automatically adapted and prepared in accordance with the single source publishing principle. This saves time and ensures the consistency of the content.

“What use is the AR format to anyone if it’s not scalable and can’t be integrated into automated content publishing processes?” asks Michael Porter, calling for companies and manufacturers to find solutions. AMPLEXOR offers this solution and, in implementing AR projects, focuses on collaboration with its partners by integrating SCHEMA ST4 and RE‘FLEKT.

About the author
Gilberto Picareta is Manager of Strategic Accounts and a technology evangelist at AMPLEXOR in Zurich. He focuses on understanding customer requirements and utilising the AMPLEXOR network to offer customised solutions. As a digital native with a background in business and finance and several years’ experience in the field of Digital and Content, he advises companies on successful synergy between technology and business.

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