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Industry 4.0 also brings Reality 4.0

(Image credit: Image Credit: Knight Center for Journalism / Flickr)

The augmented and virtual reality industry is estimated to hit an overall market size of $160 billion by 2023. The boom of virtual, augmented or mixed realities, known under the umbrella term of extended reality, can be traced back to 2016. Since then, the technology has become more and more mainstream. Popular applications like Snapchat capitalised on the trend and even theme parks have created extended reality experiences.

However, the application of extended reality can spread beyond its traditional consumer-based functionality. Autonomous vehicles, the healthcare industry and the energy sector can all benefit from this technology. As the trend becomes increasingly popular, we will see more use cases appear – in our ever-evolving technologically advanced society, the possible applications are almost endless.

The current wave of industrial revolution, Industry 4.0, focuses on creating machines augmented with wireless connectivity, with their own decision-making process and sensors that can visualise entire production lines. Incorporating these extended realities with the growing developments in manufacturing production, along with the integration of both AI and machine learning and development processes, enables issues to be addressed before they arise, eliminating machine failure and costly downtime.

Extended realities drive change in autonomous vehicles

The autonomous vehicle (AV) market is expanding and is expected to grow to over $556 billion by 2026. With such large investments being made in the AV market, manufacturers need to stay competitive. The efficiency and effectiveness of testing, as well as the cost, will play a critical role in this competitiveness.

RAND corporation has estimated that it will take over eight billion miles of road testing to demonstrate the safety of a self-driving car’s “thinking” algorithm. That’s the equivalent of 15,000 round trips to the moon, which will take centuries using physical road trials alone. By testing the algorithm using extended reality simulation, driving the billions of miles becomes a possibility in a safer environment for a fraction of the time and cost. Engineers can test for every major consideration, from human factors through real-life driving conditions.

With extended reality simulation, developers can test vehicles under a comprehensive range of multiple terrains, weather conditions and lighting conditions to assess real-life conditions – reducing the amount of physical, on-location testing required. Developers can also test the AV’s performance in weather conditions such as rain, fog and snow to identify potential weather-related risks before they occur.

A recent study by ANSYS showed that fewer than 50 per cent of people would feel comfortable riding in an autonomous vehicle in the next 10 years. So there is a lot of work ahead for vehicle manufacturers to win over consumers. By demonstrating the rigorous testing process in place using simulation, they can put consumers at ease by educating them on the safety of autonomous vehicles.

Extended reality implications on healthcare

The use cases of extended reality in healthcare are extensive, including training doctors, helping those with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSDs) and even creating robotic surgeons. The global healthcare VR market alone is expected to be valued at $3.8 billion by 2020 due to the wide range of applications that are now becoming possible.

When it comes to the production of technology-based medical equipment, such as electronic heart valves and pacemakers, there is no room for failure: All possible outcomes must be examined.

Extended reality allows developers to design and optimise their products in a simulated environment. The development of aortic stents is one example. Aortic valve stenosis is a narrowing of the aortic valve, and it is the most common type of heart valve disease in the elderly. Symptoms include difficulty breathing, chest pain and fainting. If the heart valve is not replaced, usually via open heart surgery, it can result in congestive heart failure and even death. Transcatheter aortic valve replacement is used to replace the narrowed valve which causes the heart valve disease. Extended reality simulation makes it possible to design and manufacture the stent replacement to avoid exerting too much stress on any part of the aortic wall. It can also simulate the patient’s blood pressure following surgery, which is another critical factor in stent design. This enables developers to foresee any issues that could potentially arise. Meeting safety standards and production deadlines is another benefit of extended reality simulation.

Then there are pharmaceutical and medical experiments to consider. The pharmaceutical and medical industries are heavily reliant on human and animal testing to ensure new products, medicines and treatments are safe for patients and commercially viable. Medical simulation testing, often known as ‘in silico’ simulation, reduces the need for physical testing. It saves time and increases safety by substituting virtual models for living test subjects. For example, a respiratory drug typically needs 4,000 patients in clinical trials to test its safety. Simulation reduces this number to just 150 while increasing confidence in the results.

This testing has made it possible to implant a device virtually and monitor how it reacts with other devices in a number of conditions, such as changes in body temperature and heart rate. It even takes into consideration all aspects of a person’s body type, such as height, weight and gender. While the FDA has approved the value of computer modelling within a broader testing protocol, it is unlikely that this approach will replace clinical trials in the near future. Simulation does, however, enable developers to offer the safest possible version of a new device for clinical trials.

Renewable energy potentials widen with extended reality

With the United Nations declaring that we only have 11 years to stop global warming from becoming irreversible, energy science and engineering take centre stage. Developers and manufacturers are being challenged to improve all aspects of their energy usage, such as improving existing power generation technologies while reducing overall energy use and developing solutions that balance cost and demand.

When combined with extended reality, renewable energy solutions can be completely mapped out and optimised before any physical product is created. Extended reality also enables the developer to visualise the solution in its likely operating environment. For example, when creating offshore wind turbines (OWTs) multiple simulation tools are used as a cost-effective design method. Design engineers, manufacturers and operators must consider the constant, yet unpredictable, threat turbines face from the elements. Storms, saltwater, rough seas and stress are all factors that can impact the performance of a turbine. For this reason, OWTs must be designed to withstand all possible weather conditions and tested effectively to ensure they operate as efficiently as possible, for as long as possible. Simulation enables engineers to ensure each component meets this standard regardless of variables such as weather, so the turbine performs as required. Given the complexity and costs of maintaining offshore turbines, this is critical to operators.

Simulation solutions can also be used to control and reduce pollution, carbon-based emissions and packing weight while meeting energy-efficiency and regulatory requirements. Simulation software has been used develop safer, more effective blow out preventers for the gas and oil industry to minimise the potential for disasters such as Deepwater Horizon, the largest marine oil spill in history. Simulation technology allows developers to understand how blow out preventers perform in a full range of conditions and protect against many of the causes of blow out.

With the effects of climate change increasing and impacting our environment on a global scale, there is an urgent need to find solutions that encourage businesses to be more sustainable and eco-friendly. Businesses can stop wasting time on trial and error testing, stop wasting money on products that may not work and stop wasting resources on untested ideas. However, short-term deployment should not overshadow long-term performance. Simulation “future-proofs” a product by predicting how it will age in our changing environments.

Extended realities and their applications are more advanced than ever. Many industries, including the automotive, healthcare and energy industries touched on above, can now reap the benefits. Extended reality simulation cuts costs and enables more efficient and more advanced products to be designed and created with less potential risk. With design and testing increasingly based on simulation, it is increasingly easier to bring safer, more innovative products and solutions to market faster and at lower cost.

Prith Banerjee, Chief Technology Officer, ANSYS