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Augmented Reality in the field of Technical Documentation

Augmented Reality means that users are shown additional information in the form of virtual objects, which are specially tailored to their expectations, in an interactive system. This additional information is superimposed over the real world, which is thus enhanced by the digital world, allowing the two to merge into a new reality. Modern technical documentation will want to incorporate innovative approaches from this technology into its creation process as well.

Technical documentation involves the preparation of various documents, each of which contains different information: they inform users about a product and ensure that it can be put into operation, used, maintained and disposed of in the right way. Users must be able to view the information they require at all times. If you're not working at a desk and instead are visiting a production plant to carry out repairs or maintenance, it's annoying to have to carry around printed documentation jammed under your arm. For cases such as these, modern technical documentation should be offered in a way that allows it to be accessed equally easily, irrespective of location. A PDF document or online help on a mobile device is already an improvement in this respect. It is even more convenient if innovative augmented reality documentation is available. For example, 3D animations can be superimposed or a video sequence showing the activity to be performed can be integrated into the documentation. This allows users to be instructed during difficult repairs.

Example for a documentation with Augmented Reality content

One possible scenario would be for a member of service staff to wear special glasses with a built-in camera that can process images during repair work. The camera would record the movements made by the service employee and forward these to the software. The software knows the correct procedures and can compare the movements made by the service employee with the stored procedures. It could then show the service employee that a specific screw needs to be loosened, for example. If the service employee chooses the wrong screw, the screw would then be displayed highlighted in red.

Augmented Reality in professionell technical editing

The question is to what extent augmented reality is appropriate for use in technical documentation overall. Documentation is often translated into many different languages and published in various variants and versions. To achieve that, technical editors use content management systems which contain the necessary functions for data and metadata management and thereby automate the production process to a great extent. The common tools for Augmented Reality lack these functions so that, for example, translated text  has to be incorporated manually. Applications designed to link Augmented Reality to XML-based content management systems are in the development phase, but they are not yet ready for the market. So, concerning data management and automated processes, it seems the technology has still some way to go, even though there are numerous potential applications in technical documentation.

Augmented reality is interesting for the following reasons:

  • Saving on translation costs
    If complicated instructions for a procedure can be communicated through augmented reality alone, this significantly reduces the amount of text required. Global companies often need to translate their technical documentation into 30 or more languages. When translation costs are this high, it is worth keeping this new technology in mind.
  • Improving training
    If augmented reality is implemented optimally, companies can provide practical training for their trainees and service staff on a machine.
  • Ensuring quality
    With augmented reality, users will be able to master complex tasks more easily and safely. If the image recognition software provides feedback in the event of errors, this will help to ensure quality.
  • Saving on staff costs
    Technical documentation that ensures quality and that provides feedback if actions are performed incorrectly allows even inexperienced employees or those that are not highly qualified to carry out complex activities.

Modern technical documentation, such as training and service literature, that is enhanced with innovative augmented reality technology can offer more than simply displaying PDF documents on a mobile device. As with any new technology, however, it is advisable to weigh up the question of efficiency and the ratio of financial resources to benefits.