Augmented reality at Tekom tcworld 2012

I’m attending Tekom tcworld 2012, in Wiesbaden. The next session sounds like fun: “Is Augmented Reality the Future of Technical Documentation? ” by Juergen Lumera.

Here’s what Juergen wrote in the blurb for his session:

A couple of years ago Alan Brandon asked in an article about an Augmented Reality research project at the Columbia University the question: Is augmented reality the future of technical documentation? He did not really answer the question but he showed a huge potential of that technology. The research project did not change the technical documentation world at THAT time. This presentation will describe what has changed since then and why is the answer to his question now a definitive: YES this technology is changing the technical documentation world and we need to be prepared.

Why ask the question again now?

Augmented reality (AR) has been in the field for more than 20 years. It has been promised a few times as the future of technical documentation, but has so far not fulfilled the promise.

There are more industrial applications that could benefit from AR, and consumer technology makes it available to all. So we should ask if AR is now mature enough, and what is missing to make it useful for technical documentation.

What is augmented reality (AR)?

Don’t mix it up with virtual reality. In virtual reality, everything is generated. Augmented reality combines the real world and generated content. For example, you could take a picture of a car and overlay it with an augmented image.

AR can include images, sounds, 3D data, 2D data – even marking up a book!


  • On TV, sports shows overlay game information on the picture.
  • The owner guide for a Samsung printer shows you how to change the ink tray.
  • Mobile: Live video overlaid on the screen, showing local information. Similar applications are available in cars, showing distance and speed.

What you need to build an AR application

These are the basics:

  • Sensors, to capture the real environment. A sensor can be a camera or a Kinect, for example.
  • A software application that overlays the additional information on the captured content.
  • Devices to display the augmented content. For example, Google Goggles, goggles and headset, projector, monitor, tablet, mobile phone.
  • Something that lets you interact, such as voice recognition, touch, gestures, wearable computers.
  • The AR content itself – a 3D model, the visual guidance (for example, telling the technical where to move his view), the voice overlay.


Juergen showed us two examples of AR in the real world. These videos are available on YouTube, as well as variations of them, such as from BMW. In the first, we saw a photo of machinery, with superimposed images of arrows telling you where to go, plus signposts naming various bits, and images of tools performing actions. In the second, we saw a technician repairing a car and wearing AR goggles that guided him through the steps where he needed help.

Deciding where AR can be useful

We can best use AR in situations where the repair is difficult or complex, and where we can guide the technician. We can show the technician where to carry out the repair, and we can align the AR with the current repair step.

We should make sure that we can give the technician just the information he needs, and eliminate the need for him to transfer instructions from screen or paper to the car.

We can also use the same material for training, either as training on demand or as formal training in a training centre.

The AR can supplement training with context-specific instructional information. We saw an example of a 3D wiring harness applied to a complex car. The technician can walk around the car and see the location of the various connection points.

Advantages of AR

  • It’s more efficient for the person accessing the content. (There’s more effort required in the creation of the content.)
  • The information adjusts to the current situation and recognises state.
  • We can reuse existing engineering data, such as a 3D model.
  • We can make use of existing consumer technology, such as smart phones and other mobile devices.
  • Various departments can make use of the AR solution. For example, repair, marketing, training, and so on.

What this means for technical authors

Content is essential for AR. The type of content changes, and so will the way we create it. We’ll need to build 3D overlay and voice overlay. We need to guide people to the correct location, and make sure the content is context sensitive.

We will need to use specific authoring tools where we work in a 3D view, and align the data with the real world. In addition, we will show people how to do a task, rather than explaining it. In effect, you are doing the task together with the technician.

What has changed since the question was first asked?

AR technology is significantly improved: better algorithms, more AR authoring tools, and more suppliers.

On the consumer side, we have mobile phones and tablets that can support AR, cheap 3D sensors like Kinect, Google Goggles, and voice control technology such as SIRI.

There are already AR applications in place: navigation systems that show you how to navigate, catalogues such as Ikea, search engines that can show you how to get to a restaurant, … and technical documentation.

Is AR the future of technical documentation?

Juergen thinks this is not a question any more. AR is already in use. People are using it in everyday life. So the answer is. “Yes, AR is the future of technical documentation.”

The task of technical communicators is to build knowledge and processes to support AR in the same sustainable way as we deliver any other technical documentation product.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 24 October 2012, in technical writing, Tekom tcworld and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Interesting. I associate the acronym “AR” with “Artificial Reality” which is a slightly older cousin to “Virtual Reality.” The two terms were coined about the same time, and Virtual Reality was the cultural winner. But AR was used for a long time. Augmented reality, as you noted, is a different animal entirely.

    When I think of Augmented Reality my mind automatically goes to Google Goggles and the Google Project Glass. But is this the future of technical communication? I wouldn’t call it “the” future, I would call it “a” future. It really depends on the environment you’re in. Augmented Reality is really just another portal – a means of accessing technical information. That doesn’t mean it will be the only portal, or even the dominant one. But it really depends on how you define Augmented Reality. I don’t consider voice recognition or AI to fall under that definition. To me, these are control and input methods, entirely separate from the documentation. Overlays and videos and animations, yes, those can augment reality. It’s really semantics though. If Juergen Lumera wants to lump all future technical communication techniques under “augmented reality” then he’s certainly free to do so.

    To me, there are interfaces, and there is content. Interfaces control access to content and display it. Content is information in any form, be it audible, visual, tactile, or any other form of sensory perception.

    • Hallo writerdood

      Yes, I agree. It depends on the industry and the audience. Augmented reality is a good fit for the machine industry. It works for software too, although the term “reality” gets a bit murky here. If we define “reality” as the primary software interface, and a guided help system as the “augmented reality”, then AR will probably be a big part of software UA too.

      The future of tech comm will surely include other new technologies and techniques too. Define “future”. 🙂 And content will always be at the core.


  1. Pingback: Tekom tcworld 2012 wrapup « ffeathers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: