Hello developer community,
my name is Michael Spiess, I am a development architect at SAP Innovative Business Solutions and this is my first blog post about the Extended Reality Venture which was founded in February 2020.
Extended Reality (XR) is a topic which is around there in the community for quite a while. I remember when the release of Google Glass in 2013 pushed the topic to the headlines. We all know, that high expectations have not been fulfilled at that time and afterwards the technology got a little bit the status of an “eternal talent”.
Do we have reached an inflection point in the meantime? At least, the term “Extended Reality” is familiar to most people in the community and does not need to be explained any more. For common understanding, lets define XR here as the umbrella term for Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Reality.
And yes, we have seen some traction here: New hardware devices and software capabilities, huge number of start-up companies, optimistic analyst outlooks and finally more and more productive implementations in various industries.
Also, within SAP the topic is on the watch list since quite a while and one of the initiatives around XR led to the foundation of a so called “Venture”. Think of ventures as a kind of entrepreneurship approach at SAP.
When we started the XR Venture in 2020, we already had a quite solid technology concept which we named “Smart Asset Concept”. The Smart Asset Concept is based on the Unity 3D development platform. With Unity you can address more than 25 platforms with one single line of code. The Unity platform supports all major XR devices, like Hololens, Vive, Oculus Quest, but also AR devices like iOS and Android mobile devices.
Smart Assets are 3D (e.g. complex CAD drawings) or 2D objects (e.g. barcode labels, documents) which reside in a SAP system. Smart Assets are smart because they contain scripting logic to interact with other Smart Assets or to retrieve and exchange data in real time to SAP systems. Smart Assets are hosted in a SCP application called “Smart Asset Cloud”. The configuration of Smart Assets, e.g. to which system they are connected or which master data do they contain, is done with another SCP application called “XR Scene Designer”. These two applications are the nucleus of the Extended Reality Cloud (XR Cloud).
This XR Cloud opens the world of SAP to the world of XR applications. Smart Assets can be used at runtime by any 3rd party application which is written in Unity. Smart Assets can also be embedded at design time into the 3rd party application.
The Smart Asset Concept vision is that companies share their Smart Assets throughout SAP Business Networks. Imagine that Ariba buyers purchase a Smart Asset before they order the physical asset. With Smart Assets many validations can be already done like how does the model of an equipment fit in a plant and how it can be connected to the IT system. Returns of the physical equipment can be avoided and the carbon footprint is minimized.
But the next question we had to answer was: Where to play exactly? What is the right application area, industry and customer segment to focus on? At the end, we identified two key areas, where we see the biggest customer demand and value from a short-termed perspective:
Augmented and Mixed Reality for service, maintenance and quality inspections of assets
Operators in a factory or in the field, do not need to browse through spare part catalogs or need to do paper work. As the Smart Asset allows to augment digital twin information directly to the physical counterpart, users get “in context” access of real-time enterprise information and transactions.
You can watch this SAP video where you see me how I used the XR Venture app to see augmented Digital Twin and IoT-data on the Evomixx machine.
Business Process Modeling and Training in Virtual Reality
IT projects which affect many business processes of a company are always challenging. Many stakeholders need to understand the new process and its implications to their domain in which they are working. To achieve a common understanding of the new business process, on-site workshops are organized and a lot of documents are shared and reviewed. But still when the IT project goes live, design flaws are suddenly revealed and can lead sometimes to very high costs which may even lead to production stops. Many of these design flaws and misunderstandings can be avoided if Virtual Reality technology is used in a new way. A term which comes close to this new approach is “virtual commissioning”. But virtual commission is used for machines and not (yet) for business processes where people and IT systems must interact with each other. Such a “virtual business process commissioning” must fulfill much more requirements such as:
- Simulation of location where the business process is executed
- Simulation of the IT system to run the business process
- Simulation of people, tools, machines and robots connected to the IT system
Smart Assets can here play a major role as they are able to simulate the IT system as well as tools, machines and robots to bring the virtual business process very close to the reality.
In the meantime, we are piloting the XR Cloud with first customers coming from the automotive and semiconductor industry. We are still about to learn more about the application cases, which make most sense from a business perspective. Because one thing is clear: XR will not see mass adoption just because of the fanciness of the technology. There must be a clear and countable business value to justify the investment in innovations driven by XR technology.
But I’m quite sure, that the potential of XR is just about to be explored. Use cases could be manifold from collaboration and conferencing, application in marketing and sales to completely revolutionizing the way, we interact with computers in the future.
So stay tuned I will share my findings and customer collaborations in future blog posts.
*These materials are not sponsored by or affiliated with Unity Technologies or its affiliates. “Unity” is a trademark or registered trademark of Unity Technologies or its affiliates in the U.S. and elsewhere.