‘The future is mixed reality’: Augmented reality put to work on manufacturing

By Ben Hargreaves contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Image: Getty/SasinParaksa)
(Image: Getty/SasinParaksa)

Related tags: Augmented reality, Industry 4.0, Gsk, Artificial intelligence, Random42

Augmented reality holds the ability to visualise production processes without individuals being physically present, explains CEO.

The industry buzz around the use of digital technologies ability to enable greater production efficiency is increasing, as larger companies, such as GSK​, outline the material impact possible on businesses.

Brought together under the umbrella term, Industry 4.0, the potential digital revolution involves greater use of data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and greater automation.

GSK’s Pharma 4.0 director, Patrick Hyett outlined the possible savings the hundreds of millions made possible by such technology, through its experimental ‘factory of the future’​.

As a result, companies and experts are drilling down into specific elements of Industry 4.0 and exploring where its potential lies.

Ben Ramsbottom
Ben Ramsbottom, CEO of Random42

Lawrence Ganti, CEO of Life Sciences at Innoplexus, recently told us​ that the vast amount of data produced during manufacturing should see the industry use artificial intelligence to model making small changes to improve industry processes.

To hone in on another area that is part of the digital movement, in-PharmaTechnologist (IPT​) spoke to Ben Ramsbottom (BR​), CEO of Random42, to learn about the ways in which augmented reality (AR) can shift from being a promotional ‘gimmick’ to a practical tool.

IPT: What potential uses does AR have for the pharma industry?

BR:​ Augmented reality has huge potential but must be executed in the right way to add real value, rather than it being a gimmick. For Random42, this has involved showing the position of a medical device inside a physical body or revealing the inner workings of a medical device. This has now broadened into allowing a user to interact with a cell through the use of a tablet, so that they can turn receptors on or off to see what effect this has on downstream signalling inside the cell.

The emergence of new platforms over the last couple of years has enabled us to create truly interactive experiences, which can reinforce learning and engage users in a different way. In the short-term, we have seen an explosion in the use of AR at booths and conferences, where the booth is brought to life with virtual 3D biological structures floating around.

The future really is in the form of remote learning, where anyone can download the content and interact with the science in the comfort of their own home. As almost everyone has a smartphone or tablet, there are no barriers to this technology.

However, the future of this will expand further than such devices. It will be used in mixed reality headsets; although these headsets currently require further development before the user experience is optimal.

IPT: How could AR be used to improve the manufacturing process within the industry?

BR: ​There are lots of obvious uses for AR in this space — giving people the ability to visualise the production process through the screen of a tablet without the user needing to travel to the manufacturing facilities themselves. In the comfort of your own home, or office, a bioreactor could appear, or a robot arm could be shown to be working in an automated process. AR allows the possibility to virtually see and explore large pieces of equipment without the need to physically take people to the facility.

IPT: How is adoption of the technology across the industry currently looking, and what could increase its uptake?

BR: ​At the moment, use is starting to take off in both experience at congresses, as well as in remote learning. However, there are issues in translating the content into a valued experience. This is why, at Random42, every project is led by a PhD scientist, to make sure that the experience adds real scientific value. This approach will only improve the uptake of the technology as people see its real value.

IPT: Are other industries making use of the technology and are there lessons for pharma therein?

People often say that the pharma industry is 10 years behind other industries when it comes to marketing. I wouldn’t say that this is the case when it comes to shows and congresses, but the issue is outside of this arena. This, in part, is a result of regulation, but from an educational standpoint, there is a lot of material that can be used to spread the word about diseases and therapeutic areas. For example, translating the content from booth assets into something that can be downloaded at home. Distribution of such content can be problematic, but pharma must cut through the red tape to make much greater return on the assets they have already.

IPT: How could this technology develop into the future?

BR: ​As mentioned earlier, the future is mixed reality. For this to happen there needs to be an affordable headset that is easy and intuitive to use. Predictions indicate that use of mixed reality will permeate everyday lives as we augment the reality around us.

Ben Ramsbottom is a PhD molecular and cell biologist with experience within the pharmaceutical industry and within the publishing industry it serves. As the CEO at Random42, Ramsbottom has overseen strong growth within the company over the last five years, making Random42 the global leader in medical animation, virtual reality, as well other digital assets for the pharmaceutical industry.

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