Augmented reality has, believe it or not, been around since 1968, although it didn’t start making significant progress until the 21st century. Many people think of augmented reality, or AR, as purely an entertainment technology, meant for things like Pokémon Go and other games. It’s actually an extremely useful technology in the workplace, however, particularly in industrial settings. AR allows workers to closely examine complex processes and components, often in a hands-free manner thanks to special AR glasses. For example, a drop in temperature or pressure can alert workers via images on their glasses, so that they can respond in time. The glasses can also detect things like airborne contaminants, display relevant parameters of the environment, and suggest actions to take.
AR glasses can be problematic, though. They’re typically large and heavy, covering most of the face. In an industrial setting, that’s not exactly convenient, as workers are often required to also wear protective masks and helmets. German researcher Professor Rigo Herold decided that there must be a better way.
He needed to create glasses with rims that were lightweight but precise, allowing for the incorporation of all the necessary elements without becoming too bulky. They also needed to be durable and resistant to high temperatures. He turned to 3D printing to achieve his goals, but finding the right technology was tricky.
“Data glasses are composed of complex, precisely positioned optical components – among others sensors and mirrors,” said Herold. “To ensure uninterrupted sharpness of the virtual image, all optical components must be set in with the highest precision. The filaments used in the early data glasses printed in 3D technology were not accurate enough.”
He then looked into SLS 3D printing as an alternative. First he used service providers, but found that the wait time was too long. So he purchased a Sinterit Lisa 3D printer, which delivered the results he needed. The glasses could be 3D printed in one piece, without support structures, and could be produced either in a short series or as custom-made items. They could be mounted on a helmet, or adjusted for use with other equipment. The freedom of design that SLS 3D printing allows meant that several different, individually tailored items could be made.
The glasses were also durable, flexible, precise and lightweight. They were shock resistant and could be incorporated easily with other protective equipment such as masks, helmets and earphones.
The 3D printed glasses could have a number of other applications, as well. They could be used by hearing-impaired people or those watching movies in a foreign language to see subtitles, or they could be used to enhance city or museum tours. Using SLS 3D printing to create them means that they can be produced very quickly, and using a desktop SLS 3D printer such as the Lisa keeps costs low – especially now that the Lisa’s price has been significantly cut.
There’s a lot to be gained from combining 3D printing and augmented reality, and Herold’s work shows another example of how one disruptive technology can be used to advance another. Learn more about Herold’s work below:
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