LavaCon 2015: Is 3-D Documentation Finally Here?

Preparing for Augmented Reality: Moving from 2D to 3D Documentation

Session-Summary-2D-to-3D-documentationPresenter: Nabayan Roy, Information Developer, Autodesk, Singapore


There are some lesser know benefits to attending LavaCon. Such as I’m pretty sure that I am the first person in the office who used Google Cardboard, and I rarely get the chance to be first with a new technology in my geeky circle.

Nabayan Roy, presenting on the topic of “Preparing for Augmented Reality: Moving from 2D to 3D Documentation”, brought Google Cardboard to work with his iPhone6, so that we could see how a schematic drawing could be brought to 3-D life for us to view from all angles through our high-tech viewer. In this particular case, I viewed 3-D drawings of an office chair from all angles. Roy, a Singapore-based documentation lead for AutoCAD, encouraged us to think about how augmented reality technologies can improve our documentation.

First, we need to answer a basic questions: what is the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality? Augmented reality adds to your current reality, whereas virtual reality creates a separate world. For a relatively simple example of what happens when you augment reality, note how beautiful and colorful Nabayan’s slides are. I admit to giving many presentations with plain black and white slides, but I can see what a difference adding visual interest gives. Take a look for yourself:

AutoCAD is engineering drafting software, which of course has different users than standard business enterprise or consumer software. That does not mean that you can get away without thinking about augmented and virtual reality and their impacts on our online experiences. Nabayan quoted Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook), who, when Facebook acquired the virtual reality technology company Oculus Rift, stated “I believe that this continues the trajectory, going from text to photos to videos to fully immersive scenes that you can construct models and different things instantaneously to show people much richer descriptions of what you’re thinking or experiencing at that point.”

preparing-for-augmented-reality-moving-from-2d-to-3d-documentation-6-638One company that has incorporated augmented reality into their documentation is Hyundai, as I recently read in this article:

The car owner uses his or her phone camera to scan a part of the car, and then is given customized information and instructions about that part. For example, you can point your camera at the dashboard and learn how to set things up just the way you want, with fully detailed instructions. Or just ask the app, “How do I change my oil”, and dive into the 3-D and video instructions it provides.

Many other industries and fields could benefit from augmented reality in support content. Think about possible applications in medicine, tourism, aircraft maintenance, education. We have all had the frustrating experience of moving from the printed page to the machine part (even if it’s just your latest IKEA furniture) and trying to remember and apply what you just looked at. Sometimes we ask someone to read it for us while we do the task. But how much better if you could see the instructions while you were doing the task?

Nabayan’s concept for producing 3-D documentation is simple, and fairly universal: Create, Mix, Publish. Practical application means considering a range of tools such as AutoCAD, to create layers of content for presentation. Nabayan mentioned that AutoCAD has developed a way to script the videos that are used in documentation, so that they can automatically be updated. That technique would certainly allay the concerns of many technical writers, who often find that video is very difficult to keep up to date. If similar techniques could be applied to augmented reality documentation, then that would help considerably with concerns about documentation being out of date.

The fields of augmented reality and virtual reality have had some rough patches in the journey to wider acceptance. Google Glass did not catch on as a consumer item, but I strongly believe elements of that technology will have widespread applications like described above. Nabayan provided food for thought and some outstanding examples that should motivate us to think further into the future of technical content.