In June Dr Fridolin Wild and I attended the BMW innovation fair. This boasted an array of inventions surrounding the concept of industry 4.0 (or the 4th version of the industrial revolution).

Armed with our trusty Hololens we demonstrated the ATLAS project created by PALs artist in residence; a visually stimulating augmented experience in which the user throws augmented “balls of paper” in the spatially mapped environment. The balls plant into the real-world environment, like seeds, they then grow into a buildings. We also showed videos of trials from the WEKIT project. We showed the WEKIT aircraft maintenance trial video in which you see an ‘expert’ using WEKIT on a Hololens to record how to perform a maintenance task on a plane which is then played back by a ‘novice’ who is able to complete the task without supervision. This allowed us to discuss, with anyone who would listen, how AR based workplace learning will be a great thing. The feedback was impressive. What struck me is how enthusiastic many of the ‘higher ups’ were in discussions about how AR could be used to train new recruits. It was pointed out to me that employing as many people as BMW do, even with a good retention rate, it’s impossible not to retrain hundreds of staff every year. I can see this being a great place for AR to integrate itself within the workforce.

It was a busy day with many stands and talks. I met an old classmate of mine, now a software developer in BMW. He proudly showed me an application he had developed with his team. The application allowed data to be pushed directly to the employees who need it around the factory. There were a few other AR people and another stand covered in Hololens . We stood next to a friend of Fridolins, an enthusiastic Scrum master who was encouraging passers-by to compete in activities designed to explain why agile is better. I enjoyed a talk by a company who created a wrist scanner. Small form and easy to carry, this simple solution demonstrated performance augmentation very well, it allowed employees who worked with barcodes to easily scan them without carrying around a predated heavy hand scanner..

Finally, the topic that really, really stuck with me was on the forklift trucks. BMW are in the process of rolling out new automated forklifts which, as I understand it, will replace all manually operated forklifts within a year. This is a great example of industry 4.0. The engineer in me applauds, what a magnificent creation – the future is here! Soon we will all have our own R2-D2 to help us with everyday tasks like cleaning the carpets or fixing our X-Wings. There is also another side of me that worries though. Technology is moving so fast and pushing the job market, so many industries will transform in the next couple decades. Can we find a fairway to share this world when factories only needs one person and a dog to run?