3D CAD to AR

03 July 2017

Al Dean takes a look at how to take your 3D CAD data into Augmented Reality with Creo 4.0 and then share that experience with clients or colleagues

Create, scale and position your unique ThingMark directly in the Creo 4.0 interface — you’ll find the tools under Augmented Reality group

Augmented Reality (AR) is a hot topic in the general tech industry at the moment. From the smartphone in your pocket to Microsoft’s Hololens to SnapChat’s glasses and every point in between, AR is coming. And with the acquisition of Vuforia and its work with ThingWorx and the Internet of Things (IoT), PTC has been investing heavily in the field.

While the company has its full blown ThingWorx Studio for creating service instructions, interactive product models and maintenance applications, it has recently introduced tools, which are available to all customers, within its flagship Creo product design system that allow everyone to create and experiment with AR, right from the 3D CAD workstation.

In basic terms, you go about creating an AR experience by firstly using Creo to create a ThingMark (similar to a QR code) of your 3D model, that ThingMark is then scanned by a smartphone or tablet via the ThingWorx View app.

The digital 3D model can then be viewed in the AR world through the device’s camera by pointing at the ThingMark.

Here’s how you do it.

Prepare the model & ThingMark

The first step is to prepare your 3D model with the materials in place and the product configured the way in which you want to share it. Now you need to find the ‘Augmented Reality’ group in the Tools ribbon inside Creo. There are only four commands in the group and the first action is to place the ThingMark using ‘add ThingMark’.

The ThingMark is fundamental to how all of PTC’s AR applications work. It’s a graphical device that allows you to not only connect the real world to a digital experience, but also control scale and position. Essentially, it solves a couple of problems.

The first is that there’s an encoded link to your AR experience within the inner border. So when you point your ThingWorx View app at it (which you download onto your smartphone or tablet – see box out below), it’ll know which web address to send it to.

Alongside this pure URL information, the ThingMark also acts as a 3D positional tracking target.

There’s some internal wizardry at play here but, basically, the app on your smartphone looks at the ThingMark and it can work out where it is in 3D space, both in terms of position and scale. Not just as a static scan, it works live, so as you move your phone in/out or around the ThingMark, the app tracks that location.

What this means when used with 3D model data is that when you place and position your ThingMark in the digital world (as shown in the image above), you’re defi ning the relationship between that digital ThingMark, the model and the real world printed ThingMark.

The scale set in the digital model is refl ected 1:1 in the real world.

If your ThingMark is printed at 115mm (like ours is) and your ThingMark is set to 120mm in the digital model, it’ll map across. Obviously, this means you can also play with scale.

In the image above, we’ve set the scaling of the ThingMark in the digital world so that the bike model displays nicely on the page below.

Consider that for a moment. This isn’t just about wandering around a digital 3D model with your smartphone or tablet as a display device. By thinking through the positional and scale capabilities of the ThingMark, it’s possible to create digital assets that are not just overlaid over the real world but which integrate with it. Position a ThingMark where you want it in the digital model and it’ll pop into the AR world right there.

That might be a redesigned console on a machine tool, a new wing mirror on a car or a whole new robot cell in-situ in a factory. That’s all possible with just this free tool within Creo, a smartphone or tablet and a printer.

Data compression

The final step before you make your experience live is to compress the data. AR experiences thrive on lightweight data to keep interactivity optimal. PTC already has huge experience in reducing the complexity of heavy CAD datasets with its Creo View (formerly ProductView), but with the acquisition of Vuforia, that knowledge has expanded into the AR realm.

When you create your AR experience, you’re presented with three levels of resolution. High, medium and low – which relate to the fidelity and tessellation of the geometry. The greater the tessellation, the quicker it’ll load, but that’s off set against a lower resolution model.

Limitations of free service

Essentially, you’re allowed five AR experiences per PTC account log-in. Each of these will last for six months.

When you upload and share an AR experience, you’ll be presented with a list of the four other experiences you’ve created. If you upload a sixth, the oldest will be deleted and these experiences will remain live until the six months is up.

Next steps

Clearly this is a free trial of PTC’s larger set of AR tools and the goal is to get folks hooked on creating these types of experiences. So what else can you do with the fuller application set in ThingWorx Studio?

The answer is pretty much: whatever you want.

In the first instance, the full product will give you way more control over how your models appear, let you add animations, additional controls, shaders and more.

Outside of pure CAD type functions, there’s huge potential for integrating this type of AR technology with data from IoT applications. PTC makes a big noise about the potential for service and maintenance and rightly so. The latest updates for ThingWorx Studio have also started to bring in more realism in the 3D models (in terms of texture mapping) as well as starting to add support for AR headsets such as the Microsoft HoloLens.

ThingWorx View App: Viewing the AR experience

Now that we’ve created the Thingmark, let’s try it out on your mobile device. With your own examples, you’ll need to send the Thingmark to print (or you can scan it off your screen).

Here’s what you do once you have:

1. Download the ThingWorx View app for your smartphone. It’s freely available for iOS, Microsoft and Android/Google devices. And get it installed.
2. Once installed, fi re it up and you’ll be asked to allow the app to access your camera. The app uses the built in camera to capture the Thingmarks.
3. You’ll then be asked to scan the Thingmark. Point it at the image above or the one you printed out.
4. This unique Thingmark will then load the dataset shown in the tutorial. This is a 800Mb dataset reduced down to 20Mb to make it easily transportable over the web.
5. Hey presto! You’ll fi nd the model, sat on the page of the magazine. You’re able to move around it (or rotate the page), zoom in and out by moving the device closer or further away from it. Clever, eh?

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