A surreal 2020 gets actually surreal for Nestle and Philips with augmented reality

ZURICH (BLOOMBERG) – The pandemic of 2020 is accelerating a lot of technologies and this one is surreal.

When the coronavirus grounded planes around the world, Swiss food giant Nestle needed to figure out how to keep its 400 factories running smoothly. The company leaned on a futuristic technology it had previously dabbled in only as a backup: augmented reality.

The more practical cousin of virtual reality, AR is mainly used to provide remote training and technical support to production sites and R&D centres with the help of smart glasses and 3-D imaging similar to Google Street View.

It allows viewers to pause videos, draw circles and lines into the image, and even use their own projected hands to point and gesture.

After remote teams helped complete a new beverage factory in Thailand seven weeks ahead of schedule, test new KitKat confectionery moulds in absentia and commission new pet-food production lines in the United States, Nestle plans to expand the technology across the company.

“Today we understand the full potential of the positive impact of the crisis as well,” Mr Thomas Hauser, Nestle’s head of product and technology development, said in an interview.

“We enjoy a higher level of efficiency, speed and a reduced impact on the environment.”

Joining Nestle  in betting on the use of augmented reality due to the pandemic are appliance makers Royal Philips and Electrolux.

While Electrolux used it to deal with not being able to install equipment it shipped to North America and Latin America, Philips relied on the technology while urgently expanding ventilator capacity to cope with a surge in critically ill Covid-19 patients needing help with breathing.

In a race to set up additional production lines, the Dutch company remotely connected different sites to help train workers and exchange knowledge, bypassing the need for travel.

Part of that drive is also focused on artificial intelligence in an attempt to detect how patients are trending on the basis of data analytics. The technology helps to forecast whether they fall into a delirium or into sepsis, and whether they need help.

“You see a rapid integration of virtual reality technologies,” said Philips chief executive officer Frans Van Houten.

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