Partner Stories

Guiding construction with Katana from Future Sight AR

Katana, from Future Sight AR, is a library of work instructions for 400 of the most common pieces of equipment found on construction sites. It's now live on Magic Leap World.

In November 2018, we launched our Independent Creator Program to help promote cutting edge spatial computing experiences.

The brief was simple: tell us your best development idea and we’ll help make it happen.

We were thrilled to receive over 6,500 entries, from location-based experiences and spatial computing gaming concepts, through to ideas that could revolutionize the future of enterprise.

After careful deliberation, we selected those projects that would really benefit from our development support and guidance.

Next up, Katana from Future Sight AR. Katana is a library of work instructions for 400 of the most common pieces of equipment found on construction sites. These instructions are brought to life using spatial computing. The app allows workers to move through workflows and report progress and issues without taking their eyes off the job – increasing safety, efficiency, reducing rework and giving techs greater control over the quality of their work.

We chatted to one of the founders Lori-Lee Elliott to find out about the project. lorilee io photos-20

Why Katana - how did the idea come about? And what are some of the use cases you see for your product?

The idea for what would become Katana came about in 2013 when I was working as a journalist in New York. I covered a story on a device that I described as being a “computer screen in glasses”. I couldn’t see a world in which this technology was not the future. When I graduated, I accepted a job on one of the largest industrial construction projects at the time – and it just happened to be in Australia. This mega project cost billions of dollars and it needed an unbelievable amount of coordination and manpower to pull it off. My job involved a lot of walking in, through, and around the gas processing facility, often with an assortment or drawings, checklists and data sheets that I carried around in a backpack. I remembered the early AR glasses from New York and knew there had to be a better way of working.

When I moved back to the States I put together a pitch deck and started fleshing out the concept for Katana. As the app evolved, the use cases evolved as well. Today, its primary use is creating and assigning digital work packages to field engineers, technicians and craft. A work package is like a tutorial or guide that takes a user through all the steps needed to complete a task. Along the way, the user acknowledges or logs their progress, so they don’t have to fill out paperwork when the task is complete. (5)

We are focusing on industrial use cases first, but Katana can be used to create any kind of step-based experience, from baking the best pineapple upside-down cake, to changing a tire, through to operating the A/C at your Airbnb.

What were some of the technical or design challenges you overcame during the product development process?

The major design challenge was creating a secondary menu that contained lots of text. As an industrial application, the names of the procedures are very specific, which usually translates into a lot of characters. We had to find a way of presenting the information without overwhelming the user. If we included the standard amount of text for a webpage, the user wouldn’t be able to see their surroundings. We ended up using a rolodex-style menu where the titles look like they’re on a cylinder. The user can only see a few options at a time, but there are visual cues that more options are available. (6)

To enable a user in an office to author and assign procedures from the web to an engineer in the field with the headset, we needed Katana to pull all it's 3D models and content from a remote database, rather than store it locally on the headset itself. The major technical challenge we overcame was authenticating the app with a web-based RESTful API service using the UnityWebRequest class. The problem was that the UnityWebRequest class behaved differently in the editor to on the headset. To overcome this we used Postman, a third party application, to construct the web requests. After finalizing the structure of the request, you have to construct it using the UnityWebRequest class. Only minor substitutions are required for the parameter names and the construction of the request header and body (you can find these easily in the Unity documentation). When testing in the headset, we found that familiarization with using Magic Leap Device Bridge from the command line is essential as it’s the only reliable way to get your error messages.

Can you talk about why you decided to develop for Magic Leap One?

We decided to develop for Magic Leap One because with spatial computing you can seamlessly blend the real and the digital. People focus less on using a device and more on the task at hand, which is exactly what you need in enterprise software. (4)

Traditionally, information, data and media is confined to a little box – whether that’s your phone, computer or tablet. With Magic Leap One, your environment is your data source and we can bring expertise wherever it’s needed most. If you’re a field engineer it isn’t practical to hold on to a phone all day. We needed something accessible and hands-free.

How do you see spatial computing changing the workplace?

There’s a stereotype in the industry that productivity, safety and quality are mutually exclusive. Spatial computing, together with the emerging technologies it enables, can change this. By having instant access to relevant information, employees will be able to do more with fewer resources, resulting in greater productivity and quality.

Safety and safety culture is paramount in construction, so we built that into Katana. When you use the application you’re continually prompted to ensure you are deploying safe working practices, such as permits, personal protective equipment (PPE) and stop work authority. According to a report by AFL-CIO, which pulled data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Latino workers experienced workplace fatality rates 18% higher than the national average. While many factors contributed to this, with applications like Katana, that are highly visual and easy to translate input into different languages, we can communicate hazards to workers in ways that result in better parity, no matter which language is spoken on-site. (7)

Spatial computing has the potential to turn traditional jobs, like those found in the construction industry, into tech jobs. With expertise decentralized and available to everyone within a company, there’s less emphasis on who holds the knowledge, and a greater premium placed on who can use that expertise to think creatively and solve problems effectively.

What’s it like being a team of three female co-founders in XR?

Katana Launch-4 Having two other female founders has been one of the best work experiences one could ask for. We each bring different strengths and experience to the team, but we all have similar values and a vision for the company. Being friends before becoming founders was a huge help. I tell aspiring entrepreneurs to really get to know their prospective co-founders to see if they get along because, once you get into corporate entity formation, there’s more legal paperwork binding you to your co-founders than there is in a marriage. So you better like each other.

What advice would you give to other female founders starting XR companies?

Start vetting the idea, start building a team and start iterating. If you’re just starting a company, find a way to bootstrap as long as you can, if not all the way to $1M ARR and beyond. Companies like MailChimp and Zoho are great examples of how to do this. And, of course, look for partners like Magic Leap and networks like the Female Founders Alliance and the Women in XR Fund, that support female founders.

The world needs more women in XR, so if you’re thinking about it, absolutely get out there and start doing!

What’s next for Katana?

Next, we’re rolling out some pilots with EPCs, equipment providers, and energy companies exploring XR tech and how it can improve the workplace. We have capacity for five pilots this year and we’ve already filled two. We’re rolling out Katana on Android and iOS. We also want to get Katana Pro, the web app side of the application, launched so our customers can create their own tutorials, guides and work instructions.

Since we started development, we’ve had pitches for Kantana applications in education, aviation, and emergency response. We’d love to pursue these one day, too.

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