The Virtual Chocolate Factory: Building a real world mixed-reality system for industrial collaboration and control


Virtual, mobile, and mixed reality systems have diverse uses for data visualization and remote collaboration in industrial settings, especially factories. We report our experiences in designing complex mixed-reality collaboration, control, and display systems for a real-world factory, for delivering real-time factory information to multiple users. In collaboration with (blank for review), a chocolate maker in San Francisco, our research group is building a virtual “mirror” world of a real-world chocolate factory and its processes. Real-world sensor data (such as temperature and machine state) is imported into the 3D environment from hundreds of sensors on the factory floor. Multi-camera imagery from the factory is also available in the multi-user 3D factory environment. The resulting “virtual factory” is designed for simulation, visualization, and collaboration, using a set of interlinked, real-time 3D and 2D layers of information about the factory and its processes. We are also looking at appropriate industrial uses for mobile devices such as cell phones and tablet computers, and how they intersect with virtual worlds and mixed realities. For example, an experimental iPhone web app provides mobile laboratory monitoring and control. The app allows a real-time view into the lab via steerable camera and remote control of lab machines. The mobile system is integrated with the database underlying the virtual factory world. These systems were deployed at the real-world factory and lab in 2009, and are now in beta development. Through this mashup of mobile, social, mixed and virtual technologies, we hope to create industrial systems for enhanced collaboration between physically remote people and places – for example, factories in China with managers in Japan or the US.