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PTC Offers Free Vuforia Chalk Trial To Aid Those Impacted By Coronavirus

'What we quickly realized in light of COVID-19 was that many more people can't get to where they need to get to because of travel restrictions and social distancing and so forth,' PTC exec Mike Campbell says, explaining why the vendor decided to offer the augmented reality app for free until the end of June.

PTC is offering an extended free trial of its Vuforia Chalk augmented reality app that the industrial software vendor says can help organizations in situations in which experts can't get on-site to aid with physical processes — a problem that has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Boston-based company announced earlier this month that it would provide the enterprise version of Vuforia Chalk, which allows experts to provide remote assistance to field workers with a smartphone, for free until the end of June or when the coronavirus crisis is over.

[Related: When Experts Are Stuck At Home, PTC Says AR Can Fill A Gap]

Mike Campbell, executive vice president of AR products at PTC, told CRN that the company is offering the software-as-a-service product completely free for the next few months because travel restrictions, social distancing and other measures to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus has made it difficult, if not impossible for experts to be on site to help workers with a variety of needs.

"What we quickly realized in light of COVID-19 was that many more people are now in that situation, many more people can't get to where they need to get to because of travel restrictions and social distancing and so forth," he said.

Campbell likened Vuforia Chalk to "FaceTime on steroids," referring to Apple's popular video chat app. But instead of just providing video chat, Vuforia Chalk allows users to draw annotations on top of the live video on a smartphone to help the person on the other end understand, for instance, how a hospital bed works. Users can also draw annotations from a desktop environment.

"In that video stream, we both have the opportunity to draw annotations in the live video stream," Campbell said. "And those annotations stick or they persist in the real world around us. So it's very easy for you to highlight something I should be doing or to draw my attention somewhere."

The company has already seen a four-fold increase in usage for Vuforia Chalk since travel restrictions, stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines have been put in place, according to Campbell.

"We're expecting over the next week or so for those numbers to continue to climb," he said.

Campbell said PTC has already heard from a hospital that may use Vuforia Chalk to remotely teach people how to operate a hospital bed. The company has also heard about a potential use case for a wastewater treatment facility that isn't able to get an expert on site due to coronavirus restrictions.

Automotive manufacturers, including Toyota, and medical device makers are among the kinds of companies that have adopted Vuforia Chalk the most since the software was released three years ago.

"The key value [proposition] here is, you're basically able to show somebody how to do this something without being physically there," Campbell said said.

To help spread awareness, PTC has published a blog post and distributed "awareness" materials to the company's strategic partner, Rockwell Automation, as well as its reseller partners and the National Association of Manufacturers, the latter of which sent a newsletter that mentioned Vuforia Chalk to tens of thousands of manufacturing executives.

Campbell said the free trial of Vuforia Chalk is first and foremost about helping companies and organizations in need. Any sales that follow would be considered a "collateral benefit.

"Really, the goal is we recognize we've got something valuable to put out there, and we want to make that as frictionless as possible," he said.

Maddy Hawkins, director of IoT sales at Aquitas Solutions, a Roswell, Ga.-based PTC partner that provides connected maintenance solutions, said a day before the Vuforia Chalk free trial was announced, one of her customers, a cheese manufacturer, brought up how it was struggling to keep up with maintenance because the company's system experts are now working from home.

"A lot of the people that need to actually go around and see the assets and help make these important decisions are now working from home," she said. "So how do they enable the people who are still at the plant trying to keep things going when they're not able to be there?"

The answer Hawkins provided to the cheese manufacturer was Vuforia Chalk, without even realizing that PTC would make it free for several months. Now, she said, Aquitas is working with the customer on a strategic roadmap to help it adopt Vuforia Chalk across its whole maintenance organization.

With other manufacturers and maintenance organizations facing similar problems, Hawkins said, Aquitas is talking to other customers about how they can use Vuforia Chalk.

"This was a change in manufacturing and service organizations that I think was going to inevitably happen going forward," she said. "But because of what we're facing right now, it's definitely sped up the process of companies adopting this type of technology."

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