Where Will Augmented Reality Take Your Field Service Operation?
The back story.
Fifty years ago, Ivan Sutherland won the prestigious Turing Award for his three-dimensional display created for his employer, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). His 3-D invention was a massive metal-and-cable beast, awkwardly suspended from the ceiling, that encircled his head like a helmet on steroids. The ultimate purpose of Sutherland’s research and experimentation was to provide jet fighter pilots with visualization tools that would help them be more precise in analyzing the overwhelming number of data points they captured.
Boeing and AR in the 1980s.
Outside of the military, AR was nonexistent, because computers in those days weren’t able to support it. But two decades later, with more-sophisticated computers, Boeing scientist Dr. Thomas Caudell explored AR. He wanted to make it easier to build the 777, the first digitally-designed aircraft, so he and his colleague David Mizell designed a see-through display to guide workers as they threaded bundles of wires onto the pegs of a 20- to 30-foot-long board. Their initial device didn’t turn out so well (computers to support AR still weren’t up to the challenge), but the scientists went back to the drawing board. In 1988, Dr. Caudell coined the phrase augmented reality to describe the new type of “digital vision” they were seeking.
Today, Boeing is on the forefront of all types of “reality” – including virtual, informed, augmented and mixed. The company’s AR system takes spatially registered digital content and overlays it onto views of the real world. In one scenario, it projected what would have been a 10,000+ page manual into a “visual headset” and displayed over the body of an aircraft the necessary technical information for the assembly process – making the process both faster and less error-prone. Use of AR in Boeing’s manufacturing process has resulted in a 90% reduction of errors and a 30% decline in time in production, according to Paul Davies, Associate Technical Fellow at Boeing, who presented at the Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (Spring 2017). The company’s use of AR for its 45-step training program has shown similarly impressive results.
AR is no longer a shiny new tech tool for big business. It’s everywhere, for everyone.
When Google Glass was hyped as the next shiny new tool in tech, businesses and consumers alike wondered how it would affect their lives. When it failed, few people were surprised. The product didn’t offer anything that people wanted or needed; it had a short battery life; competitive products (namely, smartphones) did the same things Glass was designed to do, only better; it was too pricey; its surveillance-like features felt like an invasion of privacy (and no one wanted to be near someone wearing Glass); and its marketing campaign was disjointed and poorly executed.
In the years since the failure of Google Glass, Microsoft has taken a giant leap forward, using tech similar to the Xbox Kinect to create Hololens. The emergence of two solid-as-gold platforms created by Apple and Google – ARkit and ARCore – has resulted in a growing number of AR apps being created with fresh new features to satisfy a growing list of needs in manufacturing, business services, and consumer goods.
- If you watch sports, you’ve seen broadcasters overlay lines on the field to show first downs and other key movement on the field. That’s AR.
- If you’ve shopped for homes or furniture, you may have seen 360-degree views of a house, or pieces of furniture inserted into an image of your own room. Retailers like IKEA are increasing using AR – and so are local interior designers, Realtors, landscape architects, surgeons, and law enforcement agencies.
- If you’ve seen Pokémon Go in action, you’ve noticed people hovering over their screens, looking at virtual creatures as if they were present in real-world situations. Users spent $200 million in game content in just the first month of Pokémon Go’s existence. (Since its introduction in 2016, there have been 500 million downloads of the Pokémon app. Now, that’s AR for the masses!)
- If you’ve wondered how highly sophisticated systems and equipment can be designed and manufactured in mere weeks (and repaired in mere hours), the answer is AR.
You don’t need to be big like Boeing or everywhere like Pokémon to reap big benefits.
Hololens and other AR wearable headsets now have all the computing power they need to maintain AR. The core technology behind AR is Simultaneous Localization and Mapping – or SLAM – which allows users to see depth and textural maps that “overlay” a real-world scenario. Some manufacturers and field service organizations are deploying AR on headsets, but many others are deploying it on everyday devices – like tablets and smartphones – as they wait for the next iteration of wearable devices.
In field service as well as in dozens of other industries, AR is delivering Boeing-like benefits. Listed below in bold are the many benefits that Boeing realized as a result of using AR in manufacturing (according to Paul Davies, who presented at EWTS (Spring 2017), followed by why field service organizations are also deploying AR in the field.
- Reduction in errors. In field service, errors are costly – not only in terms of time required on the job but also in dissatisfied customers and lost revenue from lapsed customers.
- Reduction in training requirements. In field service, AR is not only a first-time instructional assist, but it is also a reference tool that workers can replay on an as-needed basis.
- Reduction in time spent. In field service, time is money. AR helps workers get their jobs done on time, every time.
- Increase in “worker recall” of project-related instructions. In field service as on the manufacturing floor, workers report, “If I can see it done, I can do it.”
- Transfer of “tribal knowledge.” It’s also called “remote assist” and it can shave hours (even days) off the time required to repair a piece of equipment or replace a part in a system.
If you don’t know where to begin in AR the landscape, know why you should begin.
The good news for field service organizations (at least for those with a digital field service solution like Gomocha FMP360) is that they already have access to plenty of data to analyze their operations. What they need – and what AR provides – is a way to make use of that data to fully optimize technician performance on the job.
It can be overwhelming to know how to begin the process of capturing, analyzing, storing, manipulating, and benefitting from data. The first step is to recognize that data is the key to gaining rich insights about your world, and augmented reality is the enhancement – the enabler – that allows you to visualize and analyze the growing torrent of data on the interactive canvas that is your business.
And consider this: You shouldn’t use AR just because it’s trendy. AR is no longer a gimmick. It’s well recognized across many industries that AR is positively affecting business and genuine problems are being solved .
Want to serve more customers? Want to keep existing customers happier? Want to equip technicians with all the tools they need to perform well, thereby lowering frustration and reducing technician turnover? Want to decrease costs and increase first-time fixes?
Regardless of what drives adoption of augmented reality, the ROI that can be achieved is impressive. Results are almost immediate. AR’s potential in business is astounding!
Be like Boeing and embrace AR!
“Expect a tidal change when companies rush to catch up to competitors that already make use of AR and run a leaner ship as a result. That day is not far off.”