Thursday was another jam-packed day at Field Service USA 2019, full of great discussions and demonstrations in the expo hall. And, once again, emerging technologies and workforce trends took center stage. But one technology in particular seemed to be on everybody’s minds: augmented reality.

That’s not surprising. AR has been on service leaders’ minds for years to address training and retention — and even hands-free installation and repair. But during panel discussions and conversations with companies and vendors that are using (or exploring) AR, there’s an unmistakable shift in how service leaders expect field staff to use AR. Instead of investing in expensive AR headset hardware, many companies want to bring AR to the tablets and phones that their technicians already carry.

That’s not to say that service leaders have given up on headsets. During a panel discussion, Nick Cherukuri, CEO at ThirdEye, laid out reasons why some technicians truly need hands-free capabilities. One example: large-scale construction projects. John Rygg, technology strategist at Kiewit, a global construction firm, explained how a small team of Kiewit construction managers and engineers use Microsoft’s HoloLenses onsite at large-scale construction projects (think dams and airplane hangers) to view 3D construction models. Others, like Teck Resources, Canada’s largest mining operator, are exploring how to use AR headsets in the field.  

But most service organizations won’t (or can’t) make a massive investment in headsets. Instead, vendors like SightCall and Re’Flekt are working with companies in insurance, maintenance and repair, and manufacturing to bring AR capabilities to the phones and tablets that technicians already carry.

It seems peak AR hype is behind us. And that could be what moves AR’s applicability in service through the trough of disillusionment, where it ranked in Gartner’s 2018 “Hype Cycle,” to widespread adoption — whether it’s on cutting-edge headsets or everyday mobile devices.

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