The overarching view from the services sector has always been characterized by a dual focus: provisioning technical and customer support to a demanding, continually evolving global community. That view has seen several technological changes, from pen and paper to today where services-related data is collected, distributed and managed in real time.
But there is still a gap between where we stand today as a technology-based services community, and where we need to be tomorrow to continue supporting our customers with the levels of service they require. Augmented reality (AR) is likely to be critical to that mission, helping field service organizations bridge the gap between real-time and an enhanced, augmented visualization of reality — and the view from that bridge will be phenomenal!
Late last year, PTC acquired Vuforia, an AR technology platform that enables companies to connect their physical machines to AR-enabled applications. The company says the acquisition will help customers take advantage of two of the biggest tech trends in field service: the Internet of Things and augmented reality.
In an interview with Fortune about the acquisition, PTC’s CEO, Jim Heppelmann, said, “More and more we see products that are part physical and part digital – and we see new models wanting to be part physical and part digital. The idea of being able to project a digital experience onto a physical product to figure out how to service it or show operating metrics … is a killer idea.”
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Heppelmann suggested a few examples, saying, “imagine pointing your smartphone at your car and being able to see visual warnings that your wiper fluid was running low or your tire pressure was sub-optimal on a rear tire. That’s possible as information gathered by the car’s sensors can be pushed to the cloud, then retrieved and shown in a visual format on the phone. That same format could also offer simple to follow directions on how to fix the problems.”
That hybrid digital-physical interaction is part of PTC’s vision for augmented reality’s business applications — field service included. According to Heppelmann, PTC’s goals with augmented reality are to:
- Eliminate the maintenance, repair and service manuals in their present, cumbersome, form.
- Streamline (or even eliminate) formal, individual maintenance and repair training for service technicians.
- Introduce new Service Lifecycle Management (SLM)-based services business models.
Think of it this way: when watching a televised football game, the placement of the “yellow first down line” marker that magically appears on the screen makes it eminently easier to understand where the football is located and how many yards the team in possession needs to gain for a first down. The marker also suggests which strategies the coaching staff might consider for the next series of plays. In reality, that “yellow line” does not exist, but it certainly makes it easier for the remote viewer to understand the game and predict the next plays.
AR is best understood by actually seeing a demonstration of it in action.
In this example, AR doesn’t create a “new” virtual reality; rather, it enhances the perceptual reality that the viewer is able to visualize while watching the next down takes place. It is not a new creation; it’s an enhanced (or augmented) reality that makes it easier for the viewer to process what’s going on, and what needs to be done next. And the applications for field service, specifically, will be even more profound!
The ability to “see” this augmented reality — in 3D — with accompanying instructive text, metrics and repair parameters overlaid and easily articulated will undoubtedly provide, at the very least, an extra measure of comfort to the technician, as well as instructions for performing the repair quickly, accurately and safely. However, merely talking about AR, rather than actually seeing it in action, is like trying to tell a Southerner how cold the Northern winters are — it’s just not possible!
That’s why AR is best understood by actually seeing a demonstration of it in action.