2020 Field Service Technology Predictions: Drones, Robots, and Self-Driving Cars
If only we could look into a crystal ball to see what the future holds. While that’s not possible, we’ve all heard talk of how the Internet of Things (IoT), augmented reality (AR), and wearables could alter field service as we know it. Though it may sometimes feel like the impact of these technologies won’t be felt anytime soon, 2020 will be here sooner than we may realize. In this post, we round up our predictions for what the field service landscape will look like from a technology perspective in 2020.
Why Advanced Technologies Matter
If you’re questioning whether it’s worth your time to even think about what lies around the bend, consider these statistics and trends:
- 52% of companies are still using manual methods to handle field service.
- There will be 50 billion internet-connected devices by 2020, a 100% increase over 2015.
- 92% of executives feel they must adapt service models to keep up with customers’ needs.
These are just a sampling of the many trends impacting field service organizations across industries. By embracing the latest technologies, field service organizations put themselves in the best position to survive and thrive.
Imagine if the very clothes on their backs could prevent field service technicians from injury, while also helping them do their jobs more efficiently. That’s possible with smart uniforms featuring conductive fibers and embedded sensors that can already monitor heart rate, breathing rate, sleeping patterns, calories burned, intensity of activity, temperature, posture, and muscle movement.
A smart jacket created by Google in partnership with Levi’s allows the wearer to connect to and control their smartphone by using their cuff like a touchscreen. By swiping their jacket cuff to use their phone, technicians can avoid distractions that cause injury.
A technician outfitted in a smart vest or jacket that can read temperature and other environmental factors could easily gauge what might be contributing to a system problem or failure.
Smart hats are already being used in industries like trucking and mining. Some can monitor for signs of fatigue and send alerts to those in risky situations or operating sensitive machinery. Other smart clothing can detect when the wearer isn’t moving optimally, such as bending their back rather than knees when lifting a heavy object.
Smart gloves could provide feedback to technicians as they are making repairs, such as indicating when a part has been properly adjusted.
GPS, collision avoidance, and other technologies are already available in the newest vehicles.
With nearly every major auto manufacturer executing strategies for autonomous vehicles, we may see fleets of self-driving cars sooner than later.
Technicians traveling by self-driving cars could spend their travel time more productively. After finishing a service call, they could enter details into their systems of record via their mobile device. Then they could turn their attention to the next appointment, such as by confirming they have all necessary parts and tools or brushing up on the intricacies of the machine they are about to service.
Augmented reality (AR) makes it possible for even inexperienced personnel to handle repairs with confidence. By wearing AR glasses that display schematics, for instance, mechanics could be guided to repair an engine on the tarmac, even if they had never before worked on that particular model.
Here’s another very likely scenario: a telecommunications company is trying to determine the reason for an outage. By using AR overlays on mobile devices complemented by geographic information system (GIS) data, technicians could literally visualize infrastructure underground. Much like Superman using x-ray vision, they could quickly and efficiently locate buried cables and cut wires.
With 3D printers now available at reasonable prices, field service organizations can take advantage of them to streamline repairs in the field. Rather than order and wait for a part to arrive, a technician could print parts on demand using a 3D printer installed in the service van. First-time fix metrics would reach new heights almost overnight.
Drones stand to take the human component out of dangerous service scenarios, specifically when hard-to-reach equipment – like wind turbines, oil rigs, rooftop HVAC systems, and power lines – need routine examination. Here are just a handful of examples:
- Infrastructure mapping across cities, industrial plants, or construction sites
- Aerial monitoring of pipelines, oil rigs, or disaster areas
- Land surveying with infrared cameras to determine thermal activity
- Monitoring downed power lines during and after storms
By using drones in place of humans in these situations, field service organizations could significantly reduce both costs and danger.
Other potential uses include:
- Streamlining parts delivery
- Providing temporary internet coverage in hard-to-reach areas
- Transporting service techs to job sites
Rather than dispatch human technicians to perform routine maintenance, field service organizations could instead send out robot technicians. This would free valuable human resources to focus on more complex situations requiring deep expertise and judgment calls. Robots could also be used to train technicians, such as in on-the-job situations.
The growing use and rapid improvement of electronic assistants like Alexa and smart speakers like Google Home introduces new possibilities in field service management. Field service technicians could use virtual assistants of this sort for hands-free access to information on a job site. This could include step-by-step instructions when performing maintenance or a repair. Such capabilities could be truly revolutionary for technicians atop a utility pole or deep in a mine.
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