ClickSoftware | 01.20.17
Summary >

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are two of the hottest emerging technologies. Both offer a wide range of potential uses in field service management.

But first let’s discuss the definition of AR and VR technology, and uncover a few key differences.

What are Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality?

AR and VR are similar technologies, but at the same time offer completely different features and experiences. Let's define the two, then dig a little deeper into how they're used for workforce management.

Augmented Reality (AR):

As the name suggests, augmented reality devices add visual information to the existing reality. AR uses computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, and GPS data. A common example includes glasses that display the outside world, with virtual information displayed over what the user views.

AR has obvious applications in field service. For instance, a field tech could be working on a machine while wearing AR glasses that show how to troubleshoot a task.

Virtual Reality (VR):

While AR supplements reality, virtual reality replaces it completely with an immersive sound, video, or graphic experience. These experiences are designed to fool your brain into thinking that the reality seen through your VR device (typically a headset) is truth.

You can usually interact in this virtual reality by moving your head or hands. Many virtual reality technologies also allow you to manipulate fake items in that virtual reality. Many advanced field service organizations use VR devices as a training tool to simulate on-site service calls.

Real-World Examples of How AR Can Aid Mobile Workforce Management

By leveraging AR, field techs gain access to information that shortens and simplifies their service activities. Caterpillar equips field technicians with AR apps on iPads that improve their activities and speeds their service. For example, techs can point the iPad at a Caterpillar generator, and it will overlay how to execute certain technical commands. This includes instructions on how to service the generator and even animations that show how to perform required services to the generator.

This type of technology could improve the efficiency of your field techs. For instance, you could send less-skilled workers on more demanding service calls. They would have more in-depth instructions and animations that demonstrate how to perform necessary services available to them via their AR application.

Bosch Rexroth, a leading engineering firm based in Germany, is taking the capabilities of AR a step further. The company gives clients access to support documentation via AR delivery channels such as a tablet or smart glasses. This can help provide technical assistance for industrial hydraulics. If the client needs additional help, Bosch Rexroth’s support staff can share the view of the client and give the client feedback in real-time on how to proceed with servicing its products.

By tying the AR app to the camera in either a tablet or smart glasses, remote field techs at Bosch Rexroth can view what the on-site techs do, and provide remote assistance.

This is especially beneficial for service calls where the on-site company techs can accomplish the service with minimal assistance. This will eliminate the need for a field tech to be sent to the client’s location.

Real-World Examples of How VR Can Aid Mobile Workforce Management

Using VR via devices such as headsets or helmets allows field techs to immerse themselves in a typical workday environment, without actually being there. An obvious application of this technology is allowing field techs to experience a service call without being on-site.

Robert Bosch, the world’s largest supplier of automotive parts, uses Oculus Rift VR headsets to train thousands of its service techs on its direct injection and braking technology. The virtual training allows inexperienced service techs to gain valuable experience in a training environment. This way they make fewer mistakes when they are in the field. While prices for such headsets have fallen and will continue to so, they still can retail for several hundred dollars each.

Our final example comes from our heaviest hitter. In late 2014, General Electric (GE) bought Airwave, a San Francisco-based drone company. By marrying virtual reality with drones, GE provides service to areas where it can be dangerous to send a field tech. Drones can be sent to locations such as wind turbines or remote oil pipelines, where distance is an issue. The field tech can control the drone remotely via VR technology so they are out of harm’s way, while still providing the necessary service. Needless to say, this has dozens of immediate and obvious applications in field service.

As with any emerging technologies, increased adoption will take time. But it’s sure to bring big changes and new opportunities for streamlining service.

To stay on top of the latest field service trends in all things AR and VR, head to the Field Service Matters homepage.