The power of technology-enhanced remote assistance has become a mainstream concept in 2020 as we adapted to the needs of zero-touch service delivery during lockdown, yet the benefits of such tools go way beyond the confines of the pandemic. However, for those of us only just getting up to speed on this technology OverIT's Alberto Battistutti is outlines the core distinctions of some of the technologies at play...
Augmented Reality (AR) can be seen as an extension of the user’s environment, which gets enriched in real time with superimposed digital models and information, such as texts, graphics and multimedia. The aim of this technology is to “augment” or, in other words, to improve the physical world with contextual, significant and relevant information.
The antithesis of AR is Virtual Reality (VR), a technology radically changing the users’ perception of the world as it immerses them into an artificial, unreal and computer-generated environment. Elements are then separated from the actual world and replicated into a virtual one, in which users rely on their five senses to interact with objects and places.
Merged Reality (MR) can be positioned in the middle, as it integrates digital models into the physical world, enabling users to interact with them while remaining aware of the real environment around them.
The main differences are about the devices used and, therefore, the functions provided and the sector where such functions can be employed.
The rapid deployment of supporting technology and the fall in prices of wearable devices (as already happened to handheld ones) will increase the spread of AR, MR and VR solutions, now expected to be a “can’t-live-without tech” for every company.
BENEFITS AND APPLICABILITY OF THE THREE TECHNOLOGIES
AR, MR and VR apply to a wide range of business opportunities, way beyond the initial expectations of the general public, which were limited to the entertainment and video game industry. Indeed, they have marked a turning point in many different business processes, from sales and marketing activities to Field Service and remote support, from training & learning to the manufacturing sector.
AR, MR and VR have proven to bring value to the business of those companies adopting them, both in terms of reduced time for work execution, thanks to faster maintenance procedures, improved staff productivity and efficiency, as well as of increased workforce safety, thanks to hands-free activity, remote training and collaboration.
Products based on such technologies are key factors for all companies, regardless of the sector they are operating in, their size and business turnover. Utility and Industrial Manufacturing sectors are currently leading the way in this digitalization process, due to the intrinsic nature of the activities their operators are always exposed to. AR, MR and VR are able to “extend” the resources’ capabilities. supporting them through guided procedures while carrying out maintenance activities on production lines, arming them with pertinent information on plant assets and, last but not least, connecting them with other colleagues to receive or give real-time assistance. The continuous transfer of corporate knowledge is therefore now a reality.
TYPICAL USE OF AR, MR AND VR IN BUSINESS
Very common cases where such technologies have a staggering potential are: remote execution of maintenance activities, virtual collaboration, training and product presentation.
On-field resources often face unknown assets, thus asking the company to send an expert on site. It goes without saying that such procedure is costly and time-consuming; in short, inefficient. Likewise, maintenance and repairing interventions nowadays represent the most critical processes for companies. Augmented Reality can bridge the skills gap and reduce errors made by technicians, thus ensuring a rapid and efficient sharing of know-how as well as increasing the percentage of first-time fixes and giving more accurate diagnoses. By harnessing the power of a shared, Artificial Intelligence-driven knowledge base, the application automatically suggests all possible solutions generated from learning the procedures of previous interventions.
The information provided can be integrated with the Geographic Information System data, thus allowing users to view networks, assets and technical data, as to assess in advance the impact caused by the creation of plants and networks, while cutting down the time required to identify assets over the territory.
"Expert maintenance technicians are extremely rare to find and are usually forced to move across the world to respond to growing requests for intervention..."
Moreover, the assets’ digital twins can be manipulated in real time and enriched with further details, by anchoring notes shared by those remote users with the skills necessary to support the execution of field activities. Such functions extend competences and allow to complete maintenance and assistance interventions rapidly and efficiently.
The technology breakthrough reflects into increasingly sophisticated machines, requiring maintenance interventions performed by resources with a higher degree of specialization. Expert maintenance technicians are extremely rare to find and are usually forced to move across the world to respond to growing requests for intervention, thus extending machine downtime and increasing expenses for companies. In this regard, remote training on new procedures or complex activities is becoming more and more important. Implementing these functionalities proves to be game-changing for situations which are difficult or too expensive to recreate in reality.
It is worth noting how the current global emergency situation and the resulting restrictions have boomed sectors concerning remote collaboration and product presentation. These two particular uses of technology allow to minimize travels of personnel, both in case of operational and commercial activities, thus taking digital information wherever the business requires it, in total safety, and with even higher results than those achievable with traditional methods.
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