Enterprises, now more than ever, can augment their existing maintenance and training processes all while increasing compliance to procedures, first time fix rates and speeding up the time of repair. But, as a novice, how can you get started?
By Lexandra Amos and Matt Johnston

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are finally here. You may have heard that refrain before. In the 1990s, the hype was so high that a VR device was on a U.S. postage stamp. In the early 2000s, Google Glass promised to revolutionize industry and the consumer world by overlaying information about everything from real estate to the weather all around you, heads up and hands free. However, the technology was expensive, development was even more expensive, and few had the skills needed to deliver training scenarios to a workforce, let alone enterprise level software for maintenance departments supporting even the smallest waste management firms.

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3D model of semi-truck using AR technology.
Image courtesy of Design Interactive.

The state of things has changed. No longer do you have to imagine the possibility of delivering immersive virtual inspection or repair training solutions to hundreds of technicians. Off-the-shelf software is now available for enterprises to create their own training modules, deliver standard procedures to their workforce, onboard new hires and address product campaigns at a click of a button. How is this possible? The largest firms in the world, and in particular computer and consumer devices firms, now have this technology on their roadmap. These firms are ready to provide support technology and empowering businesses to build software that helps solve some of industries pressing problems. Companies like, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Lenovo are all investing heavily.

Enterprises, now more than ever, can augment their existing maintenance and training processes all while increasing compliance to procedures, first time fix rates and speeding up the time of repair. But, as a novice, how can you get started? There is a lot of information to sift through and here we will provide an introduction. First, we will start by explaining the differences between VR and AR, then give an overview of some devices to help spur you to do a bit of research and give you cost considerations.

What is the Difference Between AR and VR?
Virtual Reality
Virtual Reality (VR) completely replaces the real world once you put on the headset. You are digitally transported to another place and you no longer can see the real world or equipment around you. The latest versions of these VR devices now have cameras that can track your hands, which is a huge improvement over using a controller in one hand. As exhilarating as this is, maybe it means you cannot be hands on. VR allows you to replicate the real world, the equipment and tools you work with, but it does immerse you fully and cuts you off from the real world. Be aware that some users complain about feeling sick after using VR devices. Additionally, long use of the device can degrade coordination and balance. VR is recommended for shorter use, which makes it a good candidate for 20 to 30 minute training sessions.

Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality (AR) overlays digital content on top of your view of the real-world environment. For example, looking through smart glasses, smartphones or tablets, you could view a wiring diagram schematic or a table showing tire pressure ranges, which technicians can reference during a repair or inspection. In contrast to VR, AR does not compromise a technician’s ability to see the equipment and is perfect to supplement hands on training or procedure execution.

maintjuly2What Type of Devices Can I Use?
We have been promised quality and safe VR for decades. Earlier this decade, Oculus released the Rift with high-quality graphics at a reasonable price point. Now, there are offerings from Facebook including the Oculus Rift, Quest and Go with competition, including the HTC Vive, and Lenovo’s newly announced mirage. Remember, VR is immersive, so the best use for this technology is in a designated area, training for specific skills or knowledge. Unlike, AR, these devices are not safe to use on the maintenance floor and since they are immersive, you cannot use them while performing actual repair or performing on actual equipment.

Microsoft leads the way in mixed and augmented reality with their second-generation HoloLens. Magic Leap is another option. A startup out of China called NREAL shows great promise at a lower price point than the two above and watch out for Lenovo again who are now shipping their A6 mixed reality headset to compete with Microsoft, complete with a SaaS platform and cloud services to boot. These devices overlay information on the real world. So, you can provide a step-by-step procedure on the actual equipment, show a video of how to inspect a brake with the wheel on as the technician stands right beside the brake, or even provide examples of tire wear using 3D holograms when performing a tire inspection.

Augmented reality is also available on mobile phones and tablets. Apple and Google Android devices are equipped with augmented reality capabilities that are rapidly expanding with off the shelf applications ready to use. If your firm already uses such mobile devices, the onboarding costs can be very reasonable. You can make AR content available to everyone, potentially using the devices they already have. As you look into this technology, the type of device is one consideration. Another is the resources required to create content. You might be pleasantly surprised that you already have the skills set in house that you need to get started, particularly with AR.

Can I Create My Own Content?
Yes, you can! However, with virtual reality content, creation is usually developed within gaming engines like UNREAL and Unity. VR systems require the use of software developers or similarly skilled individuals to help create the content for you. Platforms for ease of authoring content are becoming more available and worth exploring, but there has been more progress made in AR on the content creation side, reducing the needed skill set.

AR platforms are off-the-shelf and ready for you to create your own job aids and training programs without any help from a software developer. It can take a bit of training to learn any new software, but creating an augmented reality procedure can be as easy as crafting an e-mail and instantly you have the assistance of e-learning developers and a multi-media team with all the skills required to get started.

What is the Cost?
Depending on which type of technology you choose, cost can vary drastically. The virtual reality headsets mentioned previously can be as low as $199 (Oculus Go) and reach $10,000 or more for high end, high resolution devices like that provided by Varjo. The development costs depend on whether you are interested in 360-degree videos or fully interactive simulations—you are best suited to obtain quotes for those because the range can vary widely. Keep in mind that you will likely have the same needs as a technical school or competitor and can pool resources to get that custom VR solution.

Augmented reality can be used on existing mobile devices so the hardware cost to get started can be negligible, but head mounted displays can range from under $1,000 to $3,500 for the industry leading HoloLens. Remember, this software can run on mobile devices, so any investment in head mounted displays can be minimal. That said, the software is where the benefit is with AR. Off-the-shelf software with licenses that permit you to create and share your own content, eliminating the need for recurring custom development costs by comparison, are readily available and might run you an annual fee based on your firm’s size.
Regardless of the path you choose, the firms that create this content look at you, or at least should, as a partner. No one understands your business like you do. Look for firms willing to treat you like a collaborative partner, so your needs are met. Unfortunately, there is no golden parachute with the perfect software ready to drop out of the sky. Commit to solving a problem, and work as partners. This is the best approach.

Maintenance and Repair
Both virtual and augmented reality training solutions provide technicians with a digital option for maintenance and repair. However, with a virtual reality option, technicians are fully immersed into the digital world and while they get effective repeatable training on digital content, it can be expensive to develop, and the technician cannot use what they learn online with performing on real equipment.
AR provides enterprises with the ability to implement the software on various devices, mobile or head mounted, letting you use devices you might already have. It also can be used for training or as a job aid in real time, providing a high return on investment. So which technology do you think works best for your organization? | WA

Lexandra Amos is the Digital Strategist for Design Interactive (Orlando, FL). She leads the digital marketing strategy for Design Interactive and AUGMENTOR™. She can be reached at Lexandra.amos@designinteractive.net or via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/lexamos.

Matt Johnston is the Division Head of Commercial Solutions for Design Interactive, and leads the development of AUGMENTOR™, augmented reality software for maintenance and repair. He also serves as the chair of the AR/VR Task Force for the American Trucking Association’s Technology and Maintenance Council. Matt can be reached at (352) 278-3050, e-mail Matthew@designinteractive.net or visit LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/matthew-r-johnston.

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