Augmented reality gets a lot of limelight, which is understandable, given AR’s use cases in field service. Yet, many of those use cases also apply to assisted reality, augmented reality’s less popular cousin.
Assisted reality refers to any technology that allows a person to view a screen within his or her immediate field of vision, hands free. It differs from augmented reality in that the information on the screen is not overlaid onto a physical environment.
Now, assisted reality may not be as glamorous as augmented reality, but it’s arguably more accessible and practical for field service technicians, mechanics, and other service professionals to use right now. In contrast, augmented reality is still in its early stages.
But I know what you’re thinking: Why invest in headsets that simply put a small screen in front of my line of sight? Why not just wait until AR headsets are more accessible?
Thinking back on my time as a helicopter mechanic in the Army, I often worked on parts that were three to four meters off the ground. Therefore, I’d only bring the tools and parts necessary to do the job. Bringing my entire toolbox would not only be cumbersome, but also risky. If it slid off of where I was working, it could damage another part.
Back then, tablets and smartphones weren’t around. Even if I had access to such devices, I would have likely left them on the ground to avoid the risk of them falling off the helicopter, which would have meant climbing up and down the helicopter to refer to the documentation.
Nowadays, my successors likely read technical manuals through rugged devices. Such hardware can handle the conditions of an airbase, but may not be practical when a technician's in a hard-to-reach place - inside an engine, underneath it, wherever.
Having a head-mounted display, even if it’s just a computer screen, eliminates a lot of time referring to documentation that’s located away from where you’re working.
Think of it this way: Say you have 100 technicians in the field, and each has a head-mounted display. The median salary for a technician, as of May 2018, is $19.60 per hour, according to PayScale. Assuming each technician works eight hours per day and 261 days every year, your labor costs (not including benefits, workers’ comp, etc.) are around $4.09 million per year.
Now, suppose a head-mounted display saves each technician 10 minutes per day. As a result, you would save about $3.26 a day per worker, or $326 per day in hourly wages (again, assuming they’re each making $19.60 an hour). That means equipping your technicians with head-mounted displays could save you $85,260 annually.
Obviously, you need the headsets themselves, which could go for around $1,500 to $2,000. There are companies, (RealWare being one of them), that designs assisted reality devices for industrial applications – HMT-1 is marketed as being a “fully rugged” headset.
There’s also your content to consider. Are your technical illustrations mobile-friendly? Can a technician easily read one of your service manuals through a smartphone? If your publications meet these criteria, your organization has the information needed to deliver assisted reality.
What about the next step, augmented reality? I co-hosted a webinar with my colleague, application engineer Julian Ferrett, to discuss a key prerequisite to bringing AR to field service: developing accurate, up-to-date 3D content. You can watch the replay on-demand at any time below:
Jeff Coon is PTC’s Solution Management Director, overseeing PTC’s illustration tools. With 34 years of experience in field service, Jeff’s career began as an AH-1 Attack Helicopter Repairman in the U.S. Army. After his time in the service, he worked as a technical illustration specialist at Boeing for five years until he joined ITEDO Software as a technical engineer in 2000. In 2006, he was named PTC’s Principal Application Engineer for the company’s illustration tools, defining implementation strategies for Boeing, John Deere, and others.