The Future of Field Service with Augmented Reality

enterprise mobility ROI
Ever since we saw Tom Cruise in Minority Report throwing screens around, we’ve been waiting for the day we can work with a gesture-based user interface. While that may still be a ways off, we are seeing glimpses of this type of technology through augmented reality, and there is no place more ripe for such innovation than field service.

Augmented reality (AR), image recognition and virtual reality (VR) are no longer just the latest buzz words — they are legitimate tools for the future field service technician. Let’s explore four ways these technologies can help enhance the effectiveness of a field technician and ultimately increase customer satisfaction by improving first-time fix rates.

Currently, communication and remote assistance for field techs usually mean they have to have a voice call with a dispatcher or another field tech. For large teams, finding the right individual to speak with may be difficult and time-consuming, especially for a new field tech who may not be familiar with the entire team. With an augmented reality app driven by artificial intelligence, the field tech could quickly perform a skills search and find the someone who has the necessary experience to help. They could then initiate a call to virtually bring the more experienced tech to the site, allowing them to see exactly what the onsite field technician sees. They are able to annotate directly on the screen and guide the tech in need. Think of it as onsite training without the expense and inconvenience of having a field tech shadow a more experienced tech.

Training and Onboarding
In the same vein of augmented reality assisting with communications and making field technicians more effective, virtual reality will be the training ground for new field technicians. Much like the armed forces do today, where VR is used to simulate battlegrounds, VR will be put to use in order to simulate problem scenarios so that new field techs are fully trained before being on the actual job. Instead, they are put through a series of real service event scenarios to better prepare them for the job they’ll ultimately need to do in the field.

The knowledgebase of the future is not really a knowledgebase at all. It is a chatbot with artificial intelligence. It is the field technician’s voice-activated search engine that knows the context of the request, from the task at hand, the current location of the field tech, climate conditions, etc. It uses this information and all of the data of your field service history to make recommendations and answer questions. Using AI, this future knowledgebase can analyze all the data at its disposal and recommend how-to articles, part replacements, and next steps. This new form of knowledgebase is more than just articles; it is leveraging the full power of your data and packaging it up into a field technician sidekick with its sole purpose to think ahead and help the field tech always perform at their best.

Augmented reality is already available via a mobile phone; however, it is much more effective and immersive to deliver it with a pair of AR glasses. Wearables enable AR and VR to be delivered in a less intrusive way. Beyond convenience, wearables extend the reach of AR into a greater number of use cases because they allow for hands-free usage. Without wearable technology, a field tech who has to climb rigging or a cell tower wouldn’t be able to leverage this type of technology as easily.

Inspection Automation
AR combined with wearables and image recognition result in a device that is capable of performing tasks that the field tech would normally have to initiate, perform and document on their own. Not only are these tasks time consuming, but they are often points where human error can be introduced. Instead of having to take out a tape measure to take measurements of a part, you simply look at the part and measurements are immediately displayed. Image recognition (IR) is able to scan parts automatically measuring critical failure points. IR and AI are able to analyze this data — including tolerance failures, crack identification or other issues — that are easily overlooked by human eyes. Using voice commands, an AR chat session can be established with an appropriately skilled team member, and the onsite field technician doesn’t have to stop what they are doing. Overall this will result in shorter inspection and verification times and fewer errors.

While these technologies may seem like they belong in a sci-fi movie, they are closer than you think. As field service organizations move away from paper and begin a digital transformation in the simplest forms, you can prepare for the future so that the next transformation of your field services team won’t seem so monumental.

For more information on the future of field service, listen to our podcast, Five Questions for a Field Service Expert.