Will advancements in virtual reality technology shift how we see field service?
Technology continues to advance in ways that permeate the ways businesses operate. While wearables had major buzz in 2014, a new technology has sprung up in 2015. Virtual reality seems to be the next big thing as industries, including field service, keep a close eye on the emerging trend.
New virtual reality advancements may offer service organizations the tools to think, and see, outside the box
While this new technology may seem far-fetched, some of the most influential names in tech have made great strides in creating virtual reality products that show both promise and real application across platforms. Facebook made waves with its purchase of the Oculus VR studio. Google has heavily invested in next generation VR studio Magic Leap. Apple and Microsoft both have divisions dedicated to VR, with Microsoft recently unveiling its HoloLens platform. All this amounts to a ton of potential use for industries like field service.
With the Oculus goggles, a user could be transported to a large utility company operations center. On each wall the user could see screens filled with maps, charts, and other tools. Utility companies install countless sensors throughout their infrastructure, and at any given moment their systems have to process all that data.
When there’s a problem such as a gas leak, at a customer site, it can be found in the data, but how can the actual issue be recognized? Someone in an ops center could be wearing Oculus goggles and walking through the scenario while communicating with someone in the field-leading that person directly to the problem.
Computer assisted virtual environment (CAVE)—a room with wall-to-ceiling screens—allows users to wear stereoscopic glasses for a holodeck-like effect. Life-size, 3D images of objects appear in the middle of the room, so that engineers can walk around and examine them.
Hyper-realistic computer renderings could give service managers an excellent sense of moving around a piece of equipment. The user can swoop his or her head down and inspect the electrical board, turn around to see if the housing is placed ergonomically for technicians, or even look at the gauges to see if they afford the proper reading.
HoloLens has been touted as the first augmented-reality device done right. It is mixed reality, a blending of the digital world with the real world using 3D objects that show up as floating images, holograms essentially. The 3D models it displays are crisp and vivid, and the interaction seems fluid and intuitive. Furthermore, users won’t get confused because HoloLens is wireless and contains all the peripherals required for immersive use in the field.
Given that the device is wireless and still gives you visual access to the real world, the training/assistance implications of the headset are promising for field service. Using Skype, the person on the other end could see what the user is seeing, and he could draw on his touchscreen to point out problem areas that need to be addressed. This works about as well as someone looking over another’s shoulder and coaching in real life.
Potential VR applications for service businesses
VR headsets and applications hold some promising solutions for forward-thinking service organizations looking to improve efficiency and collaboration in the field. Here are just some of the possible uses of VR for service organizations:
- Visit a difficult-to-reach facility, get views such as X-rays or schematic views that might be impossible in real life, and enable low-risk, lower-cost training for new employees.
- Wear HoloLens or similar devices when explaining or performing complex procedures by using actual 3D visualizations of components.
- Turn any blank space into a collaborative environment where others can see and interact.
- Test how techs perform in different scenarios, such as conducting a break-fix simulation after a full day of appointments.
- Move about untethered while communicating and collaborating with remote team members through Skype in virtual meetings and conferencing.
- Visualize items that have yet to be created, such as to prototype items in a 3D space.
A different type of reality brings exciting possibilities for service organizations
Although still a little ways off from mass market, virtual reality for field service could give organizations better methods of collaborating and providing quality service across locations. Technician training on new equipment could be supplemented by running through various schematics in virtual reality. Complicated break-fix scenarios could be remedied by using the knowledge of multiple technicians at once. In the end we will have to wait to see the true effect of this technology, but service organizations would be well served to prepare for