Where's the dipstick? Microsoft holograms heads to the garage

A new partnership with Mercedes-Benz USA will make HoloLens 2 a crucial tool for mechanics.
Written by Greg Nichols, Contributing Writer on

Field technicians in a variety of industries are starting to embrace augmented reality applications. One of the primary drivers of development in enterprise augmented reality, Microsoft's HoloLens division, is getting its hands dirty at the Shangri-La of service work: the auto garage.

Microsoft has teamed up with Mercedes-Benz USA, which is outfitting authorized American dealerships with HoloLens 2 headsets to help with diagnostics and repair work. The devices are equipped with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, which enables collaboration during hands-free video calls.

That connectivity is a key function making augmented reality headsets so useful for technicians of all kinds, and making it a potentially game-changing cost savings to companies that send service workers out into the field. As I've written, a rule of thumb industry-wide is that about 25 percent of technicians who make service calls require follow-up visits. When dealing with high-cost capital equipment, such as utilities infrastructure or medical diagnostics (MRI machines, for example) downtime caused by call-backs has significant associated costs.

But an augmented reality interface capable of projecting service manuals, schematics, and how to videos while a technician is working on a piece of equipment can reduce the need for callbacks. Connecting those service workers to experts at a home base who can follow along on a repair or service in real time provides another vital resource that can eliminate costly callbacks.

In the case of an auto garage servicing extremely high tech cars, the days of the old pro mechanic who has the right technical answer to every problem and passes that knowledge along to younger are essentially over -- the cars are just too sophisticated, the problems too dynamic, and the fields of expertise needed to solve them (everything from mechanical know-how to computer engineering experience) all but eradicate the notion of expert generalists.

That's where a device like HoloLens 2 becomes so valuable. A service technician can wear a HoloLens 2 and share his view of the car or part with one of the company's remote technical specialists, who watches from a laptop or desktop, request closer views, send wiring diagrams or schematics to the mechanic's display, and, if need be, call in additional remote experts with specialized knowledge of a part or system.

The mechanic, meanwhile, can blow a part up and peer inside a holographic representation with a gesture. The remote specialist can draw on the hologram to show the technician where to make an adjustment.

"It's like they are there. It's like I am them," says  Edgar Campana, who works at Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables. "The expert is looking through my eyes and seeing what I'm seeing so they can guide me."

The process is clearly superior to email exchanges or telephone calls, which lack the dynamic multimedia characteristics often required to convey meaning when it come to highly sophisticated machinery. That saves time and improves quality, which increases customer satisfaction and reduces costs.

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