it may seem like the stuff of science fiction, augmented reality for trucking applications is very real and is here right now. In fact, augmented reality (AR) can be used to help technicians learn how to repair and even diagnose truck problems. One company has already started a pilot program to allow trucking fleets and other transportation-related organizations to evaluate how well AR can fit into their overall maintenance operations.
AR is essentially a technology that overlays a virtual project onto a real-time image or video. And before you ask, there are some critical differences between AR and VR (virtual reality). When you put a headset on, VR closes you off from the real world and immerses you in a completely virtual one. Whether you are transported into the middle of the woods or a truck maintenance facility, VR essentially tricks your mind into believing you are actually there.
AR is different in that you are looking through a device, but the real world is still part of the equation. In this situation the real world is augmented by virtual objects. In this scenario, users are not completely cut off from the real world in exchange for a virtual one. Imagine looking at a truck and seeing a floating hologram of a wheel bearing with instructions on how to install it. Each step could be superimposed on the vision of the individual wearing the AR headset. Whether you are talking about diagrams, files, audio or video notes, or more, it can all be included within the AR experience.
What Makes AR Stand Out
The future of AR looks bright because it provides a great way for people to visualize complex ideas. AR adoption rates have also been increasing in 2018, particularly in the manufacturing, retail, and warehousing space. Statistics regarding AR headset sales show that logistics account for 24% of all purchases, which is no small number.
For technicians, AR troubleshooting applications can guide an individual through a comprehensive diagnostics process without them having to constantly refer to a heavy manual or painstakingly track individual processes through multiple methods. Learning and development managers can work with maintenance managers to create AR content specific to a particular company and the equipment being used. This customization makes execution flow far more smoothly.
AR companies exist to help people do their jobs as efficiently and safely as possible. One of the main drivers of the shift to AR repair and diagnosis was the Navy, who had not changed how mechanical diagnosis and repair was completed in over 20 years. Yet, the Navy is not the only entity facing challenges in how they address intricate repair work.
The problem lies in the massive outflow of knowledge and on-hand talent as workers get older and retire. With no technology available to capture the vast wealth of knowledge that experienced technicians of all stripes possess, there is no way to pass it on to new hires, of which there are plenty. AR can help the next generation of workers without compromising on the vast amount of knowledge built up over time.
While AR can be used in a variety of ways, there are specific applications that are beneficial to the trucking industry. AR OEMs are now working with the ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council to turn the tire conditions section of their workbook into effective AR content. It would work first by providing an AR overlay that helps technicians discover and assess certain kinds of tire wear.
Imagine a hologram of a tire floating just over the real thing. The hologram can be programmed to show a specific kind of wear and the technician can quickly look from the hologram to the tire to see if the wear-type matches up. With a virtual database floating over the technician’s eyesight, they can determine what specific type of wear they are looking at. Perhaps the entire tire does not need to be replaced, but the overlay shows a worn kingpin instead.
Since there are so many different types of wear, it is important that AR headsets can properly emulate each one. AR headsets can be programmed to use either a 3-D hologram or photos or text content in a virtual note or image series. The goal with these aspects is for technicians to be able to essentially feel like they can reach out and touch the hologram or note.
AR companies are also working with equipment suppliers to help create the programs that technicians will need to get the job done using an AR headset. Suppliers can provide training content or procedures that the AR company can use, perhaps stored in a cloud for anyone to download. Trucking companies rely heavily on engine and component suppliers for their training materials, so AR companies are going to them for the source material. Yet, diagnostics and repairs are not the only areas in which AR can be effective.
How AR Is Used in Technician Training
To ensure they are staying ahead of the game, technical colleges are now adopting AR in their classes. One example, Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton Wisconsin, has begun immersing students who have never opened a toolbox in AR programs designed to help them learn the ins and outs of working on heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles.
Rather than relying on textbooks and verbal lectures, Fox Valley Technical College is turning to AR to provide a futuristic real-world methodology for training their students. The school’s Learning Innovations team created a VR-based diesel engine to use within the diesel technology program. Using a Microsoft Hololens, the program responds to voice commands and includes advanced vantage points to optimize the training experience for students.
When using the program, the students can use their voice to essentially take apart a virtual engine, exposing everything from the crankshaft to the pistons, valves and other critical engine components. While initial versions of the AR program focused on a single cylinder, later versions will allow students to see all six cylinders firing at the same time.
The school hopes that this new hands-on technology will help students pick up the material a lot faster than if they were using cumbersome manuals. Drawing it on a board or reading it in a manual is good, but actually watching it through an AR device is something else entirely. It also helps that many manufacturers are using AR. When a student graduates having used a program like AR, they are better able to integrate into an organization using similar devices.
It is hoped that AR can also be used to draw more people into a diesel technician training program. It is no secret that there is a shortage of diesel technicians in the field today. By appealing to those who would be impressed by an advanced training program, the diesel technician field can be made to look sexy and appealing. If a potential student feels like they are part of a cutting-edge program, they may be more likely to sign up for it.
In the end, AR represents a great way to visualize complex ideas and understand difficult problems. Even more, diesel engines are intricate pieces of machinery that require special care and consideration. Yet, the benefits of AR translate beyond trucking. Industries across the country are turning to AR as a solution.
The Next Farm
AR is now being used by farmers to cultivate crops in restrictive conditions. One company is attempting to create a decentralized AI ledger for plant breeding and optimization. AR can then be used to record the color spectrums required for effective plant growth. AR can also be used for early disease detection and flowering and pollination.
By using both AI and AR together to enhance how plants are grown, farmers are stepping into the future. They can use technology to grow hardier crops that are more resistant to disease and pests, all while increasing the overall yield within environments that might otherwise pose a problem for growers.
As farmers, trucking companies, manufacturers and other industry players turn to advanced technologies like AR, they realize greater potential for both training, implementation, and execution. While these technologies may seem daunting or appear to have a higher learning curve, they represent a brave new way to get the job done. It would be beneficial for trucking and transportation companies to get on the bandwagon and augment their reality with a little AR.