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Will Augmented Reality Become the Go-To for Technician Training?

Long gone are the days of a trucking company shop technician pulling out a big, thick manual, rifling through pages, and finding what they need. Thanks to advances in trucking technology, augmented reality (AR) is quickly becoming the go-to for technicians who want a more effective and streamlined way to conduct maintenance on commercial motor vehicles.

Since last time we reported on augmented reality for trucking companies, vendors have made big strides with the technology. Two years ago, using augmented reality for trucking applications was something for the realm of science fiction. Today, science fiction becomes science fact. So, how has the technology changed and evolved since we last wrote about it? Let’s have a look.

What is Augmented Reality?

AR is not just for the realm of video games anymore. Fleet managers are using AR for real-world applications, including technician training. AR allows technicians to train on old and new technologies in a safe and controlled manner. Companies are using AR to change a shop technician’s job for the better.

Augmented Reality Driving
Augmented Reality Driving

Today, the hardware most trade schools use for AR training is the Microsoft Hololens 2. Yet, while there are not a whole lot of hardware manufacturers, on the software side there are a lot of vendors. Most AR software training systems utilize a ‘see one, do one, teach one’ method of AR learning. They also utilize self-guided procedures for in-house devices, mobile devices, and remote learning needs.

AR training companies seek to create a more efficient process of delivering knowledge and workforce technical training. And many trucking companies are using this technology as a recruiting tool to shine a new, more favorable light on the duties of a shop technician. Casting technician work in a highly technological light holds appeal for young workers in the 21st century. Fleet managers are doing their best to demonstrate that the career of a technician is cutting-edge and rewarding.

The best way to encourage adoption and buy-in of these technologies is to increase awareness. Trucking companies must change the narrative around new technologies and show people they are advancing the capabilities of those operating in the trucking sector.

Brakes Should be Your First Focus

Now that augmented reality for trucking maintenance operations is a reality, you must know where to put your focus first. Fleets adopting this technology have found that the preliminary focus of any augmented reality technician training program should be on brakes. Brake maintenance is a vital focal point because it is one of the most important aspects of technician training.

When it comes to brakes, there are simply a lot of compliance and safety regulations to consider. You must also consider the safety of your truck drivers. AR systems that focus on brakes provide a total connection to the components technicians work with. How to utilize tools and take accurate measurements are critical parts of an AR-based brake safety program.

When training your technicians, ensure you focus on activities where trainees must do the same activities that trainers do. You want your technician to be forced to go through the same procedure and make it a dynamic and interactive experience. Also consider broadcasting your training sessions on the web so that other technicians can benefit from the same experience. Conducting a livestream that allows others a first-person view of the action helps everyone.

While brakes should be your first focus, other types of AR training will continue to mature. In the end, the list of available AR training routines is endless. Consider constantly adapting and developing training sections for different components and entry levels. Doing so will provide opportunities for your techs, regardless of their current skill level, to improve their diagnostic skills.

The Best Way to Train Your Trainers

Onboarding technical trainers will be one of the most important aspects of your program. You must take your onboarding process seriously. Because, in the end, you will rely on your trainers to deliver the training to others using this new technology. You want to make sure your technicians have the best possible training experience.

You also want to make sure you pay close attention to procedure. Stack classes in such a way that there is no overlap. And challenge yourself to produce documentation that does not conflict with what you try to achieve. Fortunately, many AR systems can be purchased with procedural content already prepared. Of course, there may be a learning curve, as many technicians do not have expertise in this technology. But do not be afraid to rely on your vendors to provide you with the information and expertise you need.

On the technology side, also look for features that support better interaction between your trainers and their students. This is especially needed if you run remote learning classes. Focus on how to make the instructor better, the material more interesting, and your students more willing to engage.

Vendors now recommend that instead of the technician wearing the AR device, instead the expert/trainer should wear the device and bring the students into a virtual classroom. All the elements a trainer needs should be available in the virtual space, from procedures to videos and documents.

Accessibility is Key

A new problem lies in interoperability and accessibility. Why? Because many OEMs are already integrating AR learning into their in-house programs. And since trucking companies source equipment from many different places, you could have a situation where technicians need to learn processes in AR systems that greatly diverge.

Therefore, it is important to have your students learn through the trainer. Doing it this way also helps in situations where large groups of students need to learn at once. Take high-voltage training for transit buses as one example. The batteries technicians need to inspect are on the top of the bus. Obviously, not every student can get to the top of the bus to diagnose the problem. This is where live streamed training can come in handy.

With an AR live stream, students can receive the education they need, understand the theories behind the technology, and study specific procedures remotely. Then, when it is time for hands-on instruction, they can come into the shop and receive just that.

Colleges and Trade Schools Embrace AR

Meanwhile, students fresh out of community college or trade school may already be well-versed in AR education, thanks to the new AR-driven programs being embraced by community colleges and trade schools all over the United States. One example comes from a community college in Alabama, which has developed what it calls a “Diesel by Distance” learning program.

Created in partnership with the Alabama Trucking Association, the Department of Labor, and the National Science Foundation, Diesel by Distance aims to provide students with the flexibility to learn through traditional and online formats.

The program will focus on AR and VR simulations that allow students to don a headset and enter a “working environment.” These environments are meant to simulate the exact environment a diesel technician might find themselves in on any given day. Through the programs, they can learn, practice, and master the skills and techniques they need to ensure repair jobs are completed quickly and cost-effectively. The programs are also used to help technicians expand their career opportunities.

The Many Benefits of Innovative Training

There have been some silver linings to the COVID-19 pandemic, including interruptions to in-person training. While many still believe in-person training is superior, the move to remote learning has opened new opportunities for trucking companies and fleet technicians. Remote learning options allow for more flexibility and account for the different learning styles of a diverse array of students.

VR and AR learning offers a plethora of benefits in the context of technical training. This includes an immersive view of a technician’s work experience. Simulations allow students to enter a lifelike environment that duplicates the real-world experience they will have once they begin working on the job. Even more, virtual learning allows them to assimilate the techniques they need to learn without risking safety or compliance issues.

Workers can get up-close, hands-on exposure to the work they will be doing, and fleet managers can properly set expectations. Using cutting-edge training techniques also burnishes a trucking company’s reputation. It boosts retention and performance by equipping the company with a reliable pipeline of trained workers who learn in an applied setting.

Is your trucking company considering investing in AR and VR training programs? If so, make sure you properly research your options and survey your front-line technicians. By working together, you can ensure a training program that has been sufficiently future-proofed.

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