Taking engineering expertise into the field, virtually | NTT DATA

Thu, 20 June 2019

Taking engineering expertise into the field, virtually

Taking engineering expertise into the field, virtuallyAugmented Reality (AR) and computer vision can transform how field engineers work, bringing help and support before their eyes when it’s needed most. With virtual access to senior experts in the back office, engineers can fix more problems faster – making their jobs more fulfilling and productive.

Field engineers have a notoriously difficult job. Often working alone in physically demanding environments, they need to fix technical problems on complex equipment such as telecoms cabinets, signal transmitters, satellite infrastructure, antenna masts and data centres, as well as in customers’ homes.

While senior engineers can draw on their knowledge and experience, people newer to the job may need advice and guidance to complete certain tasks. If an expert needs to be called out to help, this could turn a two-minute fix into a costly two-day job.

Seeing things differently

AR provides an exciting solution to this all-too-common scenario. Using smart glasses – or any camera-equipped mobile device – engineers can, quite literally, look differently at any problem they encounter in the field.

Through object recognition software, they’ll see useful information overlaid on their field of view to help identify specific machinery and components. While voice recognition lets them call up resources hands-free to support them as they work.

If stuck on a particular problem, they can make a video call to senior experts in the back office, who can see exactly what they see through the field engineer’s device and guide them through the fix process. These remote experts can even draw visual pointers on the engineer’s field of view – such as an arrow to show where a cable needs to be plugged in.

A new perspective on training

Engineering is all about solving problems. New engineers want to be working independently as quickly as possible, without months of shadowing and learning. Yet it can be demoralising if they’re on a job without the information they need – especially if they have to call a colleague out to help. It can lead to poor morale and increased staff turnover.

AR enables engineers to do productive work in the field, without a senior expert accompanying them. It helps them feel more satisfied about their development and contribution, and they’ll be more likely to stay.

What’s more, the immersive nature of AR makes it highly effective for learning. According to Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience, we remember far more of what we ‘do’, compared to what we ‘read’, ‘hear’ or ‘see’. So the more an engineer can do themselves, the quicker they’ll grow their knowledge and expertise.

Developing the next generation

The AR trials done to date with field engineers have been hugely positive in terms of user adoption and feedback. Newly qualified engineers tend to be of the digital generation, so they intuitively understand and welcome this type of immersive technology.

For example, using voice recognition, an engineer high up on a telecoms mast can access information hands-free just by asking their smart glasses. Users grasp this concept very quickly, reducing the need for training, at the same time as mitigating health and safety risks.

New engineers are also happy to share their experiences with others. By recording their remote AR sessions, there’s potential to create a new type of peer-to-peer learning and knowledge repository – similar to how we use YouTube to find ‘how-to’ tutorials for solving day-to-day problems. 

With AR and computer vision, your engineers will be…

  • More productive – easy access to expertise helps engineers fix more problems, faster, first time
  • More satisfied – when they are doing a good job and the customers are happy, engineers are happy too
  • More likely to stay – higher morale will lead to lower staff turnover, and experienced engineers can move into senior remote roles
  • More efficient – with fewer upfront training costs and direct access to expertise, staff can be deployed to the field quicker and need fewer truck rolls

To discuss options for empowering your field engineers with AR and computer vision, please get in touch: Nadia Aziz, Innovation Lead, Immersive Tech, NTT DATA UK Nadia.Aziz@nttdata.com

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