When a technician is working on a 2022 Ford Mustang Mach-E and encounters a problem they and their fellow mechanics can’t fix, they get help from Detroit-based engineers. This is usually done by calling a technical support line. Unfortunately, not everything can be done over the phone, especially when it takes the eyes of the engineer helping you. This means sending a Ford field technician to fix the problem, i.e. a customer without a vehicle until they arrive. Fortunately, augmented reality (AR) technology has improved to the point where a technician can wear a headset with a small screen and a camera that allows both parties to see the same information simultaneously for better communication.
Ford is extending a program called “See What I See” (SWIS, because it wouldn’t be Ford if they didn’t acronym everything a technician touches) to a global solution that is already in use in Canada, South Africa , UK, Puerto Rico, Taiwan and Australia. The idea is really simple: the technician wears a headset that contains a camera and microphone, and is sent to Ford’s Technical Assistance Center (TAC, you know what we mean?) in Dearborn, MI. At the same time, the TAC engineer is able to send images and talk to the technician, showing them enhanced images to help locate and resolve problems during a diagnosis.
Ford gives an example of a technician who couldn’t figure out why a vehicle wasn’t able to recognize low tire pressure sensors and figured out why when technology with SWIS picked up the wrong programming tool. This is a somewhat lacking example, as another technician in the next bay would have easily and quickly pointed out. A better example would be a warranty repair where the engineer must see the part in order to approve or deny the repair. Ford also points to a use case for training, where a new technician learns on the spot with a TAC technician or trainer showing diagnostic steps on screen.
The biggest draw for Ford in both cases is travel costs, which anyone who’s had to fly recently knows how expensive it is to travel across the country right now. The other downside is the reduction in a customer’s wait for their vehicle – and potentially their only means of transportation in an area with little or no public transport – during repair. The faster the technician can complete the repair, the happier the customer will be and the dealer’s CSI scores will be higher.
Ford isn’t the only OEM looking to use AR for technicians and dealership repairs. Mercedes-Benz plans to use Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 in the same way. Outside of the OEM dealership level, AR is also being used for independent automotive repair shops with major auto parts and tool manufacturers like Bosch, Snap-On Tools and others creating AR environments to help these technicians make repairs. The days of a technician calling their helpline and doing everything over the phone are over for everyone. AR technology has become more accessible and we will all benefit either through faster repairs or lower costs due to fewer trips by these technicians and engineers.