Augmented reality in field service: smart glasses or mobiles?

TechSee’s guide on choosing the best augmented reality field service solution: smart glasses or mobile phones.

The value of augmented reality in field service has been clearly proven, and an increasing number of field service organizations are beginning to incorporate AR technology. In fact, the field service industry is one of the market leaders where it comes to practical AR implementation. But with different options available, how should a field service organization decide which augmented reality solution is best for them?

Benefits of augmented reality in field service

The ability to overlay visual information onto images of physical objects is transforming the field service industry in various ways.

AR technical guidance can help technicians:

  • quickly execute field repairs
  • consult with colleagues
  • review a service case in advance to better prepare for and expedite the resolution process

These virtual tools deliver clear cost savings, reduce travel time, decrease employee downtime, extend expert reach, and accelerate the training of new technicians.

Benefits of AR in Field Service

  • Boosts first time fix
  • Increases technician productivity
  • Reduces technician error
  • Allows remote expert assistance
  • Improves & shortens novice training
  • Reduces costly downtime

Which AR field service solution is right for your organization?

Augmented reality in field service is delivered primarily via smart glasses or mobile phones. Both offer high quality visual support for technicians and each delivery method has its own advantages and limitations.

Here is a description of each type of solution.

AR Smart Glasses (head-mounted devices):

Wearable AR devices such as these smart glasses offer users a hands-free experience. Worn like eyeglasses, they enable the technician to view and interact with video and digital content, enhancing their view with computer-generated information.

AR Mobile Phone:

Screen-based AR field service systems are designed to provide mobile phone or tablet users with interactive video and digital content, applied on top of the image of physical reality. These applications utilize a standard mobile device’s existing components such as the camera, GPS, and touch screen elements to enhance the user’s view.

How to decide on an AR solution

While both tools offer similar capabilities for incorporating augmented reality in field service, there are clear advantages and disadvantages for each option. Field service organizations should consider their unique needs and requirements before making a decision.

Before choosing an AR solution for your field service organization, consider the following points:

  • The complexity of the task
  • The location and physical conditions
  • The price point

We will now explore each point in more detail.

The complexity of the items being serviced

Field service organizations focus on a wide range of machinery, devices and services. The complexity of the item being serviced will determine how necessary it is for the technician to keep his eyes on both the task at hand and the overlaid instructions, while having both hands available.

The location and physical conditions in which the service is carried out

Technicians work in a wide range of physical locations: indoors, outdoors, underground, on top of power turbines, and everywhere in between. Their physical surroundings and/or conditions will have a significant impact on the decision.

The price point that is suitable for your organization

The cost and value of launching an AR solution within field service varies widely, depending on the size of the organization’s technician workforce and the type of service being carried out. Determining how often your technicians will use the technology and how much time, effort and money it will save every time they do is an important analysis to run prior to making the decision.

As with any business, the cost must justify the value of the solution.

Field Service AR Solutions: the Bottom Line

When are augmented reality smart glasses a good choice?

  • If you need completely hands-free operation. If the technician requires both hands for safety purposes, such as for climbing, or if gloves will be worn in the field and swiping a screen is not a possibility, augmented reality smart glasses have a clear advantage.
  • For highly complex service work. In scenarios involving long sequences of actions, such as the one implemented by Boeing for assembling wire harnesses for commercial aircraft, smart glasses have the advantage since the technician can keep their eyes on the device and instructions at all times. This ability has been proven to drive 15% improvements in the time it takes to perform a long sequence of actions on a piece of machinery.
  • If service is provided in a fixed location. In factory settings, or in other facilities offering full control over the environment, technicians using smart glasses can rely on continuous network connectivity with high levels of bandwidth, controlled lighting, and a safe location to store the devices when not in use.
  • If 3D AR is required. Another benefit of smart glasses is the 3D AR experience they offer; in most cases they present a more accurate overlay which is important in situations where total precision is required.

When is AR on mobile phones a good choice?

  • If less (equipment) is more. When technicians are dispatched, they are often carrying numerous tools and spare parts, as well as their regular mobile phone. Smart glasses are often fragile and represent yet another piece – or several pieces – of equipment that must be packed in the technician’s toolbox. Using AR functionality on the technician’s phone, on the other hand, is simple and fast.
  • In dynamic scenarios. In situations where conditions can change rapidly, or when interaction with a customer may be required, mobile devices make it easier for the technician to interact with their environment.
    Smart glasses can disconnect the technician from reality by keeping him focused on a very narrow field of view. In addition, in hazardous situations, smart glasses may create a distraction or even pose a danger. Allowing a wider field of view where the technician can experience both the physical reality and the AR overlay can offer an advantage in quickly solving the problem at hand and ensuring technician safety.
  • For uninterrupted access. Smart glasses are limited by two factors. They have a short – and sometimes unreplaceable – battery life and they usually require a consistently high level of connectivity. AR solutions for mobile devices often have more flexible data requirements and a significantly longer battery life.
  • For ease of use and quick adoption. Everyone knows how to use a smartphone, with tap and swipe now second nature. However, the use of smart glasses is still an acquired skill. Some require the technician to swipe the empty space in front of their face, while others require them to tap or scratch the arm of the glasses. Voice-activated solutions are available for both options and make things easier, but mobile devices are currently the clear winner in the UI (user interface) stakes.
  • If price is a factor. Screen-based applications integrate with the technician’s existing mobile device (phone, tablet, etc.), and are significantly more cost-effective when deploying to a large workforce. It also makes it easier to deploy as a pilot initiative to a limited number of users, enabling the organization to evaluate its true value before investing in expensive hardware.

Advantages and disadvantages of smart glasses and mobile devices

Criteria Smart Glasses Mobile Devices
Hands free Yes, no toggle necessary Limited, must toggle between task and device
Field of view Limited Unobstructed
Mobility Heavy, cumbersome, requires unpacking and packing, sensitive Light, part of standard equipment kit
Battery life Short, often not replaceable Longer lifespan, additional or bigger batteries available
Connectivity requirements Uninterrupted, high bandwidth Can manage with lower bandwidth or interrupted coverage
Ability to communicate with customers Limited Natural
AR quality 3D 2D
Maturity Immature, less stable Mature, in wide use
Price High cost deployment Affordable deployment

Augmented Reality in Field Service: a Summary

The implementation of augmented reality in field service is radically changing the dynamics of service operations, enabling organizations to boost productivity and cut costs. AR-supporting smart glasses and mobile devices both provide field technicians with the innovative tools they need to complete their repair and service tasks more quickly and efficiently.

Both are set to play a key role in the maintenance and operation of equipment across industries, and change how field service teams train new staff. The type of AR device an organization chooses to implement should be determined based on specific criteria and reflect the individual needs and requirements of the organization and its technicians.

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