AR for Field Service: Should you Choose Smart Glasses or Mobile Devices?
With its value clearly proven within the field service industry and Goldman Sachs predicting that augmented reality (AR) will be an $80B market by 2025, it comes as no surprise that the sector is leading the market in practical implementation of AR technology.
The ability to augment information onto objects being serviced within the physical environment is transforming the field service industry.
AR guidance can help technicians quickly execute field repairs, consult with colleagues, review a service case in advance, and better prepare and expedite the field service process.
These virtual tools deliver clear cost savings, reduce travel time, decrease employee downtime, extend expert reach, and simplify training of new technicians.
Which AR device is right for your organization?
Augmented reality in field services can be delivered via Smart Glasses or via Mobile Devices. Both offer high quality visual support for technicians, each with its own advantages and limitations.
Smart Glasses (head-mounted devices):
These wearable computing devices offer users a hands-free AR experience. Worn like eyeglasses, they enable the user to view and interact with video and digital content, essentially augmenting the user’s physical view with computer generated information.
Screen-based AR 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 camera, GPS, and touch screen elements, to enhance the user’s physical view.
While both tools offer similar capabilities for incorporating augmented reality in field services, there are clear advantages and disadvantages for each option. Field service organizations should consider their unique needs and requirements before making a decision.
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. The physical surroundings and/or conditions will have a logistical impact on the decision.
The price point that is suitable for your organization?
The cost and value of launching an AR solution within field services 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 would use the technology and how much time, effort and money it would 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 innovation.
The Bottom Line
Choose Smart Glasses:
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 on a screen-based device is not a possibility, Smart Glasses have a clear advantage.
For highly complex service work. In scenarios of long sequences of actions, such as the one implemented by Boeing for assembling wire harnesses for commercial aircraft, Smart Glasse have the advantage as you can keep your 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 the field service is in a fixed location. In factory settings, or in other facilities where technicians have full control over the environment, Smart Glasses have the logistical services they require to keep them running. These include continuous network connectivity with a high levels of bandwidth, controlled lighting, and a safe location to store the devices when not in use.
If 3D AR is required. Smart Glasses offer a 3D AR experience, and in most cases, present a more accurate overlay which is important in situations where high accuracy is required.
Choose Mobile Devices:
If less (equipment) is more. When technicians are dispatched, they are often carrying a host of tools and spare parts, as well as their standard-issue mobile phone. Smart Glasses are often cumbersome and represent yet another piece – or several pieces – of equipment that must be packed in the technician’s toolkit. Deploying AR functionality to the technician’s phone is simple and fast.
For shifting logistics. In situations where the context is important or when interaction with a customer may be required, mobile devices make it easier for the technician to stay in touch with the physical world around him.
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 for 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 practically becoming a second nature. However, the use of Smart Glasses is still an evolving skill. Some require users to swipe the empty space in front of their face, while others require the users to tap and scratch the handle of the glasses. Voice-activated solutions are available in both options and make things easier, yet Mobile Devices are the clear winner in the UI (user interface) category for now.
If price is a factor. Screen-based applications integrate with the technician’s existing mobile devices (phone, tablet, etc.), and is significantly more cost efficient 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.
Augmented reality in field services is a radically changing the dynamics of service operations, enabling organizations to boost productivity. 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 and operate. The type of AR device an organization chooses to implement should be determined based on specific criteria and reflect the very individual needs and requirements of the organization and its technicians.