You know how virtual reality has been the next big thing that’s really, totally, for-sure going to happen within the next six months for the past 15 years? This ain’t that. This is augmented reality, which, in some ways, is more practical. Where as VR is totally immersive, augmented reality adds a layer of visual information on top of what your eyes can already see in the real world. So AR could add something as simple as scrolling text onto your visual field to something as complex as step by step instructions for the removal of a differential.
You don’t have to be Kreskin to see where this could come in handy in, say, an auto shop or assembly plant. Porsche cottoned onto this possibility and are now rolling out a new AR system for dealerships. The intent is for real-time, remote assistance that appreciably improves efficiency and reduces service time.
The Porsche system, rather awkwardly dubbed “Tech Live Look,” uses the AiR Enterprise software platform from Atheer, Inc. Atheer (speaking of unwieldy handles) has been cranking out AR “solutions” for a while now. Like all AR stuff, the visuals are delivered into your eyeballs via lightweight smart glasses that feature the latest in projection technology. The high-tech specs come equipped with an LED light source to illuminate dark spaces in the engine compartment or under the car, and a high-resolution, auto focus camera that shows even small details, like the threading on screws. This allows someone on the other end of the glasses (say a more experienced service tech or a brain surgeon or something) to see what the wearer is doing and “talk them through” a procedure if they’re having trouble.
It would be really fun to play around with this. I am, by my own admission, a very, very bad mechanic. I can take things apart like Godzilla wading through downtown Tokyo, but putting things back together . . . that’s a much more iffy proposition. But if I were wearing a set of Tech Live Look glasses, then there could be someone on the other end talking me through the reassembly steps; “No. First the washer, then the cinch ring, then the spacer. That’s it. Now tighten it, but not all the way. We’re going to be coming back with a torque wrench in a bit.”
And, interestingly enough, that’s pretty much chapter and verse how Tech Live Look works in Porsche’s world. When a service tech at a dealership in, say, Los Angeles puts on their glasses and connects via the software to the Atlanta-based Porsche technical support team, it allows the Atlanta crew to see exactly what the mechanic is seeing in real-time. This, as you can imagine, allows both parties to rapidly recognize and resolve technical issues. Porsche says the new system can decrease service time by up to 40 percent. Snazzy!
Tech Live Look also allows the technical support team to take screen shots or send bulletins and instructions onto the projection surface of the glasses while the service technician is working on the vehicle. Obviously this is far more efficient than sending emails and photos or explaining complex technical issues over the phone. It’s sort of like having a more experienced (and cool) mechanic looking over your shoulder, saying stuff like, “okay, you see the exploded view I just sent you? Right. That backing plate is on the other side of the case you’re taking apart right now. So when you get this all broken down, make sure you get that backing plate out too. You do not want to leave it in the case when you put everything back together. Trust me.”
And really, I kind of bristle at the use of the words “service technician.” It seems to lower what they are. Call them mechanics, please.
Oh, and here’s an interesting little addendum that Porsche included with their press information on the new AR system: “At the core of this success is Porsche’s proud racing heritage that boasts some 30,000-plus motorsport wins to date.” Whoa, really? 30-thousand. That’s impressive. But if you think about it, Porsche has cranked out so many 911s, and such a large portion of them are raced on such a regular basis – and they are very fast if tricky to drive. So that 30,000 figure seems pretty accurate.
Not sure what that has to do with augmented reality equipped mechanics tearing into the transaxle of your 1978 911 Targa, but it is cool to know. The Tech Live Look system will officially launch in Porsche’s dealerships across North America next year.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.