Augmented reality (AR) is exploding throughout the automotive industry, disrupting product development from design & development to operations, quality, and launch. As a result, the global automotive augmented reality market will grow to nearly $7B at a healthy CAGR of 17.6% by 2025. These market figures consider an often-overlooked segment for which AR is beneficial: automotive repair.
The complexities of modern vehicle repair can stretch the repair shop beyond their core expertise, with digital features, added sensors, and increased autonomous features. This shift has increased the use of remote diagnostics. With the IoT connecting technologies, OEMs have turned to this approach to equip their vehicles with virtual tools to provide technicians with more profound insights when diagnosing a problem.
To understand the use of augmented reality in automotive repair, it is worth reviewing how AR works, where technicians can use it, and how it supports the different remote systems.
What is Augmented Reality in Automotive?
Augmented reality adds a virtual world on top of the physical one, creating a view for the user that contains real and virtual components together. One step past the physical environment on Milgram and Kishino’s Reality-Virtuality Continuum (RV), AR leverages the size and spatial relationships of the actual components in a vehicle when creating the virtual skin. In addition, AR integrates the power of the IoT with the car to create a version of the physical realm that can access an integrated, extended network to support automotive repair centers. The result adds tools in the mechanic’s box to increase repairs’ effectiveness, quality, and speed. These improvements benefit both the consumer and the repair shop. More efficient repairs lower the consumer’s repair costs and increased skills expand the customer base for the shop.
There are four primary augmented reality applications in the automotive industry. These support remote systems to help repair shops: remote diagnostics, step-by-step intelligent troubleshooting, future-proofing with automated customer-repair shop engagement, and remote expert support.
The ability to assess the condition of a vehicle in near-real-time has become a requirement for many drivers and vehicle owners. This is true, especially for those with a large fleet or who do not conduct their own repairs. A technician can apply AR glasses or a rugged tablet to link what they see with diagnostic software to remotely assess a system’s condition. The AR device collects data from the vehicles and sends it for remote analysis when the mechanic begins inspection.
Implementing remote diagnostics ensures a vehicle system operates within its specified design parameters. In addition, this step streamlines diagnostic assessment. It enables the mechanic to complete the repair sooner, avoiding potential downtime and reducing the time-to-repair. Both of these translate into lower costs.
Step-by-step Intelligent Troubleshooting
Another use of augmented reality in automotive is intelligent troubleshooting. For example, if the traditional root-based diagnostics approach could not identify the cause of failure, an AR device can take the mechanic through a guided process to search and trace the issue. The technology can receive data observed by the mechanic’s field of view, process the information, and propose the next step. This process dramatically reduces inefficiencies due to guesswork for hard-to-solve root cause failures.
In addition, the remote system can connect to a server with data from other similar failures. The system can use machine learning and AI to continuously implement the latest best practices, solution methodologies, and techniques. This feature is one of the most transformative AR-supported benefits to optimize repair efficiency due it its integration with the IoT. Finally, intelligent troubleshooting helps frame the technician’s thought process when approaching a repair. This can save significant time and improve first-time fix ratios.
Future-proofing and Predictive Maintenance
AR enables remote diagnostics helps to confirm the current state of a vehicle system. It can also deliver predictive maintenance information of failures likely to occur in the near future. Knowing when a repair will be needed is a valuable insight that can save time, inconvenience of breakdowns, higher repair costs, in addition to avoiding potential safety issues.
When the AR collects vehicle information and interfaces with the service, repair history, and diagnostic software, it can extrapolate the run data and history of a component. This helps to predict when it is likely to fail with trend-based analysis. The customer can feel confident that this can avoid unnecessary repair costs while still exhausting a component’s useful life.
Remote Expert Support
A significant advantage of augmented reality for automotive repair is remote expert support. As vehicles become more complex, so do their maintenance needs. And with these needs, technicians need to acquire specialized skills to service the cars properly. One way to achieve this efficiency is through AR-integrated digital twins.
Digital twins are a great match with AR since they also integrate the physical and virtual worlds. In automotive repair, the technicians can use the digital twins to reverse how they are used in product development. A remote expert can demonstrate the fix of a virtual component identical to a physical one in a repair shop. The mechanic can visualize the repair of the digital element on top of the physical one.
This approach extends the repair shop’s capability and significantly increases the repair’s efficiency. In addition, the mechanic and repair shop can retain the knowledge of the complex repair, organically growing both of their capabilities.
Augmented reality is well-suited for remote systems in automotive repair. By adding digital features to the physical components, repair shops enjoy a host of benefit applications, including:
- Remote diagnostics to assess the current state of a remote system
- Step-by-step intelligent troubleshooting to guide mechanics through the complex repair of a remote system component
- Future-proofing and predictive maintenance to predict when a component is likely to fail, optimize the repair timing to benefit the user, and alert and schedule the repair at the shop according to the predicting failure timing
- Remote expert support using a digital twin or remote training session to empower the shop to handle complicated repairs, extend its and the mechanics’ capabilities, and expedite the repair cycle timing.
These benefits deliver fewer errors in automotive repair, which optimizes the cost and timing of repairs. In addition, the confluence of augmented reality and physical repairs equips shops for the next generation of automotive technology.
The enabling technology for this use is the AR-capable devices. Many AR tools take the form of glasses that the mechanic can wear. Not everyone prefers this, as these devices can be fragile, uncomfortable to wear, and costly. An alternative approach is a rugged tablet tethered with a rugged IP camera. This can provide a convenient hands-free solution that stands up to the environment of a typical automotive workshop.
Any of the AR applications for remote system support in automotive requires a solution that can handle both the physical demands of the environment and the software demand, complete with high-speed and low-latency capability. Processing the data in real-time is critical to realizing the full benefits of AR. It is vital to ensure the devices mechanics use can handle the job.