Link-Belt is working on developing an augmented-reality headset that could help its dealers with the growing technician shortage.
Using Realwear headsets, technicians can watch step-by-step instructions or receive guidance from a remote master technician all while keeping their hands free to perform the repairs. The wearer’s eyes are uncovered. Unlike AR goggles, the headset features a small monocle that rests below one eye and shows a simulated 8-inch screen.
“So you can be working and then peek down and never have to drop tools,” said Wyatt Skaggs, Link-Belt emerging technology specialist, at ConExpo 2023. “You don’t have to pick up a phone, pick up an iPad and then put the iPad down.”
The technician can also issue voice commands to the device, rather than having to push buttons or scroll.
“Next step” advances the screen forward.
“Expand reference photo” blows up the shot. Items of concern or that need attention can be circled, and the wearer can zoom in and out. If you say, “Zoom level three,” you can move your head around and see exactly where you're looking at in the augmented-reality instructions.
You can also say, “freeze window,” which stops the instructions at the point where you're looking.
“Capture photo” takes a picture of what the technician is looking at and stores it.
The headset works with video conferencing services such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. The remote master technician can see what the apprentice technician sees as he looks at the machine being repaired. The master tech can freeze the screen, circle items and pinpoint areas for the apprentice or less experienced mechanic and watch as the work is performed. The apprentices can also take photos of each step in the actual repair, so if there’s a problem, they can go back through the photos to see where a mistake occurred.
The Realwear headset came to Link-Belt about a year ago from one of its dealers who had purchased them. The dealership saw promise in the Realwear device, which is mainly used in manufacturing, but they needed help in adapting it to their construction equipment technicians.
Skaggs says Link-Belt is working with some of its dealers in testing the device and incorporating feedback as to what works and what doesn’t. So far, it has worked when performing real-world repairs.
The headset is also easy and intuitive. “The first time you see it, you know how to use it,” he says.
It could enable dealerships to send less experienced techs to remote locations while keeping senior technicians in the shop, saving their expertise from drive time and simpler repairs. It also can help inexperienced technicians by giving them step-by-step guidance from an experienced tech or through instructional videos and manuals in real time while performing repairs.
“You can give them something to where they're immediately productive, because you just train them on how to use a headset,” Wyatt says. “It's just like watching a standard YouTube video. We put all the knowledge base in there, all the good photos in there for you. All you have to do is listen.”
For now, the device is in its early stages of testing. But Skaggs hopes it could be ready for dealers in a year.