The next time you get your car repaired, an augmented-reality headset might help the mechanic figure out what’s wrong.
Mercedes-Benz USA said Wednesday that it rolled out Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets to its 383 dealerships across the United States. This allows auto technicians to get remote assistance in real time from a faraway expert, who is able to see under the hood along with the in-person technician via a camera in the HoloLens headset. The hope is that the technology — which also lets the headset wearer see the remote expert, as well as three-dimensional images and annotations like arrows and circles overlaying engine parts with the HoloLens’ see-through display — will help expedite and ease vehicle repairs.
Mercedes also sees the move, which comes after a trial with the headsets at 13 US dealerships earlier this year, as a way to fix cars during the pandemic without sending specialists to dealerships as it would normally. While some data indicate the market for augmented- and virtual-reality headsets slowed down temporarily due to the pandemic, tech market researcher ABI Research estimates the increase in remote work plus people returning to in-person work may increase demand for AR headsets next year. ABI expects under 2 million AR headsets to ship in 2020, but predicts this will climb to 3 million in 2021.
Andrew Sanders, a project lead for engineering services at Mercedes, said that typically when a vehicle in the United States needs to be repaired, a car owner will bring it to a dealership. If the issue isn’t obvious or simple to fix, the dealer will contact company specialists in Jacksonville, Florida. If a remote specialist can’t solve the problem, one of the company’s field experts has to travel to the dealer and fix the vehicle in person, he said.
With HoloLens, the technician at a car dealership can work with several remote specialists at the same time, if need be. For instance, in May, Sanders took part in a HoloLens session along with some engineers and field specialists who were trying to diagnose an engine’s knocking sound.
“You have all these different folks and all these different eyes focused on what the workshop personnel are actually seeing,” Sanders said.
The device is not cheap: the headset alone costs $3,500, not including the price of the Microsoft (MSFT) software that Mercedes is using along with it, Dynamics 365 Remote Assist. HoloLens initially launched in 2016, but adoption of AR technology has been relatively slow due to concerns about cost, as well as whether it’s worth it to provide the resources to train workers.
Mercedes is one of a handful of auto makers that have said augmented reality — and HoloLens in particular — can be helpful to their business. Toyota has also used HoloLens for tasks such as experimenting with speeding up the process of measuring the thickness of a vehicle’s paint and rust-prevention coatings to ensure consistent color and avoid corrosion.
Mercedes had previously purchased HoloLens headsets to train its mechanics with 3-D models of vehicles and parts like brake systems.