Masternaut Three X launched an advanced camera phone application that enables digital images to be displayed together with associated business data. This augmented reality (AR) solution is targeted at organizations in need of vehicle tracking and mobile resource management technology for more efficient field service operations. Editor in Chief Joe Francica interviewed Masternaut's Johann Levy, the research and development manager, about the AR application.
Directions Magazine (DM): This is a solution for field service technicians. Can you explain in more detail the applications in which it would be used?
Johann Levy (JL): Yes, this can provide a solution for field service technicians because it gives rapid access to information, cuts the need for paperwork and provides visual and voice communication - all as an aid to boost efficiency. However, it has much wider application appeal because it can deliver any kind of critical data onto a real-time digital image, making it a powerful business tool. Therefore, any service organization could use this development to communicate important information to mobile personnel - the applications are limitless.
In the context of the field service technician, Masternaut Augmented Reality provides a range of benefits. From delivering the precise GPS position and a satellite image of the job site to guide the technician, to instantly updating work schedules, right down to being able to track deliveries of parts to the site, this innovation is designed to help improve efficiencies and boost customer service. For example, combining live picture capability with GPS and service data means that augmented reality can be used to locate the precise position of underground pipes and valves, switch gear hidden behind bulkheads and so on, using maps and live images with accurate job details. The mobile phone, of course, provides communications and doubles as a convenient data capture / data entry device, further enhancing mobility and eliminating paper documentation.
DM: How do you intend to tailor or customize the solution for specific clients? What would change in terms of the information you provide or the interface to field personnel?
JL: Masternaut Three X has a good reputation for developing fully featured, off-the-shelf solutions that we tailor to fit each customer's requirements. So, as with the rest of our portfolio, we have developed our augmented reality product to be highly flexible. We can customize the screen displays to show only the information needed by the mobile personnel and in a format that makes it easy to understand and read under any environmental conditions - indoors, outdoors, bright light, low light, etc. We can also apply good customer relationship management practice by helping the technicians with the information they need to work with the customer - repair / maintenance history, costs, right down to how to address the person with whom they are dealing.
DM: Let's talk specifically about your example of a pothole needing repair. How do you anticipate receiving information about this location prior to sending a repair technician to fix the pothole? Do you envision that the person who logs the work order will identify precisely via GPS the location of the pothole?
JL: Highway maintenance inspectors would collect survey data - geolocation, condition, photographic images, etc. This information would then be used to create the work orders. It would then simply be a matter of providing the job to the maintenance teams and they then go to the site, with the mobile phone navigating them both visually and via GPS to the precise location of the job. It would also enable maintenance crews to feed back any new defects they find that have developed since the survey was performed.
DM: What are the expected productivity benefits? Have you determined an ROI for this application?
JL: Productivity benefits will include the ability to get to jobs quickly and safely, the elimination of mountains of paperwork replaced by electronic records, better communications, GPS navigation, tracking and enhanced customer services. It is a development that will help field-based personnel work smarter and provide better customer services.
DM: Your augmented reality solution, or "x-ray view" as you call it, for Masternaut Asset Track is intriguing. Are you building a database of parts and supplies that will be integrated with the AR system, meaning that an inventory will be built per truck or vehicle and a manifest provided to the driver via AR?
JL: Masternaut Asset Track uses RFID tags to manage assets of any type or size. When RFID tags are allocated to assets, a unique identification code is recorded automatically onto the Masternaut Asset Track asset database. We can link these assets to the vehicles carrying them and use the augmented reality application to guide the service engineer to the appropriately equipped van or truck. This means less time is spent sourcing tools and service parts from the stores and the electronic manifests can be presented visually with missing items flagged.
If items are shared among the vehicle fleet the system can also guide the engineers to each appropriate vehicle to locate the equipment they need - of course the system would only provide information on the location of available tools, etc, to prevent them from taking equipment needed by other people.
It also provides security, allowing assets to be stored on the vehicles rather than being carried to and from storage.
DM: Please expand on what you see as the future of AR for asset tracking and management.
JL: On the asset tracking and management side alone, the combination of Masternaut Augmented Reality and Asset Track will provide new levels of asset visibility and security. Masternaut Augmented Reality is in early development and we are gaining much interest from customers. People like visual technology, and being able to incorporate real-world images enhances the way they work with it. We believe that the sky is the limit for this innovation - the applications are only limited by the imagination. It will help simplify many complex jobs by providing the connecting medium between mobile workers and the various assets they need to perform their work. It will also provide an enhanced view of performance, asset usage and efficiency to management teams.