Skip to main content

Rugged Mobile Devices Provide New Gateways to Augmented Reality for Utilities

Erik De Castro/Reuters

The utility industry is facing challenges it hasn’t seen before as alternative providers come to market and bring new technologies that help them address old problems. Augmented reality promises to help reduce costs of maintenance, make operations safer and increase first-call resolution rates. As more systems and equipment are developedable to support these concepts and operations, the promise of augmented reality will evolve to deliver innovative ways to service utilities.

Why augmented reality

Utility companies are looking at several uses for augmented reality as their equipment modernizes and their workforces change to include younger workers and those increasingly accustomed to working with digital documentation. Augmented reality can connect the locations and equipment to workers and information and provides context. For example, workers are accustomed to identifying equipment by locating and scanning RFID or barcode tags but those physical tags can be damaged or located in inaccessible places. When that happens, the technician can utilize augmented reality features and point their tablet’s camera at the equipment so the company’s intelligent application can identify it. More importantly, the documentation, service history, and current service request can be shown as overlays on the image showing specific parts of the equipment that need attention.

The tablet becomes more than just a library of documentation; it can act as an instructor by providing step-by-step maintenance procedures. As the steps are being performed, the software automatically verifies the actions have been carried out properly and creates a time stamped log of each action along with any notes the technician may have made.

The challenges

Field technicians spend long days outdoors where they meet a variety of environmental conditions. Regardless of the weather and location, their mobile computers must perform flawlessly. That means their laptops and tablets need to be able to withstand extreme temperatures and the accidental drops that can happen when conditions are less than ideal. Rugged equipment designed to survive misuse and even abuse lets workers concentrate on their duties without having to worry about dropping their tablet in the mud. But when their equipment does get dirty or covered with grease, industrial grade rugged devices can simply be washed and cleaned so they can continue to serve their purpose without the interruption caused by having to be sent back to the manufacturer for reconditioning.

Augmented reality technology will put extra demands on equipment that many consumer grade units simply cannot provide. Technicians working in bright sunlight can only make use of augmented reality’s visual overlay features if they can see the screen. Purpose built rugged tablets must have screens that can be seen clearly even when they are being used in bright sunlight where consumer grade tablets are unusable. And when workers are in remote locations they still need reliable wireless connections. Rugged mobile computers built with specialized antennae capable of making the most of even weak wireless signalsensure that technicians are able to interact continuously with their augmented reality resources wherever they are working.

Augmented reality will be able to improve efficiency and allow technicians to service equipment they are less familiar with, but their mobile computers need to be able to stand up to the demands of the applications as well as the environment. Look for industrial grade computers purpose built to deliver in the toughest conditions.

For more information on Panasonic rugged device offerings in field services click here.