Fresh Technology - AR you ready?

by Mike Tarjomi - Chief Information Officer, R. Redpaths Limited

Within the electrical industry change is coming. Not just change that means you must stock a new item, or that a customer will be demanding some kind of new gadget for their home - I’m talking about real change in how the industry operates, and using technology to improve and enhance everything that you do. It might sound like something out of Science Fiction, but you and your business need to be prepared for the world of AR (Augmented Reality). Many of you reading this will be getting visions of ‘The Lawnmower Man’ movie from the early 90’s where Pierce Brosnan wears a ridiculous outfit and runs around in a virtual reality world. Whilst this is fun to watch and participate in, the business functions are limited.

With the development of augmented reality that actually works, we are now able to look into the business use case, and how it will benefit each industry – basically assisting you with your day to day jobs! (And making life easier!). For those of you reading this and going ‘what on earth is he talking about’ – let me explain. Virtual reality (VR) is an artificial, computer-generated simulation or recreation of a real-life environment or situation. It immerses the user by making them feel like they are experiencing the simulated reality first-hand, primarily by stimulating their vision and hearing. Augmented reality (AR) however, is a technology that layers computer-generated enhancements through a camera and gives you the ability to interact with it. AR is developed into apps and used on mobile devices to blend digital components into the real world. Devices like Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens are early editions in technologies to make this happen, where you wear a lightweight device and walk around seeing everything as you normally would – but can layer on top digital information. How is this relevant to our industry? Electrical Design and Maintenance Imagine visualizing the design of a new overhead powerline extension, complete with line sag and spacing to help you better understand how that new line will actually look and act in the real world. Or possibly a long road crossing where clearance requirements are very important; you could be able to visualize the conductors sagging over the road and see if they have the proper clearance as larger trucks pass under the superimposed conductors. You may even be able to model the hotter seasons when conductors tend to sag the most. Another scenario might involve a customer getting new internal wiring done for their new building construction project. The level of work and effort to discover what is required and design the new solution can be time consuming and expensive. Imagine now if that with the use of an AR interface, you could look at a digital rendering of the proposed building, and a design of where the new cabling is to be installed? Taking a look at the structure before its actually built, giving staff and customers a much better visualization of how the final layout would look before it even began.

With AR you can also use the system for documenting existing sites, which works very well for repair. Bringing a database of existing knowledge and plans can reduce the time to resolve issues, and standardise your process. All of this adds efficiency which reduces cost. Using a headset with a communications network, workers in the field can access GIS data and remote human expertise. In one possible scenario, workers may be looking at a power fault buried deep under the street, but have no way to know exactly where to find it. Generally, they would look for the closest entry point, but this can be hampered by road conditions like traffic or bad weather. AR allows them to now glance down the street to exactly where the fault is. This is technology that is being used now. The chronic problem with augmented reality has always been one of practicality. You could have the most basic forms of AR on your regular phone, as provided by apps like Layar, which has been around since 2009, but those have never been particularly compelling. Or you could have more sophisticated and appealing augmentations, as presented by Google's Tango project, but you'd need a big fat phablet to lug around to make them happen. Apple's latest difference is to combine the convenience of your daily phone with the appeal of advanced AR.

It isn’t just digital headsets or phones and tablets that are providing this other dimension of information. Smart wristbands with built-in voltage detection can alert workers when they’re close to a dangerous line. Similarly, wearable voltage and load sensors can be used to isolate outages and pinpoint power-quality issues from distributed resources into the grid. Wearable heat sensors might be used to identify hot spots in devices in the field, as is done today with smartphones. These are some of Schneider’s own documented benefits that are commonly found in augmented reality applications. Safety: The technology can provide easy-to-follow, visual, step-by-step operating procedures and key messages, which reduce human error. It also helps operators select the appropriate equipment for performing specific tasks. In addition, it improves safety for operators. For example, AR can supply operators with information about the location of existing utilities lines and buried utilities and this can be superimposed on workers’ devices to give visual information about their location.

  • Training and maintenance: Workers can learn how to perform new tasks and maintain products using the technology’s visual instructions.

  • Modelling and configuration: Equipment can be quickly and easily visualized, designed, and modified. HD 3D allows each part to be seen in detail.

  • Documentation: It provides a new format for gathering information that can further enhances users’ knowledge when combined with traditional methods.

  • Cost-effective and efficient: AR technology can cut costs by boosting operator efficiency because it simplifies tasks by supplying the relevant resources and data for workers, increases machine efficiency, reduces waste caused by redesigns, lowers operational overhead, and accurately estimates the budget thanks to AR modelling.

Augmented reality technology is expanding across industries and the growth shows no sign of stopping. Forward-thinking Redpaths customers should take advantage of this new technology, which provides the opportunity to give you the upper hand and enhance your customer service.

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