Prestige Imports takes a Live Look
Lakewood, Colo.—Sometimes, “Big Brother” looking over your shoulder is a good thing. In December, Prestige Imports became one of the latest Porsche dealerships to add Tech Live Look, augmented reality (AR) smartglasses that allow a technician to communicate with a remote technical expert in real-time and hands-free for assistance with difficult repairs.
“These cars are getting exceptionally complicated,” said Porsche Service Manager David Stribling. “And being a smaller manufacturer, we sometimes don’t have a huge pool of data to pull from. When our brains were out of ideas, we’d call Atlanta (Porsche Cars North America headquarters) or send them an email to tell them what’s going on, and we could send them a picture or a video.”
To resolve even a seemingly simple problem could sometimes require a thread of 20 emails, he said.
“Now, with the glasses, we can talk it out, their eyes watching as well as ours. And sometimes, they’ll go over to a car just like it and start performing the same operation so they’re hands-on just like we are.”
Renita Whitfield, Tech Live Look program manager for Porsche Cars North America, said service resolution times can be shortened by up to 40 percent, with most calls averaging 10 minutes to diagnose and solve an issue.
“A dead car, or a hard-to-fix car is bad for business, and the customer. So it’s highly valuable to shave off any time we can,” Stribling said.
Replacing a module and getting it to communicate with the rest of the car sounds like it should be easy, he said, but it sometimes requires difficult coding to restore functionality. It’s a process that has reduced to 10 minutes what once took an hour or two of experimentation.
“The amount of code that we have in our cars is unbelievable now. There are so many computers talking to each other, technicians are almost like computer networkers, to some extent. And some of these brand-new cars literally just came out a month ago. And nobody necessarily knows except for the Porsche engineers in Germany, and we can’t call them.”
Although rugged, the $2,750 ODG R-7 smartglasses weigh only about six ounces and can be comfortably and securely worn by the technician, with customizable pieces such as the lenses, which can be quickly swapped for prescription lenses (available through the program), and silicone nosepiece, each attached by magnets. Translucent images project from the top of the glasses’ frame and are superimposed onto dual screens in the wearer’s line of sight, with the option to minimize them to a corner of the screen. Technicians can schedule a call by phone or through the glasses’ application, and they navigate through options through an earpiece-mounted trackpad the size of a pencil eraser, offering predictive text responses and the ability to scroll through the display. A built-in microphone and earbuds allow clear audio.
“The application of this is huge,” he said. “We’re still kind of touching the technology in the beginning. They can freeze a frame while you’re looking at it, they can zoom in, they can zoom out. They can turn on the flashlight, they can send you a document right there so you have the instructions, what they’re trying to describe, in your eye while you’re looking at the car. Or they can circle a bolt — ‘You need to check that,’ for example. Or an electrical connector or whatever it may be.”
Instead of technicians printing out multiple pages of a wiring schematic and taping them together six pages wide, they can view the schematic within the glasses, moving along the wiring path by moving their head left or right.
Still in the early stages of using the new technology, “some of the ‘techy’ technicians were excited about it,” Stribling said. “Some of the guys’ first thought was, ‘Alright, we’ve got Big Brother watching us now.’ But they see the benefit now. Convincing them to use it is like any new tool; until it becomes a habit, it’s still new.”
It’s for only the most difficult of problems, perhaps a couple times a month, that Tech Live Look is expected to be used, Stribling and Whitfield said.
“But when a technician starts struggling with a car, his morale and motivation go down so quickly,” Stribling said. “In the past, somebody from Porsche would have to fly out, or a field rep would come work with us and try to figure it out. Now, the field rep, wherever he is, can just hop on his computer or iPad, and it’s almost like he’s here.”
Whitfield said that, as of press time, about half of the 189 U.S. Porsche dealers have the new technology, with plans to onboard the remainder by the end of 2019. Its uses are thus far limited to technical support issues, although other future uses have been discussed. Technician feedback since it was piloted in 2017 and rolled out in April 2018 has led to improvements, such as the help desk being able to remotely turn on the glasses’ flashlight for a technician.
Improvements may include features such as being able to see images pointing out the differences in an early or late production part, Whitfield said.
“That’s part of the contextualization that is being expanded on in this industry, and we’re working with our software vendor, Atheer, on incorporating those contextualization aspects and how we can help the dealership. We are definitely at the forefront, but there is so much we can do with this technology that we want to explore.”
Tech Live Look could even possibly help attract tech-savvy students to a career as a Porsche technician, Stribling said.
“I think this kind of technology could absolutely help recruit them, because they realize we’re on the forefront of technology, not just in the cars themselves but in the repairs. We’re trying to lead the pack in technology. I don’t think there’s any other manufacturer that has anything that compares to this at the moment.”