They significantly cut down service times by letting Porsche's remote expert technicians see what the on-location mechanic is seeing.
While virtual reality continues to sadly flounder, loved by few but ignored by most, augmented reality at least is taking off. With support for the technology, which can draw virtual images over the real world, available in all modern smartphones , it's easy to start dropping digital furniture in your living room or virtual Stormtroopers in your selfies.
Porsche was an early adopter of the tech, releasing an app that lets you drive a little Mission E around your living room and even sit inside the virtual cockpit. Now, the company is bringing a somewhat more hardened experience to its dealerships through a system it calls Tech Live Look.
Tech Live Look is a pair of glasses that, upon first glance, gave me flashbacks to my time spent wearing that most famous of AR headsets, Google Glass . However, the implementation here is quite different. Porsche's glasses, created by ODG, rely on a pair of transparent displays that sit directly before your eyes. This contrasts with the single, small display on Glass that sat just at the edge of your field of view.
Where Glass primarily served as a notification device, Tech Live Look has a far more utilitarian task: giving Porsche service technicians hands-free access to all the data in the cloud. No, it isn't quite Major Kusanagi jacking into the 'net in Ghost in the Shell, but it's the same basic idea.
For starters, this enables technicians to search for and consult technical documentation hands-free, something that would have been a boon for me when I was soldering together a harness for my Subaru's new head unit last year. Documents appear floating in space and, while you need to search for them using a tiny trackpad, voice recognition and gesture commands are coming in a future update.
The bigger piece, however, is the ability for the glasses to directly call a remote Porsche service expert. Once connected, that remote technician can see exactly what the on-location mechanic is seeing, interactively troubleshooting complex issues that previously required lengthy back-and-forth exchanges of murky smartphone pictures. The remote technician can tell the on-location technician what to do, even drawing on the video feed to show where to look.
I had a chance to try this service at Porsche North America HQ in Atlanta, Georgia, where I was able to troubleshoot an obscure error code thrown by a new Panamera Sport Turismo. I connected wirelessly to a Porsche expert, who then walked me through the troubleshooting process. The code indicated a fault from a given sensor, and the first step was to verify the status of the connectors on the sensor's plug.
Of course, the real first step was for me to actually find the damned plug, which is no trivial task in a modern, plastic-shrouded engine. But my friendly, disembodied voice showed me exactly where to look under the hood, drawing a circle around the front of the engine compartment, then directing me to use a specific tool designed to check connector tension within the plug. Surprise, surprise, one of the wires was loose.
My special helper then sent me a wiring diagram and that, overlaid within my field of view, allowed me to identify the problematic wire. I was then told how to use another special tool to disconnect that wire from the sensor's connector and, after I extracted it, I could easily see that the crimping was malformed, something my remote helper verified through the camera.
The whole process took less than 5 minutes. Had I been doing this myself, thumbing through service manuals and Googling to my heart's content, it surely would have taken ages. And yes, a trained Porsche technician could have done a better job, but in Porsche's initial trials, these glasses cut down on service time by a whopping 40 percent.
That not only reduces costs for warranty repairs, but it'll help get customers their cars back more quickly, something we can all get behind. This is why Porsche dealerships haven't balked at the notion of spending $2,750 per pair.
Klaus Zellmer, President and CEO of Porsche Cars North America, told me: "It's good for customers, because they get their car back sooner, and it's good for dealers because they get that stall clear." Indeed, if you do the math on the average billable rate of a mechanic and figure a 40 percent savings, the pay-back is remarkably quick. "You'd see it in a couple of days," Zellmer said, "it's less than a week."
Zellmer went on to tell me that, after demonstrating the technology at a recent sales conference, 75 of the company's US dealerships signed up immediately. The rest of the 189 will be online by the end of next year, meaning that every dealership will soon have AR glasses in their service bays and fast chargers out in the parking lot.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the company has no plans to make these glasses available directly to well-heeled consumers who might prefer to do their own wrenching. But know at least that if you're a lucky Porsche owner who's unlucky enough to need something fixed, the person doing the troubleshooting will soon have the power of the hive mind behind them.
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