Dr. Shantha Mohan

The Role of VRAR in Automotive Training and Maintenance Programs cOVER

Image Source: BMW Blog: BMW Technicians Now Have Augmented Reality Smart Glasses to Rely on

"The screen is a window through which one sees a virtual world. The challenge is to make that world look real, act real, sound real, feel real."

- Ivan Sutherland

In his review of Apple’s Vision Pro, American entrepreneur, educator, author, and speaker Steve Blank said,

“If you haven’t been paying attention, Apple has started shipping its Apple Vision Pro, its take on a headset that combines Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR). The product is an amazing technical tour de force.” But he also said it is a product in search of a market.

Apple Vision Pro

Guess what? The automotive industry is an excellent domain for the use of AR/VR technology. It has been using these technologies for quite a while now in many areas—design, manufacturing, training, and maintenance.

In this post, let us look at two areas with the potential for high return on investment—training and maintenance.

History of Virtual Reality

Wikipedia provides a concise explanation of virtual reality and augmented reality:

“Virtual reality (VR) is a simulated experience that employs pose tracking and 3D near-eye displays to give the user an immersive feel of a virtual world. Applications of virtual reality include entertainment (particularly video games), education (such as medical or military training) and business (such as virtual meetings). Other distinct types of VR-style technology include augmented reality and mixed reality, sometimes referred to as extended reality or XR, although definitions are currently changing due to the nascence of the industry.”

“Augmented reality (AR) is an interactive experience that combines the real world and computer-generated content. The content can span multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory and olfactory. AR can be defined as a system that incorporates three basic features: a combination of real and virtual worlds, real-time interaction, and accurate 3D registration of virtual and real objects.”

The history of virtual reality is fascinating and dates back to 1838, when the stereoscope was first invented. This device used double mirrors to project a single image. I remember being delighted with the toy View-Master, which is a stereoscope and is still a popular toy.

A Forbes article credits Ivan Sutherland with the 1968 introduction of the first head-mounted augmented reality display, “The Sword of Damocles.”

Video game companies such as Nintendo and Sega created virtual reality video games during the 1980s and 1990s. However, the technology was not mature enough, the devices were poorly made, and they didn’t meet customers’ expectations. 

In the 2010s, virtual reality saw renewed interest in virtual reality with the introduction of high-quality devices such as Oculus Rift in 2012 by Oculus VR, with the commercial version introduced in 2016, which became popular. Around the same time, HTC Corporation introduced the HTC Vive line of virtual and mixed-reality headsets.

virtual reality headset made by Oculus VR

The Oculus Rift CV1 (Consumer Version 1), a virtual reality headset made by Oculus VR and released in 2016.
Image credit: Evan-Amos

Special content must be created to leverage the full impact of the virtual reality paradigm. This can be done in two ways: 3D animation of models and environments and 360-degree videos created with omnidirectional cameras. Virtual reality content-creating tools are available from companies such as Unity and Unreal.

Today, the technology is mature enough to take on industrial uses such as training and maintenance in the auto industry.

Use of Virtual Reality in Automotive Training

A BMW safety training video from 2019 illustrates how it is working with a company called Strivr to educate its employees with “Immersive Learning.” It says, “It’s like having one-on-one coaching in the real world while getting immediate feedback. Trainers get access to unique immersive data and we can really understand what our associates know and don’t know and adapt the training for continuous improvement.”

The Ford Newsroom article, How Ford, Bosch Are Using Virtual Reality To Train Technicians On All-Electric Mustang Mach-E, says by using the immersive simulated environment, technicians don’t require access to a physical Mustang Mach-E to learn about all the components, including the electric vehicle’s high-voltage system. They can understand the steps required to maintain the system and build confidence to perform the activities involved in diagnosing and servicing it. The virtual reality (VR) training tool from Ford and Bosch uses Oculus Quest virtual reality headset from Facebook.

In The Audi Media Center article, the trainer says, “Virtual-reality training is very popular with our employees…The gamification approach is fun, so it also improves the learning progress. If a trainee performs the tasks correctly, he or she receives points. In this way, the trainee learns the way through different levels, comparable to a video game.” The training has multiple levels of difficulty. At the beginner level, each step is guided. As the staff member moves up the level, the program gives less guidance. At the final level, the technicians are expected to finish the program without any support, thus enabling learning and promoting the trainee’s motivation.

Use of Virtual and Augmented Reality in Automotive Maintenance

In 2020, Microsoft commissioned a report from Forrester about the return-on-investment opportunities with remote assisted maintenance. The report The Total Economic Impact™ Of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist – Cost Savings And Business Benefits Enabled By Dynamics 365 Remote Assist lists the key findings as significant labor and travel cost savings, reduced time to fix issues, avoidance of lost revenue due to maintenance downtime, among many others, leading to more customer and employee satisfaction.

According to a Ford news article, The Ford Motor Company has a program called “See What I See (SWIS)” in which maintenance technicians use “remote assistance software powered by augmented reality, which allows team members at the Technical Assistance Center to display modified or enhanced images to the dealer technician through the headset.”

A Sieman’s web post, Porsche turns to AR to grade up its service explains the use of AR in the workshop with The Porsche Taycan, the first all-electric sports car. Porsche is working with Siemens to develop the PARiS after-sales solution, “Porsche Augmented Reality in Service.”

The Brave New World of Modern Auto Industry

Technologies such as VR and AR are revolutionizing how the automotive industry operates today. We saw only two areas in this blog—training and maintenance. Many more, starting with the design of the vehicles and myriad other use cases, can benefit from these advances. Auto industries need to keep innovating to stay relevant. Upskilling the workforce is critical to the quest.


Dr. Shantha Mohan

Software Engineering Leader, Author, Mentor

Author Spotlight

Dr. Shantha Mohan is a mentor, project guide, and an Executive in Residence at the iLab, Integrated Innovation Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Before that, she was a global technical leader and entrepreneur, co-founding Retail Solutions Inc., a retail analytics company. She also has over 20 years of experience focused on mission-critical systems to support semiconductor and other high-value-added manufacturing. 

Dr. Shantha is a three-time author, has authored Roots and Wings – Inspiring Stories of Indian Women in Engineering, and has co-authored Demystifying AI for The Enterprise – A Playbook for Business Value and Digital Transformation. Her newest book, Leadership Lessons with The Beatles: Tips and Tools for Becoming Better at Leading, was published by Routledge, Taylor & Francis in May 2022.

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