How to troubleshoot remotely with the Vuforia Chalk augmented reality app

Solve problems faster—without travel—with this mobile, video-based augmented reality solution.

If you've ever tried to troubleshoot something without a screen remotely, you know it can be a difficult task; Vuforia Chalk can help with that. This mobile app, for Android and iOS devices, connects two people via video and lets each person draw digital, 3D annotations that appear to "stick" to a physical object.

Standard video calling apps, like FaceTime or Google Duo, first show the front-facing camera, so the participants can see each other; Vuforia Chalk shows both people the view of the back camera from the caller's app, which lets the person needing help show what they see.

The app's shared view supports collaborative, remote problem-solving, but with a twist. With standard video support, both people have to rely on words, e.g.,: "Remove the four screws to remove the hard drive." Pause. "No, not that screw. The other one, further to the left. No, not that one. Yes. That one."

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Vuforia Chalk lets an expert make marks as they explain. When you start to draw on the screen, the video pauses to allow you to precisely draw on the image, unaffected by movement of the remote camera. That makes the app useful in any setting where you want remote expertise: Troubleshooting hardware, network cabling, industrial equipment configuration, or server-rack setups.

"An augmented reality app, such as Chalk, can deliver real efficiency and productivity by connecting experts to field technicians and reduce unnecessary travel costs," says Dan Hitomi, Project Manager for Vuforia Chalk.

But the app does more than place simple lines on a two-dimensional image. "When you start a session, the app asks you to move your camera around," says Hitomi, "as you do that, the app is doing the 'SLAM dance'—simultaneous localization and mapping of the physical world in view of the camera." When you draw, Vuforia Chalk starts "interpreting where to place the line in X, Y, Z-coordinate space," Hitomi says, "so if you change your viewing angle, the virtual lines still appear associated in three-dimensional space with the physical object."

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The Vuforia Chalk mobile apps for Android and iOS are free, although conferencing sessions are limited to three minutes. For occasional random, remote troubleshooting, that may be all many people need. Enterprises can pay to remove the time limit, with licensing that "starts at $16 per person per month, with volume discounts available," says Hitomi.

In a larger product-lineup context, the Vuforia Chalk app also serves as an introduction to Vuforia Studio. Studio is intended as a solution to bring people into a shared augmented reality experience to boost productivity. For example, people might use Studio for design review, model visualization, or to walk through step-by-step procedures.

The team plans to "continue to add features to Vuforia Chalk," says Hitomi. "Customers have expressed interest in features such as: service verification, knowledge capture, and training and education, as well as the ability to record and store Chalk sessions. There's also interest in connecting to hands-free head-mounted displays and a desktop client." That's an obvious tie-in to Studio: A recorded session might provide a useful case study or be transformed into a more comprehensive training session—but that's in the future.

For now, Vuforia Chalk merits a place on the home screen of anyone who troubleshoots physical things and who could benefit from the knowledge of an expert at a distance.

Your thoughts?

If you use remote troubleshooting tools at your organization, what tools have you found that work well? Has remote video helped? And, if you've tried Vuforia Chalk, how did it work for you and your team? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter (@awolber).

Also see

Two side-by-side photos: (left) Vuforia Chalk on iOS pointed at laptop; (right) Vuforia Chalk on Android, with "chalkmarks" being placed on screen
Image: TechRepublic/Andy Wolber