Occasionally, I am asked to help troubleshoot networking equipment housed in Minnesota data centers if the company requiring assistance does not have a local presence. Past experience has proven the best thing to do before the troubleshooting conference call starts is to take several pictures of the offline and malfunctioning device, and email them to the support team.
Images simplify troubleshooting, but there are still obstacles, including trying to communicate in a noisy data center and working with language differences. Fortunately, the solution eventually presents itself. However, it typically takes longer and costs more than if the support engineers were making the repairs or changes themselves.
So that's the hard part: transferring the appropriate knowledge about the misbehaving device to the person who is standing in front of it. If this were an occasional event, the current method might be an acceptable approach, though most data centers (especially independently-operated ones) will have a steady stream of contractors asking to work on their client's equipment. So when the Birmingham Business Alliance told me about VIPAAR, a company advertising an augmented reality video platform that enhances field-service communications, I needed to know more.
VIPAAR's application, like most other video-communications software, enables virtual links: base station to mobile device, base station to Google Glass, or mobile device to mobile device. What's unique is how VIPAAR's engineers employed its in-house imaging technology to allow individuals on one end of the video link to place objects (see the hand in the above image) between the camera and background that will be seen by the party at the other end of the video link on their monitor or mobile device. Let's see how this may have helped the troubleshooting example described earlier.
Does augmented reality help?
This time, the remote support team is logged in using their VIPAAR base station, while I am digitally connected to their base station via my tablet and installed VIPAAR app. I point the tablet's camera at the rat nest of cables in the back. The experts see what I see. They check actual against their documentation, and eventually spot something.
Rather than tell me where and what appears to be wrong, one of the engineers virtually points (similar to the image above) to one specific Ethernet cable, mentioning the cable is plugged in a slot that should be empty. I see exactly which connection the engineer is referring to. The engineer then tells me to move that cable one slot to my right. That is all it took to get the device back online.
After Drew Deaton, President and CEO of VIPAAR, demonstrated a few of its products, I asked if any systems were in the field. Deaton handed me a case study from MSI Defense Solutions, a supplier of suspension parts for specialty off-road vehicles. The study mentioned that VIPAAR products:
- Reduced travel costs;
- Improved response time;
- Allowed initial remote diagnostics before dispatching a repair person; and
- Gave MSI the ability to create a catalog of video fixes that could be used by repair personnel in the future.
David Holden, CEO and President of MSI Defense Solutions, commented that mobile video is changing the way companies provide support — something companies could not have imagined five or more years ago. Holden then said, "In our industry, customer support and immediate resolution are incredibly important. Even if we ultimately have to send someone on site, which we're doing less of, our team arrives more prepared and aware of the issue when we use VIPAAR. It's transformative."
A viable reason for Google Glass
VIPAAR is keenly interested in Google Glass, and is offering what many feel to be the first sensible use for the device. Imagine using VIPAAR software and Google Glass instead of a tablet to fix a computer (video), or to assist a surgeon (video) thousands of miles away perform an operation. Google Glass allows the use of both hands and is not intrusive, even in the operating theater.
VIPAAR has caught the attention of Google, to the point where VIPAAR managed to hire away Aaron Brennan. At Google, Brennan worked with Google Glass. At VIPAAR, Brennan is Director of Marketing.
When companies first started offering telepresence technology as a service, its uses were obvious and seemingly unlimited. The problem was that the equipment and virtual-presence conference rooms were complicated to set up and costly to use.
Today's users are looking for mobile technologies to get things done faster and work anywhere. VIPAAR's latest introduction, Lime, gives users the ability to use augmented reality to solve problems instantly and anywhere there is an internet connection.
Can you see your company using VIPAAR or perhaps something similar in the future for IT field support? If so, would you consider using Google Glass with VIPAAR? Let us know in the discussion.
- The next big thing in tech: Augmented reality (CNET)
- Will augmented reality technology be the next big trend? (ZDNet)
- 10 reasons you should offer remote support to your clients (TechRepublic)
- Google Glass Policy (Tech Pro Research)
Disclaimer: TechRepublic, CNET, ZDNet, and Tech Pro Research are CBS Interactive properties.
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