Guest Column | October 7, 2021

How Can AR And VR Improve Fleet Technician Training?

By Emily Newton, Revolutionized

AR Augmented Reality

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly explores the impact technology has on the industrial sector.

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are often used for entertainment and marketing purposes, such as to get consumers interested in a new product or brand. However, they also have tremendous potential to improve training for fleet maintenance technicians.

Here are some of the exciting ways these technologies could change this specialized education for the better.

Tackling The Labor Shortage

Fleet technicians are in short supply in some places, but there are ongoing efforts to fix that issue. Alabama is one of several states dealing with staffing shortages. However, a new virtual reality training program called Diesel by Distance will equip people for careers as technicians and mechanics.

Dr. Vicki Karolewics is the president of Wallace State Community College, which is offering the program. She explained. “As we work to help meet Alabama’s statewide workforce goals and get people into the many skilled trades with unfilled jobs, diesel technology is a key industry facing a serious shortage of talent.”

She continued, “Through this next-generation approach to technical training, we have an opportunity to meet a pressing need for employers while getting those in search of work into secure and good-paying jobs. The integration of simulation-based technology into this program is helping to generate new interest in the program and the careers in diesel tech, more broadly.”

More specifically, the VR simulations expose people to the daily life of a technician. They learn how to build, repair, and maintain vehicles with diesel engines. The program blends self-paced coursework and fully online modules that people can complete from anywhere and while involved in paid apprenticeships. Learners earn certificates or degrees after finishing the program.

Making Training More Accessible

Training fleet technicians with AR and VR also can break down some traditional barriers sometimes associated with conventional training. For example, as long as learners have the required equipment, there’s no need to gather in one location to receive the education. Additionally, getting the content through digital means removes the need for expensive textbooks that may not be widely available.

A company called Design Interactive ensured students could access AR content on their smartphones. Matt Johnston, the division head of commercial solutions, explained, “Now, content like procedures and troubleshooting methods can be accessed from mobile phones across individual shops and multiple maintenance locations. With this mobile application, fleets can use our augmented reality and video and computer-based technologies to train technicians for a lower cost.”

For example, one feature of the company’s AR app lets people view the various steps in a process as they occur. That makes it easier for them to grasp how to inspect a truck’s tires or brakes or carry out another vital maintenance task. The app also features 3D versions of components to help people understand how to repair or conduct upkeep on them.

Helping Organizations Experience More Success

Fleet managers know that numerous metrics can connect to a company’s profitability and productivity. Profits tend to rise as trucks’ overall time in the shop decreases. That’s why it’s becoming more popular to pursue a preventive maintenance strategy rather than going with a reactive approach when issues appear.

Success is also measured based on how long it takes for fleet technicians to get the training they need to feel confident. Shortening that time frame becomes a more achievable goal when educational coordinators realize it’s time to modernize training methods.

That happened when the U.S. Air Force moved ahead with VR and AR for helping people learn maintenance procedures. It incorporated a mixed-reality strategy into the curriculum by having students wear special glasses to replace the manuals and tablets crews typically carry with them. Instructors can display PDFs or images for wearers to see. There’s also the opportunity for remote support or mentoring since the glasses can show the perspectives of people located elsewhere.

One of the standout advantages of this type of mixed reality is that it combines AR with simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM). People can see virtualized aspects while still fully interacting with the environment. The technology also recognizes a person’s position relative to virtual content. For example, users may see a hologram they can walk around while wearing the glasses.

Providing Hands-Free Education

AR and VR training options span beyond fleet management. For example, Walmart uses VR to train new associates, and some medical teaching modules for surgeons include these technologies. Although the delivery methods vary, students usually have their hands free. That’s a significant advantage when working on a truck, plane, or ship.

Daimler Trucks North America recently began seeing what these technologies could offer compared to conventional training methods. Daoud Chaayam, the company’s director of field service, noted, “We tried testing Zoom and FaceTime at the start of the pandemic but quickly learned that a service technician couldn’t hold the phone or tablet with one hand and work on the truck with the other.”

The company launched a pilot program to explore how AR could improve training service technicians near its Portland, Oregon, headquarters. The content format allows guiding a student through each step of a process. They can then combine hands-on experience with real-time instruction.

Attracting New Team Members

These new ways of training fleet technicians could also appeal to younger generations already extremely familiar with digital technologies. They may have even played VR and AR games for entertainment. Getting the knowledge needed for this career path may seem daunting to some, but that’s less likely when people already know the underlying training technologies.

For example, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas launched its Be Pro Be Proud campaign, which encourages people in the state to consider receiving technical training to embark on various potential career paths, including working as diesel technicians.

The initiative has a dedicated website where people can get details about average salaries, job duties, and insights from individuals who work in the respective fields. However, the campaign also takes a more forward approach with a 78-foot mobile unit featuring 13 interactive stations. Each one features augmented reality, virtual reality, and other immersive offerings to help people understand what they can expect in each role.

That’s an example of how VR and AR could help people see fleet technician roles differently than they otherwise might. Even if their eventual employers don’t always use these high-tech educational methods, they at least help people get familiar with the work, which could spur their interest.

Promising Technologies Could Transform The Workforce

Perhaps you’ve never considered how VR and AR could enhance your training delivery methods. However, the examples here give compelling reasons to be open to the possibilities. Digitized education can’t replace real-world, hands-on learning, but it can complement it, keeping learners engaged and excited.

About The Author

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly explores the impact technology has on the industrial sector.