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IBM develops telepresence robot to remotely assist field technicians
If you've ever tried typing while talking to technical support with the phone crammed between ear and shoulder, then you know the meaning of frustration. Now imagine doing that upside down inside an airplane wing while juggling wires, crimps and a schematic printout. For some field engineers, that sort of thing is an everyday occurrence, so IBM in collaboration with the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) in the UK is developing a mobile maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) prototype robot. It's a combination of a smartphone app and a camera/projector mounted on a robot arm, that allows supervisors and experts to have a more active presence on the job.
Field engineers often find themselves working in unfamiliar surroundings or on tasks that aren't routine. They have to make sure they're in the right location, find the equipment, make sure they have the right task sheet, and that they're carrying out the job correctly. In the old days, this meant carrying a stack of clipboards and manuals while talking to a supervisor over the phone. Not surprisingly, this was not a very efficient arrangement - especially when the engineer needed both hands free and couldn't glance back at his notes. The latter was even worse if the engineer was wearing special glasses, such as magnifiers.
In recent years, there have been a number of solutions put forward. These have included things like replacing the paperwork with tablets, hand-held cameras to send back images to supervisors and�special headsets�for hands-free viewing of computer readouts. Unfortunately, these all put most of the burden on the field engineer while the supervisor was still left with either being fed information or playing a game of "hot and cold" to get the engineer to look at the right bit.
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