How Will Augmented Reality Enhance Maintenance for Connected Cars?

Technology is often introduced as an experiment, made popular by gaming, and then finally incorporated into everyday life. Take Augmented Reality (AR), in which digital images are superimposed over the real world. One of this technology’s first applications was to provide information about city streets - for example, the architectural history of a block of buildings you were viewing. Then, in 2016, AR exploded thanks to the arrival of Pokémon GO, a game using technology to let smartphone-equipped players capture imaginary creatures in the real world. 

While entertaining, what Pokémon GO really did was demonstrate the power of AR. The Pokémon characters move; are real-time projections reacting to stimuli and behave like they exist in our environment. This represents a huge leap forward and suggests AR could soon be applicable to more practical concerns. 

In fact, AR might just be the next big thing when it comes to automotive maintenance. It offers an opportunity for OEMs to become involved in all stages of the maintenance process. Using Over-The-Air (OTA) technology, accurate real-time schematics can be provided to affiliated automotive service repair professionals - generating revenue from a new portion of the aftermarket. 

The Maintenance Market Opportunity 

From major chains to local garages, there are more than 160,000 auto repair and maintenance shops in the United States. This industry’s total revenue was valued at more than $105 billion in 2016, with consumers spending thousands of dollars a year to own and maintain their cars. 

OEMs are often removed from this equation. Following a 1970 law  that technicians were not required to use OEM-supplied parts when making repairs, many states no longer require maintenance shops to disclose if they are using generic components. Relationally, OEMs are not making much money in aftermarket repairs, but the rise of the Software Defined Car™ is likely to change this. 

Software has made it more difficult to create generic parts. For the same reason counterfeit components are dangerous, generic software may not interact correctly with the rest of a connected car and failures could be equally dangerous. Because of this, technicians may become wary of using third-party products. This represents an opportunity for OEMs and OE parts, although the correct diagnostics and maintenance of connected parts will remain complicated. 

Because Software Defined Cars are so enormously complex, untangling the digital and physical repair work needed after an accident or breakdown can be time-consuming. Enter AR. Technicians could soon enter into OEM subscription services allowing them to diagnose software problems more efficiently. This type of support would encourage the auto maintenance industry (and by extension the general public) to accept and trust connected cars even further. 

Consider the Future of AR: A Technician’s Perspective 

For twenty years, Carlos has owned a maintenance shop in Tennessee. As the automotive industry evolves, he pushed himself to learn more about Software Defined Cars and became an early adopter of augmented reality. One day, two cars arrive at his shop, both involved in the same head-on collision — and both with badly damaged engines. One vehicle is built by an OEM with an augmented reality package. The other vehicle is not. 

It takes Carlos longer to run diagnostics on the second car because of this. He suspects both the Engine Control Unit (ECU) and the Transmission Control Unit (TCU) suffered damage, among other issues, but he needs to find the correct method of conducting the repairs, which involves research. He successfully completes the repair, but it is labor-intensive and requires multiple resources. 

But the car with AR is easy. He opens an app on his tablet, holds the device up and views the car on his screen. As he scans the vehicle, every part he looks at is highlighted and labeled. More importantly, the app flags each component needing repair. Since the car is a connected vehicle, the app is able to access all existing information about it - each mile driven, every time the driver slammed on its brakes - and exactly what happened in the accident. Because both the car and the AR service can receive  immediate OTA updates , Carlos does not worry the information he is viewing is out-of-date. The vehicle and app remain constantly in sync. 

He no longer has to flip through a manual and hunt for the best solution. Instead, he receives real-time directions on how to repair the specific problems of a particular car. The screen on his app even tells him which tools he needs, the quickest way to access damaged areas and what parts to order. Thanks to a link with his inventory, the app will even contact the OEM automatically to request the right components. 

Paying for an OEM subscription service is likely to be an attractive option for automotive service repair professionals, who will be able to get the job done quicker and more effectively. And it should be extremely enticing for OEMs, not only to continue generating revenue in the automotive aftermarket, but also to generate a reputation for being simple to fix - a powerful incentive for customers. 

AR demonstrates not just cars, but the automotive industry itself, is rapidly changing. OEMs must be prepared by joining forces with experienced tech partners who can help navigate these shifting currents. Soon, AR will not just be a new tool. It will be a part of an exciting new reality.