The art of not being there.

I remember hanging out in my dad’s office when I was a kid. He had one of those panels outside his office with a green light indicated “I’m in” and red indicating “I’m out”. Then there was the yellow, which I never quite figured out. Perhaps today such in-between options is more relevant than ever. I’m here, but not really!

Working remotely
It’s the ultimate form of modern remote working: seemingly being there, like IRL, only not necessarily in person. Swedish XMReality makes it possible to work remotely as if being there on site. They have developed an über-smart solution for remote guidance based on augmented reality (AR), marketed under the parole “Like being there.”

Imagine an industrial company with advanced equipment all over the world. Regular visits by service technicians are routine, but sometimes advanced on-site assistance from an expert is necessary. The problem is, this involves traveling and having service engineers on jets all the time is not a cost effective solution for any organization. 

XMReality’s software allows even a semi-skilled technician to take the role of MacGyver and do some serious engineering with just the basic skills. How? Because he’s guided remotely, in real time, by an expert.

- Don't be that guy...

The magic trick
Like all great ideas, the solution is easy to understand but hard to copy. Let’s look at a real-life example. Train manufacturer Bombardier was about to install new signal radio control equipment (SRC) on a train set in the U.K.

Anders, a leading SRC expert was needed for the installation. Only he is stationed in Sweden, and with a newborn at home, traveling was not top of his agenda. With XMReality, he just had to make a quick visit to the office and remotely hook up his computer with the onsite techie at the other end. Sounds like FaceTime? It’s not.   

It’s about sharing the same video feed and adding augmented reality graphics to it. The guiding party shows the follower exactly what to do and how to do it. Here’s how it’s done:

The follower in the field wears a set of VR glasses to broadcast video of the work area. The remote guide then makes instructive gestures, which are visible in real time by both parties. Since Anders can see precisely what the technician is looking at, he can make gestures to show the exact procedures. The technician listens and sees those instructions in his glasses in real time:

- See the lever I am pointing at?
- Got it!
- Now pull it out the way I’m showing you. 
- Ok.
- Hold it like that while turning this knob like this.
- Great, now I can hear fluid streaming, thanks!

The big picture

So now that location is becoming less relevant, what are the implications on the way we work, aside from the fact that we still enjoy being with our co-workers? At Smart Cocktail, we think a gradual transition has already been going on for at least two decades with an ever increasing array of VR applications.

The interesting thing that’s happening right now is we’re ‘b2b qualifying’ VR – and AR for that matter, like XMReality. Vision quality is now good enough for advanced industrial applications. Meanwhile, wearables are being commoditized with ever lower costs. Those that have the smartest apps will be winners in this new competition. 

Recently when visiting New York, I came across a street-corner hospital advertising advanced surgery. Interestingly, they didn't have a single surgeon employed, they simply picked the best one available in their pool of remote surgeons. Surgery on demand! I’d like to think it shows that almost anything is possible within the art of not being there.

Reality - The one we're all in right now.
Augmented reality - Your glasses + overlaid digital information.
Virtual reality - A fully digital simulated environment.

Check out XMReality and their website for other cool ideas related to remote guidance and augmented reality.

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SmartCocktail is a monthly blog celebrating Swedish innovation
and engineering within the fields of industry and biotech.