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Augmented Reality To Help Mechanics Fix Vehicles 81

kkleiner writes "ARMAR, or Augmented Reality for Maintenance and Repair, is a head mounted display unit that provides graphic overlays to assist you in making repairs. An Android phone provides an interface to control the graphics you view during the process. Published in IEEE, and recently tested with the United States Marine Corps on an armored turret, ARMAR can cut maintenance times in half by guiding users to the damaged area and displaying 3D animations to demonstrate the appropriate tools and techniques."
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Augmented Reality To Help Mechanics Fix Vehicles

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  • Looks Neat (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ethanol-fueled ( 1125189 ) * on Thursday January 14, 2010 @04:21PM (#30770004) Homepage Journal
    disclaimer: I'm a former military backshop avionics technician

    That technology looks to be pretty cool and excellent for routine maintenance, but I can see how it would suck for troubleshooting. For example the video in TFA locates a cable and instructs the user to unscrew it. With all that fancy visual stuff going on, it could be easy for the technician to overlook a pushed pin or a pinch in the cable which could be causing a problem. The small screen on a wrist-mounted phone would not be sufficient to display the necessary detail. The solution as-is is not suitable for finer military electronics which are tangled messes of RF hardlines, circuit cards, and even wire-wrapped backplanes. A full-size LCD to the side showing 3-D animation would be much more suitable for that. Additionally,

    In the Marine Corps tests, the pair of researchers used 10 cameras in the vehicle

    Which works fine for vehicles, but would totally suck for aircraft. Did the guys who came up with the statistics factor in the time it takes to set up and/or calibrate the camera array? Of course, embedding a few sensors within the vehicle and setting up the display's position with respect to them would be much easier.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by sznupi ( 719324 )

      I say use it more. This system seems to have quite limited vision, figuratively.

      When you think about it, most of the structure of aircraft/tank/whatever simply gets in the way of seeing your surroundings properly. But that structure might become translucent once you're looking through an array of cameras placed outside the vehicle, outputs of which get combined to present a nice view of surroundings in your VR gear. A view augmented with useful info, too.

      And it will work nicely with unmanned vehicles.

    • With all that fancy visual stuff going on, it could be easy for the technician to overlook a pushed pin or a pinch in the cable which could be causing a problem.

      With subsystem sensors, for analog components, becoming more and more digital, I'd hope that problems like that would be isolated using a maintenance panel/IBIT combination that could feed that information into the ARMAR.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by c6gunner ( 950153 )

      The newer aircraft are pretty much idiot-proof, anyway. Once you get rid of analog sensors/gauges and the old cam-and-roller based controllers, troubleshooting gets a lot easier. Now you just plug in to the on-board diagnostic system, and 9 times out of 10 it'll tell you exactly what the problem is. I'm not sure that this "ARMAR" technology would make the process any easier or faster.

      • so easy that side show bob can fly them only if he had the room to get up to speed.

      • Re:Looks Neat (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @11:29PM (#30774902)

        "Now you just plug in to the on-board diagnostic system, and 9 times out of 10 it'll tell you exactly what the problem is."

        That sounds like the same thing I hear people say about automotive scanners. "Just plug it in and it tells you exactly what is wrong!" That is a bunch of hogwwash. Scanners simply give the tech diagnostic codes, and in some cases allow for viewing certain circuits and their current (or stored) values. It simply gives you a direction to look.

        For example, a scanner might have found a stored code for an oxygen sensor fault that indicates the engine is running full rich at all times (and even show voltage values that reflect this) when the real problem is a fuel injector with it's pintle jammed open by a sliver of metal left in the fuel rail during manufacturing. There is NO way in hell that the scanner will know anything about that sliver of metal. BUT, a good mechanic will know what types of failures can cause a full rich condition and start ruling them out one at a time. The code is merely a starting point.

        This device will not give a mechanic the sudden ability to know all the possible causes, nor will it always tell them the truth. False codes are a real problem that are usually ruled out BEFORE any further diagnosis occurs (usually by pulling codes followed by clearing them and seeing which ones come back).

        There is not a device on this planet that can replace a good diagnostician simply because every possible failure is impossible to foresee.

        • by robfoo ( 579920 )

          Also, diagnostic codes are not very useful if the problem lies in the computer that's telling you the codes.

          I had a fault on my Mitsi GTO ('3000GT' in americanese), it was only running on about 4 cylinders. According to the fancy whiz bang diagnostic gizmo, one of the coil packs was faulty. Some time and much money later, it turned out the coils were fine, but the ECU was playing up. Replacing that solved the problem.

          Computers lie! It was trying to misdirect attention so it didn't get replaced!

          • Re:Looks Neat (Score:4, Interesting)

            by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Friday January 15, 2010 @04:50AM (#30776462)

            Replacing an ECU (PCM, same thing) is a tricky venture sometimes.

            Being the honest mechanic, I usually offered an alternative to my customers. I let them decide after explaining.

            I had a roughly 50% success rate of fixing these cars--cars that all testing seemed to indicate a wonky/bad ECU--by simply taking the circuit board out of the ECU housing (carefully!) and giving it a gentle twist on two different axis, then re-installing it.

            50% of the time the problem went away, never to return. The other 50% of the time it ended up needing replacement eventually. If the customer didn't mind the risk of the problem re-occuring they usually went for the twist test. Saved my customers thousands of dollars.

            I have no idea why this fixes some ECUs. Since all the connections are board-soldered, I can olny assume stressing the internals of some component on the board was enough to get it back in spec. Weird, I know.

            My own Chrysler Town and Country had this "repair" done to it to solve an intermittent turn signal loss...4 years ago...and it still works.

            Since figuring this out, I do this on ANY malfunctioning device with circuit boards...take them out, give 'em a twist and re-install them. It often fixes the problem. Fixed a laptop, two PCs, a stereo amplifier and a snowmachine this way.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Yeah and maybe it could help me find the pesky DRL (daytime running lights) module on my F250. Who the heck would put it behind the bumper except Ford?

      Or perhaps it would provide appropriate expletives to use while pulling the starter out of a Suzuki JLX.

      Kidding aside, I could see the usefulness of a heads-up reference display. It would be great if it also displayed OBD results and test meter readings... oh and would remotely start/operate the vehicle controls while you're stuck under the hood.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DerekLyons ( 302214 )

      disclaimer: Former SSBN crewman, Missile, guidance, and fire control tech.

      That technology looks to be pretty cool and excellent for routine maintenance, but I can see how it would suck for troubleshooting.

      That depends on what part/type of troubleshooting it was used for I should think. It seems pretty useful for locating a particular cable in a rats nest, or an obscure adjustment or lubrication point. I can think of a couple of troubleshooting procedures it would have been very handy to have such a devi

    • As a 3521, Marine Organizational Diesel Mechanic, this would be invaluable, especially with MRAPs and up-armored vehicles. That armor is such a pain in the ass. However, this would, as it stands right now, only be really useful "inside the wire." Also, the problem this would produce is dependancy. When you're a line mechanic, not a warm and fuzzy shop mechanic, you don't have the time nor reasources to use something this high speed. If you become dependent on it, you're going to be pretty useless outside th
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by couchslug ( 175151 )

      "disclaimer: I'm a former military backshop avionics technician"


      As a former flightline avionics weenie, engine troop, and later crew chief I concur with your assessment, and I wouldn't want that shit on ground vehicles either. A rugged notebook with a combination of .pdf manuals, photos, and videos would be much better because it need not be worn on the head and can be easily shared.

      What it COULD be useful for is training. Once trained and with some experience, people know their systems and

      • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

        I don't think you have a real appreciation of the technology. It means you don't have to look away from what you are doing and you can activate it as necessary. The catch is effective hands free and on again off again control, hand gesture interface (a thimble style ring covers the nail not the finger tip, thumb, index, middle both hands, using the relative orientation of the nails to define gestures, you can also tap the tips on a surface) and a bite able microphone attached to the headset (on off and sel

    • With all that fancy visual stuff going on, it could be easy for the technician to overlook a pushed pin or a pinch in the cable which could be causing a problem.

      Exactly. Even with perfectly ordinary cars it's a problem, because the "mechanics" (they're barely fitters, never mind mechanics) at main dealers plug the diagnostics kit in, it tells them something like "COOLANT TEMP SENSOR OPEN" so they change the sensor, and the fault is still there. Then they're stuffed, because they don't know what to do nex

  • by pig_man1899 ( 1143237 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @04:21PM (#30770006)
    How do I use this thing to locate the muffler bearings my service shop says need replacing?
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Muffler bearings? Hell, you should see what I get charged for piston return springs every oil change!

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Pojut ( 1027544 )

      Why, the same way you would use it to check your blinker fluid level!

      • by Binder ( 2829 )

        Make sure you replace your hubcap gasket while you got the car up.

        • by Pojut ( 1027544 )

          Don't forget to tighten up the coolant filter. Oh, and naturally you remembered the Loctite for the gas cap! I mean...we wouldn't want it coming loose while driving, now would we?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by MadShark ( 50912 )

        I once got a friend of mine to believe there was such a thing as blinker fluid. It just so happened that another friend had his car parked outside with a cracked tail light. It had rained heavily earlier that day and water had leaked in and filled the blinker right up to where the lens was cracked. She was calling bullshit until we took her outside and showed her. She bought it hook, line and sinker after seeing it. We caught hell later, but it was a lot of fun.

        • by Pojut ( 1027544 )

          Dude. That was awesome :-)

        • Many years ago I got sent into a local auto parts store to ask for the radiator cap to a '69 beetle. With a straight face the old codger behind the register tells me that they didn't have any in stock, but in a few days they might have an old junker Franklin arriving that would have a cap that fits.

          Needless to say, I was not amused when I got back out to the car and relayed the answer, to be assaulted by gales of laughter... (Though in retrospect, pretty damned funny...)

    • They're right next to the Johnson Rod. Don't tell me you don't know where that's located.

    • Just get out your spray bottle... muffler bearings turn purple when you spray them with blinker fluid. It's kind of like those UV coolant/oil leak tests.

  • by Phrogman ( 80473 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @04:23PM (#30770034) Homepage

    So much for repair certifications like A+ etc, you just need the right headset and the ability to use simple tools apparently :)

  • by girlintraining ( 1395911 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @04:29PM (#30770142)

    Cut approaching.
    Cut approaching.
    Cut here.
    Cut here.
    You have cut the wrong wire.
    Get soldering iron.

    • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

      I started with paper schematics, went to microfiche since it was cheaper and less clutter then went to electronic which was even cheaper and far less clutter. Just before the end of my consumer electronics repair 'career' one company had animated schematics with detailed voltages, currents and oscilloscope wave forms.

  • On the down side (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sehlat ( 180760 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @04:44PM (#30770352)

    We are very likely to see people like the major auto manufacturers providing this sort of
    thing ONLY to their authorized dealers, and possibly trying to claim that any repair information
    of any kind is copyrighted, just like they've done with the diagnostic codes on the black boxes.

  • by WhatDoIKnow ( 962719 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @04:45PM (#30770368)
    I can't comment on military applications, but I do have 30 years experience in mobile equipment and vehicle maintenance and fleet management. Despite the OBD 2, the major vehicle producers are increasingly requiring proprietary information and specialized tools for what could be simple routine repairs and maintenance. The described system could be a boon to technicians but my cynical view is that it will just be turned into another income source for vehicle manufacturers and dealer service departments. On many cars now you can't even change a coolant hose without a substantial investment in a "hose fitting disconnect kit", let alone accessing any non-generic DTCs from OBD2 or CAN. And of course Ford, Honda, GM, Toyota etc. are all different.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      "hose fitting disconnect kit"

      aka a knife :)

    • the set of plastic widgets for opening ford-type spring-lock connectors commonly used on A/C and fuel lines is about four bucks at Kragen, from powerbuilt. If you want the big fancy aluminum ones they cost substantially more at Napa. those connectors are annoying, but they WORK. until they get contaminated and corrode the spring, anyway.

  • Now I finally understand how an ensign with a couple years of starfleet training knows how to repair and operate everything! He's cheating his arse off! Sweet! I want one!

    And of course, I'm looking forward to the kama sutra edition coming out next month! "Tickle here."

  • Some Thoughts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BJ_Covert_Action ( 1499847 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @04:45PM (#30770374) Homepage Journal
    Based on the pictures, it looks like this thing sticks a few inches off of your face while worn. That could make maintenance in tight areas (read: under low riding cars) a bit of a problem/pain in the ass. I know when I crawl under my little deuce coup, even when the back end is lifted off the ground, My face is about 4 inches under the frame. I think these goggles could make that clearance, but I could easily see this being a problem in other models and in other areas of the vehicle.

    It certainly seems like an interesting idea, nonetheless. I would love to see it hit the civilian market at a low enough price. I have to admit, though, that I would be irked if vehicles and other machines began to be designed in such a way that this piece of hardware was near essential to work on them. If it has a low cost, sure, then it might not be a big deal. However, if it has a high cost like some code-readers and is essential to work on your own vehicle, well, that would make me start ranting about my lawn and my Phillips screwdrivers.
    • Based on the pictures, it looks like this thing sticks a few inches off of your face while worn.

      I know - which is actually quite confusing. They can make a smartphone Less than 2 inches thick, and it has a camera and screen built into it, what makes this headset so special?

      All of the processing power could be offloaded to the sides, like where it rests on your ears or heads, and the front (which is still going to be the bulkiest part) would be no thicker than glasses from the 80's.

      *Yes I realize I wrote "heads". At first it was a typing mistake, but then I didn't want to be an insensative clod to siam

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by c6gunner ( 950153 )

        I know - which is actually quite confusing. They can make a smartphone Less than 2 inches thick, and it has a camera and screen built into it, what makes this headset so special?

        It's a military requirement - every gizmo has to be 10 times as big as the civilian equivalent, must weigh at least 5 times as much, and must look like something out of an 80's sci-fi movie. If you can bundle that with a really clumsy and unresponsive interface, you're pretty much guaranteed military customers. 5 years ago I had the option of using a military GPS - which was about half the size of a phone-book, and lost the signal every time it rained - or buying a civilian version which could fit in my s

  • I reject your reality and substitute my own.
    • Wow season one Mythbusters.

      Seriously though you could substitute a reality if you loaded a different one into one of these.

  • Boeing (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JaneTheIgnorantSlut ( 1265300 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @05:02PM (#30770656)
    Boeing started using this tech in the early 90's to help assemble cables in aircraft. []
    • This is what I was going to say. I'm not sure that Boeing actually invented the concept, but they were one of the first ones to try to use it for maintenance and repair. I don't recall hearing whether it was a success or not, since I believe at the time the airline industry was going through a major crisis, and innovations such as these tend to get placed aside in the face of poor labor relations and financial difficulties.

  • If this thing knows what the problem is, where the problem is, and how to fix the problem... what exactly does it need a human being for?
    • Re:Wait a minute! (Score:4, Informative)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Thursday January 14, 2010 @05:17PM (#30770952) Journal
      Robots with an approximately human combination of strength and fine dexterity are somewhere on the line between "fucking expensive" and "not out of the lab yet". They can beat the hell out of humans in situations where you design the whole scenario around them; but they are weak for general purpose work.

      Humans with an approximately human combination of strength and fine dexterity are so cheap that we routinely let the unneeded ones starve to death.
    • It needs a human being to translate "how to the fix the problem" into the actual physical actions needed to fix the problem. Delicate physical action and feedback is still something machines still really suck at.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The controllable overlay is not the interesting part; Microvision had such a system several years ago. Google for "microvision nomad expert technician" to find the references. The interesting part is the beacon & camera system that allows the overlay to react to where the user is and what part of the vehicle he is looking at.

  • Blah (Score:2, Informative)

    by Rib Feast ( 458942 )

    It feels like augmented reality is becoming the next buzzword to follow cloud computing. Honda in Japan have had HUD tech for years, where their repair people could identify engine parts. Apparently it made them something like 30% more efficient. Even this article has AR features and is from 2004. []

    Call me when it can be put inside a contact lense or into the eye permanently, until then it's just a mash of tech we've had

  • It's good to know that technology will be helping my car mechanic replace my headlight fluid and reinforce the pushrods on my overhead cams.

  • What an auto mechanic really needs is a Green Lantern power ring. If you had a power ring, it would make any tool you needed, plus act as a hydraulic lift and all the other stuff you'd find in a well-equipped shop.

    Yeah, yeah -- Green Lantern power rings are only supposed to be used for galactic peacekeeping missions. But I'm telling ya, if I ever get my hands on a power ring, that galactic police force has seen the last of me, because I'm busy making a ton of money repairing cars!

  • But this can only work if things are exactly designed to factory spec.

    How is it going to handle the fact that my blinker fluid line had to be re-routed to make room for the alarm system? Or I'm now running a hydrogen engine? [soundbyte="Mythbusters - Well there's your problem.mp3" /]Will I have to put everything back so the headset can understand the reality it needs to augment to show me that I need an oil change?

  • As a mechanic/diagnostician myself, I can only see the usefulness of this tech for a certain type of mechanic, the sort that cannot really grasp what they are working on, or the kind that simply does not have diagnostic skills.

    Let me explain.

    There is simply WAY too much information to store in ones head regarding the intricacies of maintaining/repairing a modern vehicle. There are too many different systems, variations within those systems and, to be quite blunt, too many external variables such as the envi

  • I can imagine this will end up in "Shoot the enemy here or here to kill him." Also available in spanish.
  • having to make and deal with printouts from alldata is a PITA. It would be vastly better to not have to go anywhere to see the manual. I would be very happy with something less than this system, though; I would like parts I look at to be labeled, bolts and other fasteners to be labeled with their torque specs, fuel, coolant, and oil lines labeled with their direction of flow and so on.

  • While this tech is being employed in a vehicular maitenance aspect, it could come in handy for other things as well. For example, for those of us who work in field support for larger entities (ie. huge gov buildings with f-ed up wiring runs thanks to different contractors) could use something like this to help us locate the machines that have open tickets on them on top of diagnosing network issues, etc.

    The AR bit would overlay all the wiring runs, hubs, switches, etc. while we are walking around in an atte

In English, every word can be verbed. Would that it were so in our programming languages.