IBM is working on a robotics system to drastically reduce the need for physically present engineers in industries like oil, shipping, and even aerospace.
The maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) system is designed to let engineers to work “mobilely” on all kinds of machinery. It uses a combination of virtual reality software and sophisticated robotics hardware.
Here’s a handy video showing how it all comes together:
Basically, the Smart Mobility MRO system enables lesser skilled engineers to roam the land maintaining and repairing equipment. They’re monitored by an offsite, more expert engineer supervisor, who tracks them via GPS.
Then, the onsite engineer uses a smartphone and QR codes to find the right equipment in need of fixin’ as well as instructions on how to fix it. Using virtual reality, the phone can also overlay on a given site the location of another engineer or a first-aid station. It sounds like simple stuff, but when you’re in a huge manufacturing facility for the first (or second, or third) time in your life, simple stuff like this can help the job get done much more efficiently.
The robotics part comes in when the onsite engineer gets stuck and needs help from his more expert offsite supervisor. A robotic arm, equipped with audio and video hardware, provides a direct link from the supervisor to the situation and machinery. The arm also contains a projector, so the supervisor can literally draw out a plan of attack and overlay it on the onsite engineer’s view.
In short, the technology enables companies to have fewer high-skilled engineers out on the road at any given time. They can save costs by hiring junior engineers with the confidence that those folks have constant access to backup when it’s needed.
The Smart Mobility MRO project is the result of a collaboration between IBM and the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), which delves into the many issues and problems in advanced manufacturing.