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Mercedes-Benz Maintenance Goes Virtual

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If you’ve ever experienced Mercedes-Benz’s latest MBUX infotainment system, chances are you’ve experienced the augmented reality navigation feature. It displays a video image of the road ahead and includes on it your navigation instructions – complete with on-screen street signs and arrows – as you come to your next waypoint. It takes a little getting used to at first, but after a while, it becomes tough to live without.

Mercedes is now taking augmented reality to the service bay with Mercedes-Benz Virtual Remote Support.

What it does is make use of Microsoft’s hands-free HoloLens 2 mixed reality device – essentially a helmet with a pair of goggles attached that act as displays – in concert with Microsoft Dynamics 365 software to help better streamline the service Mercedes-Benz vehicles require.

According to Mercedes, the new feature leads to quicker return of service and more vehicles through the service bay. It also means more available service bays in general. 

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Technician Joey Lagrasta at work
Technician Joey Lagrasta at work

Also according to Mercedes, its current crop of new vehicles make use of over 100 million lines of code – more than the Space Shuttle and an F-35 fighter jet combined. For the most part, this enhances the customer and drive experience,  but the sheer complexity of the vehicles necessitates more-technical precision for their maintenance.

Often, that means bringing in an off-site technical specialist to help with the case, which, historically, meant a long email train that would inevitably bog down the process. Further, once it was determined that outside assistance was required, the specialists would have to travel to dealers across the country, which of course isn’t good for Mercedes-Benz’ environmental footprint.

With HoloLens 2, however, all that’s required is a single email to let the tech specialist know they’re needed to get the ball rolling.

The tech specialist can send diagrams, schematics, holograms, images and so on to the shop technician in real time
The tech specialist can send diagrams, schematics, holograms, images and so on to the shop technician in real time
View of the HoloLens 2 display
View of the HoloLens 2 display

At that point, the tech specialist sends diagrams, schematics, holograms, images and so on to the shop foreman in real time, through the HoloLens. The foreman then chooses a suitable background on which to display the schematics, and they can manipulate them right then and there. Then, they move to the vehicle and everything they see, the off-site specialist sees. You can be looking at a car’s part, have a diagram of that part right there in your HoloLens as you’re working, and use it to diagnose and repair any multitude of issues that occur in vehicles these days.

We were given a demonstration of this by Mercedes, and it is some very neat tech. Essentially, we were able to see everything the on-site tech saw, while at the same time, the specialist was right there with us, dictating over a Microsoft Teams-style call just what needed to be done. It was completely seamless and without any delay or lag – it really was as if we were in the same room together, even though the three of us were all in completely different geographic locations.

As of July 2021, all 59 Mercedes-Benz dealerships in Canada have one technician trained on HoloLens, as do all 383 American dealerships. Interestingly, Mercedes’ home country, Germany, is only just starting to run pilot-testing of the tech right now, with the expectation to have it in all dealers some time in 2022.

The Hololens 2 headgear
The Hololens 2 headgear

The potential uses of the technology go far beyond just under-the-hood repairs. Mercedes-Benz is using HoloLens technology for advisor training and are considering a way that they can use the tech to work on body repairs as well as the more nitty-gritty stuff.

What’s really interesting, though, is that automotive repair and maintenance – though incredibly necessary – is often not the most glamourous job. Not that all jobs require glamour, of course, but ask Mercedes and they will tell you that this new technology has the potential to attract people from different walks of life to the profession thanks to the leading-edge tech it employs. And of course, these days, tech rules and the more you can leverage it, the more potential hires you’ll have.

Technician Joey Lagrasta wearing the Hololens 2 device
Technician Joey Lagrasta wearing the Hololens 2 device
The tech specialist working remotely
The tech specialist working remotely