Bringing high tech to the trades with 5G-enabled AR
The skilled trades are increasingly high-tech—and 5G can enable solutions that improve both hands-on training in the classroom and hands-on work in the field.
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Imagine this scenario: You’re a mechanic for a highly specialized type of equipment, or maybe a maintenance technician for a remote generator or at a wastewater treatment plant. As you work through a series of detailed steps to adjust the system on which you’re working, you run into an issue you haven’t experienced before. So you switch on your 5G-connected augmented reality (AR) glasses. Suddenly you can see labels and instructions hovering in front of all the components you need to inspect, including specific instructions for the issue in question that can help you determine, for example, if the wear and tear you’re seeing means a part needs replacement. And with a voice command to place a call for advice, you can quickly reach a supervisor to talk through any concerns.
There are obvious benefits to this technology: The AR experience builds on your existing knowledge, helps you make sure you don’t overlook any steps in the process and provides assistance when you need it. And it’s a win for your company because tasks are completed more quickly and accurately, cutting down on delays or the need for return visits.
It’s also becoming a reality, as 5G-connected AR systems like this are poised for use in the skilled trades, with more in development. Even better, 5G’s potential impact on the trades goes beyond help in the field: It could also enable new avenues for training and hands-on learning—and can be a key part of driving the boom in these careers.
The resurgence of skilled trades
There’s a shift currently taking place in higher education. College enrollment is shrinking, but trade schools are filling their classes, with news outlets from The Washington Post to NPR reporting that trade schools across the country, from Utah to South Dakota to Georgia, are seeing their student bodies increase.
The increased interest in the skilled trades is a positive, as national organizations like the Associated General Contractors of America say the influx could help address the current shortage of workers. Schools are also tackling a growing concern among would-be students: Cost. For example, the WakeWorks Apprenticeship program at Wake Tech, a technical college in Raleigh, North Carolina, offers programs to train carpenters, automotive service technicians, HVAC technicians, electricians and more—and students in the program can receive free tuition.
Other solutions to increase trade workers are gaining traction, as well. For example, there are aspects of skilled trade professions that can only be learned through experience—and that can be difficult when the experience involves minute details or taking apart and reassembling million-dollar pieces of equipment. The high speed and low latency that 5G can provide could help to overcome this obstacle, and more companies are creating 5G-connected tools that use AR for training purposes, overlaying information onto a view of the real environment around the user, and virtual reality (VR), which puts users in a completely virtual environment.
Why augmented reality training matters for skilled trades
Learn by doing. That’s a key aspect of many trades, and it’s not just because most skilled trades are focused on hands-on work. It’s because doing triggers a different learning process in your brain.
“Instead of just looking at a two-dimensional screen or reading, you are actually experiencing it, which causes your brain to ingrain the tasks in your memory,” says Rachel Mann, M.Ed., a speaker and futurist focused on disruptive technology, education and careers. “You can then recall the information and replicate that experience.”
This is where AR and VR could really come into their own for hands-on training. “Augmented reality and virtual reality both create an immersive experience that allows trainees (both students and workers) to build muscle memory through repetition, but in a safe environment where trainers can closely monitor their movements to provide immediate instructional guidance,” says Suzanne Borders, CEO, and co-founder of BadVR, which creates AR for data analytics for public safety and business uses. “Combined with 5G speed and connectivity, these experiences have the potential to pioneer the future of professional education and training.”
Those potential 5G differentiators—high speed and low latency—make an important difference for the trainee, Mann says. If a person is continually interrupted during learning due to high lag, she points out, the brain does not make the strong connections it might develop in a continuous training session. With 5G, an AR or VR learning experience or task can be more immersive, in scenarios both inside and outside the classroom.
The future, in the field
That brings us back to the 5G-connected AR glasses mentioned earlier. This technology, and technology like it, is already in development, with companies focused on AR that overlays workflow information, instructions, training and more onto items or machinery that a user might need to work on in the field. The hope is that these technologies help teams work faster while also meeting any required standards in the procedures they follow. This should help businesses improve outcomes, which ultimately save money.
This is where the benefits could come full circle for the trades: A better-trained, better-equipped workforce should help businesses on multiple levels. “Reduced training and troubleshooting costs are just a few of the benefits offered by these next-generation experiences that can be enabled by 5G,” says Borders. “The opportunities for AR/VR training for the skilled trades are endless.”