The Role of Augmented Reality in Automotive Education

December 21, 2020

The Role of Augmented Reality in Automotive Education

Augmented and virtual reality is used in training sessions in multiple industries; notably, aviation flight simulators are used to prepare pilots for scenarios they may face, and these simulations allow them to stay safe in the face of an error as they remain grounded. Even the retail industry uses virtual reality simulations to allow workers to place themselves in situations they may likely encounter on the job, like an angry customer or perhaps even a robbery. These virtual platforms also can help managers determine the best candidate for the job.

The role of augmented reality in automotive education also has become more pronounced. Manufacturers within the industry already use augmented reality to assist mechanics during repairs, but now augmented reality is helping students who are interested in an automotive repair and/or design career prepare and train for their future.

Augmented Reality in Car Repair

Augmented and virtual reality technology is nothing new in the automotive industry. This technology has helped designers view 3D models in the virtual space. Ford executives donned virtual reality headsets to view car models during the Covid lockdowns. In 2015, Volvo became the first automobile manufacturer to partner with Microsoft to use the Hololens in the design process.

Ford also announced the intended use of virtual reality for service technicians to train on servicing the new Mustang Mach-E crossover.

The new car model is set to debut in 2021, and, according to Automotive News, Ford told dealerships that in order to sell the Mach-E, the dealer must get “recertified,” meaning that technicians must be trained on how to properly service the model. The virtual reality solution allows techs at dealerships to learn about the new vehicle and how to service its components without having access to the physical vehicle. When the new model rolls onto dealership lots, and customers begin to make purchases, techs will be ready to handle service calls thanks to the virtual training.

Porsche uses an augmented reality technology called “Tech Live Look” to assist technicians in the field. Tech Live Look uses glasses linked to software for techs to get up close to tiny details that aid in their repairs. The glasses also can illuminate areas that may be hard to see. According to a press release from Porsche, Tech Live Look also allows the technician to show the repair issues to a crew in Atlanta for full support assistance.

Those engine issues can be viewed and shared with an additional team for optimum service and ensure client satisfaction.

Augmented and Virtual Reality Games for Students in Automotive Design & Repair

Students attending a tech school or those who are interested in a career in automotive design and repair also may be utilizing virtual or augmented reality as part of their curriculum.

CDX Learning Systems, which brands itself as “…the world’s leading provider of interactive and experiential curriculum for skilled technician training,” highlighted the upcoming technology that may be used in automotive repair education. The game Wrench, the company noted, allowed players to virtually make repairs to cars, build engines and choose their tools, too.

Virtual reality repair games could be an early introduction for teens and tweens to experience the role of the repair technician. Playing a not-so-serious game also could encourage an interest in cars and the mechanics that drive them. For kids who may be race enthusiasts or who may have vast knowledge in makes/models, these games let them peek under the hood and maybe even create their own dream car.

Wrench is available for download via Steam or on Oculus. The game’s site explains that players have to manage a car’s many internal systems. These systems include, per the site, the engine and cylinder head, suspension, braking system, fuel system, cooling system, and the ignition.

Steam also is home to the upcoming Car Mechanic Simulator VR. This game “…challenges players to repair, paint, tune and drive cars in a fully 3D world.” Players hunt for their cars via the junkyard and the barn. Their job is to take old, discarded vehicles and make them purr. The game is not yet available and a release date is noted as “coming soon.”

Augmented and Virtual Reality Technology in the Classroom

For teens or young adults enrolled in a vo-tech school or program that focuses on automotive repair or design, the curriculum may include some type of virtual or augmented reality platforms to facilitate learning.

There are many different virtual reality programs to help students virtually train for their future jobs in automotive repair.

GTAFE offers VR Automotive Mechanic, which is a program that allows students to work in a virtual auto shop, where they can assemble and disassemble the car and its components safely. VR Automotive Expert (also GTAFE), is described as a “3D interactive study guide for automotive training.” The program provides automotive courses and enables students to engage in simulations, review 3D resources, and more.

One of the biggest benefits of these types of programs is related to safety. Students who are just learning the basics about car mechanics—or even venturing into more detailed repairs—may make a mistake that could potentially create a safety hazard. Learning virtually allows for mistakes to happen virtually, too. Any issue is safely contained in the virtual space, and students can learn from their mistakes without the fear of physical injury or other safety concerns.

Learning virtually also could allow students to redo a lesson or try the same repair over again, although programs may differ in this regard. In the real world of automotive repair, the requirements of each job may differ. One car may need a new water pump, but another could need repairs to the braking system. Virtual lessons may offer more opportunities for students to zero in on the skills that need to be perfected and refined.

In the age of Covid and at-home learning, these virtual and augmented reality platforms also could allow students to continue their education at home.

Students learning automotive repair may be limited in their garage exposure if class size is restricted. Perhaps these virtual programs allow for more students to engage in continuing their education beyond books and lectures. Learning by doing for future automotive technicians could be the ideal solution…even if these lessons are virtual simulations.

Real-World vs. Virtual Reality

Major players in the automotive industry understand that virtual reality and augmented reality does not and cannot always take the place of real-life experiences.

While automotive manufacturers utilize virtual reality in car design, clay models are still a fundamental part of the process. Regarding the design process, Ford’s Joel Piaskowski told Automotive Magazine that “…Once it gets down to final sign off, it seems like clay is never going to go away, despite all the advances in VR and in computer CAD design and graphics and so on over the years.”

Even with technology allowing executives and designers to step into a virtual space to visualize 3D car models, the need for clay may always exist.

As Piaskowski explained to the magazine, cars are three-dimensional and a physical model may always be necessary. The physical rendering provides designers, engineers, and executives with a means to explore the mechanics in detail and by touch; while virtual allows a graphic 3D display, there is no true sensory integration related to touch.

That being said, games and simulations allow technicians and students to better acclimate to the mechanics of a vehicle.

For professional techs, this technology may allow them to preview a new model’s mechanics and better prepare for service appointments when the model rolls out…and buyers drive away. Students can safely make mechanical mistakes when lessons involve virtual simulations.

Students who fail to grasp the repairs of a specific mechanical system also may be able to repeat these repairs, while, in the real world, they might not be offered the same opportunity…or those opportunities could be limited.

The Future of Augmented and Virtual Reality in Automotive Repairs
Virtual and augmented reality may be the future of automotive repair and design education.

As simulation programs become the norm, schools and vo-tech programs may invest in this technology to provide students with a safer option to real-world experiences. More automobile manufacturers also may deploy virtual reality or augmented reality in their repair training; while Porsche and Ford already utilize virtual/augmented reality for technicians, other companies may follow their lead.

When self-driving cars become the norm—or if they become the norm—these virtual reality platforms also could take over the world of automotive repairs too. Maybe instead of a real-life technician, virtual avatars take their place. We may get to the point where automotive repairs are completed by robots, and the entire repair process is visualized in a virtual environment.

If Porsche’s Tech Live Look can connect a repair technician to an entire team in another state, this also could become the norm in car repair. Dealership technicians could have access to a support team that helps diagnose mechanical issues or there could be an ongoing dialogue about possible issues related to a particular make/model, propelling the need for a recall.

Virtual and augmented reality holds the keys to the future of the automotive industry, and this technology may transform the process of automotive repair to ensure proper diagnosis and repair of mechanical issues.