Augmented Reality: A New Reality for Utilities

Augmented Reality: A New Reality for Utilities

Cisco has worked to bring the cloud closer to the ground through Fog and Edge Analytics, but what if we could bring the cloud right to the point of origin, to the place where the data is needed most? This is where IoT crosses the chasm between analytics and proactive interaction. It’s the new distortion field… called Augmented Reality.

Virtual reality systems have been available now for over a decade, but as interesting as the technology is, it still hasn’t caught on. Outside of robotics control for military and research applications, the furthest the science has reached is in the gaming world. Even with the introduction of toys like the Oculus Rift, gaming content that utilizes the technology is sparse and there are still missing pieces to the puzzle to make the experience fully immersive.

More recently, developers have reached what seems to be an integrated solution with real value. Augmented Reality takes what one sees in the real world and combines it with actionable and relevant intelligence that can be used in remote situations.

Suddenly, the industrial world is taking notice.

With today’s rapidly changing workforce – and just as disruptive – rapidly changing technology, field workers are faced with daunting challenges to keep critical assets running and functioning efficiently.  With the number of diverse devices residing in a typical substation these days – some new and some very old – it is nearly impossible to have at hand all of the relevant maintenance and repair data in the form of hard-copy manuals and papers to get the job done.

With Augmented Reality, a worker can pull up to a job site, don a pair of AR glasses, and have at their fingertips every piece of information necessary to perform their task. In some instances they can connect live to a remote technical service agent to help walk them through particularly difficult activities.

The potential is real. The Electric Power Research Institute, a nonprofit agency funded by the utility industry, has initiated a large-scale study with some of the largest utility players in the world to see how AR could better enable the industry’s workforce. EPRI hopes to have 15 utilities participating in the study, which is expected to last around 18 months.

Cisco has readied itself for this burgeoning technology. Introduced in 2015, the IR 829 industrial router combines powerful features to enable Augmented Reality in the field. When mounted in field service trucks, the built-in GPS functionality can sense the location of the truck and initiate an upload of relevant content to the vehicle computer through its 4G/LTE WAN connection.  The included 802.11 b/g/n Wifi can then connect with the user’s Augmented Reality portable system to make available the data necessary to complete the task. With Cisco IOx, real-time data can be fed from the systems to the worker’s field of view.  All of this is tightly wrapped in a secure envelope using Cisco’s advanced VPN technologies, ensuring highly secure data, voice, and video communications.

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