Your Mercedes Mechanic May Soon Use Futuristic "Holodeck" for Repairs

Next time some obscure component or one of the hundred-million lines of code that run your fancy new Mercedes-Benz goes glitchy, just pull into your dealer’s holodeck to get it sorted out. Okay, the car and service technician don’t get fully immersed in a Star Trek virtual reality den, but with Mercedes-Benz Virtual Remote Support, a set of HoloLens 2 virtual reality goggles running Dynamics 365 Remote Assist software (both by Microsoft) connects a technician at any of Mercedes’ 383 dealerships to an expert service rep who might otherwise have to physically travel to the dealerships to solve a thorny service problem—a hassle in normal times, and perhaps necessary in these socially distanced times.

How does it work? The expert sees what the technician wearing the HoloLens 2 VR goggles is looking at and can draw attention to certain areas by dropping arrows or drawing lines on the view they are seeing. In a video example, a thorny three-two downshift harshness problem has stumped the technician, who has already attempted the troubleshooting recommendations from the service manual. The remote advisor suspects a rare situation of a missing part that connects the transmission case to the valve body. She directs the tech’s attention to a particular hole in the transmission by overlaying arrows on his field of view to see if it’s lodged inside, then they examine the oil pan for loose parts, and then she draws his attention to the area where said pipe should be found on the valve body itself by drawing a line around the area. Finally, she calls up the parts list sheet and indicates item 130 as the part that must be ordered and installed.

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This Virtual Remote Support system has been in a testing phase for two years with a dozen dealerships and is now rolling out across the U.S.—the system’s launch market (Germany has about the same number of Mercedes-Benzes as the U.S., but in a geographic space half as big as Texas, so it’s easier to get expert technicians to a dealership to sort out a tricky case there).

Using Virtual Remote Support is expected to increase service department throughput, reduce vehicle downtime, and thereby improve customer satisfaction all while keeping Mercedes technicians and expert service advisers socially distant and safer by reducing the need for travel. The number of such field experts may shrink over time, as these assets are relocated to the company’s parts distribution, quality evaluation, and learning and performance center in Jacksonville, Florida. The cost to implement this system is $10,000 per dealer, which includes four years of licensing costs plus the necessary hardware and software. Is it worth it? Perhaps, but at least those dealers can say their techs work with Holodecks.

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