TOKYO – Mixed reality goggles are being introduced into workplaces in order to give long-distance technical guidance and hold remote conferences amid the coronavirus pandemic, but still face challenges such as increasing the variety of headsets and cutting costs.
At Seibu Railway’s Musashigaoka maintenance facility in August, a worker from Horie Railway Electric Engineering was repairing a brake, wearing a hard hat and Microsoft’s HoloLens glasses.
Holding a part called a fulcrum pin, he could see displayed around it illustrated instructions on how to fit it into the brake unit. By looking at a label saying “next” for two seconds, he could proceed to the next step. “I don’t need to worry about staining a paper manual with oil,” he said at the facility north of Tokyo in Hidaka, Saitama Prefecture.
Horie has been in business for 53 years. Handing down its experienced workers’ technical skills has been an important task for the relatively small Tokyo-based company. “Telling workers, ‘Learn your job by watching how your superiors work’ is not effective for all workers,” said Yasushi Horie, president of the company. However, a paper manual would run to several hundred pages. Hence he got the idea of using HoloLens.
The company took two years to develop a HoloLens application that can show 127 processes, including disassembling brakes, in mixed reality. It introduced the smart headset into the workplace in August. The device has been welcomed by new employees. Horie said they told him, “I can find answers to my questions even when my senior is so busy that I cannot ask him” and “I can practice outside the factory as well.” Although the introduction of the device, including the development of the app, cost several million yen (tens of thousands of dollars), “it was not expensive considering that we can hand down the skills and techniques more efficiently,” he said.
Mixed reality is a technology for inserting virtual images into real-world views using head-mounted devices. It can show more complex information than augmented reality, a technology used in, for example, the popular smartphone game Pokemon Go.
Last November, Microsoft marketed a new HoloLens model that provides a field of vision twice as wide as the old model and is more comfortable to wear. The company has enhanced its support for users to develop apps, helping the community promote the spread of the device.