September 27, 2018
A handful of utilities are piloting and, in a few cases, even deploying wearable technologies, but the greatest share of interest is and has been around augmented reality. There is an impressive, concerted effort in the utility space by researchers and vendors to thoroughly investigate the technology to see if it’s safe and a right fit for the industry. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has taken on a great deal of forward-thinking testing of AR, recognizing that standards will have to be determined if there’s to be widespread adoption.
EPRI has been a part of several companies’ efforts to pilot AR in electric and utility operations, including Duke Energy and Con Edison. With Duke, EPRI deployed Atheer’s AiR platform to demonstrate how hands-free AR improves productivity and safety and shortens power outage recovery time. In addition to enhancing power restoration, another possibility is using AR to bridge the techno-generational divide. In other research, EPRI is studying the health and safety impacts of AR on workers, keeping an eye out for risks like eyestrain and reduced situational awareness; and sensor-equipped non-AR wearables that can help keep workers safe.
Duke’s emerging technologies unit has been a lead experimenter with augmented reality, trying out multiple tools like Atheer’s AiR platform with EPRI for inventory management and basic equipment maintenance, since 2014. Duke also sees potential for training and remote collaboration/troubleshooting in the field. Duke and EPRI worked with Verizon to simulate a storm response, equipping line workers with RealWear’s HMT-1 which uses GIS to provide critical information for repairing damaged infrastructure (ex. where a downed utility pole should be located). The solution could also send automatic equipment/parts orders to a utility warehouse, saving a lot of time.
EPRI teamed up with the New York utility to test various uses for AR, including substation switching, a task that can be dangerous, disrupt electricity and rack up costs, and substation inspections. Con Ed sees further potential in AR for improving worker safety, grid operations and maintenance.
AR glasses could help Con Ed employees in the field with complex tasks like locating buried transmission infrastructure and then making the necessary repairs. They could use smart glasses to access remote expertise. AR could also prevent errors by pointing workers to the right piece of equipment, showing relevant maintenance history and equipment specifications, etc.
GE Renewable Energy
GE Renewable Energy successfully trialed Upskill’s Skylight platform for smart glasses to the tune of a 34% improvement in productivity in initial trials. It was, in fact, the first time the workers participating in the trial had ever use smart eyewear. Testing took place at a factory in Pensacola, Florida; where wind turbine assembly workers would have to stop what they were doing to check if they were installing parts correctly, referencing a manual or calling someone to make sure. Wearing glasses that projected digital checklists, diagrams, instructions, images and videos that one would otherwise view on a 2d screen directly in the user’s line of sight; employees were able to work more efficiently. A video released by GE makes a strong case for AR. It shows a side-by-side time-lapse comparison of a technician wiring a wind turbine control box the standard way and that same worker doing the wiring 34% faster guided by AR instructions in his field of view. How quickly hands-free AR glasses could tighten the skills gap!
Siemens partnered with DAQRI to study the benefits of augmented reality in gas burner assembly training. The trial focused on different “personas” to see how an AR gas burner training app might affect the performance of different types of workers. At the Siemens Power Service Training Center in Berlin, four workers – two novices, one expert, and one worker who had last done an assembly a year before – participated in the pilot, using the app under realistic conditions. Testing revealed benefits to all the worker personas, reducing training time for new trainees and more experienced employees alike. In addition to accelerating learning time, Siemens believes AR could help avoid errors, streamline data collection, and speed up report generatio.
Scotland’s Fife College
In June 2017, students at Fife College in Scotland, “the next generation of offshore wind turbine technicians,” began learning in the school’s new Immersive Hybrid Reality (iHR) lab. The lab provides highly realistic XR training environments and scenarios that are difficult or impossible to simulate in real life. For instance, an actual offshore wind turbine would be over 325 feet above the water. In the lab, students are able to perform detailed inspections of the top of a virtual 7-megawatt offshore wind turbine – even under changing weather conditions, with the sound of the wind around them – while still seeing their own hands and holding real tools.
Toms River Municipal Utilities Authority
This year, the New Jersey utility piloted vGIS, a geographic information system (GIS) visualization platform by Meenim for visualizing overhead and underground infrastructure with Microsoft’s HoloLens headset. The solution essentially allows the wearer to “see” utility lines in real time (for ex. when digging up a street) and it supports both voice and gesture controls so the user has free use of his hands. Take the scenario of a downed telephone pole in the street; with vGIS, all field personnel are able to see the utilities under their feet, which is critical to planning and maintaining critical infrastructure.
We Energies, Milwaukee
For an industry-backed study including Marquette University, EPRI researchers recently visited a We Energies coal plant to observe workers using both monocular (RealWear) and binocular (HoloLens) AR headsets to perform different jobs. In multiple field tests, special attention was paid to the ergonomics of using AR in an industrial environment, with cameras and sensors monitoring users’ eyes, head, neck and shoulders. The question was whether the headsets would assist or distract/inhibit utility workers, who typically work 12 hours, walk several miles and examine 300 pieces of equipment in a day. We Energies workers seemed to prefer RealWear’s device to view checklists, while the research team is looking forward to when more meters, poles, etc. are connected to the IoT and AR becomes even more useful. More devices will be tested at other sites before the final report is released in 2019.
I’ve saved New York Power Authority, the largest state-owned public utility in the country, for last due to its impressive digital roadmap. In December 2017, a utility collaborative on the use of wearables to monitor workers’ health was announced, NYPA included. But NYPA’s interest in emerging tech goes beyond wearables: The utility is aiming to be the first full-scale, all-digital utility with a digitally-enabled workforce. To that end, NYPA is installing sensors, smart meters and other data collecting devices in its customers’ buildings and facilities, creating digital twins of its large clients’ energy systems; the data analytics from these efforts should increase productivity and create new value-added services for NYPA’s customers (like helping them optimize use).
The company has created a smart operation center for its power plants, transmission lines, and substations; here, data like temperature, power loads, vibrations, pressure, emissions, moisture and strain is fed, with the goal of becoming proactive vs. reactive. “Digitizing everything” will allow NYPA to predict problems, reduce unplanned downtime, lower maintenance costs, and minimize operational risks. And how do you bring the workforce into this digital grid? Through Augmented Reality.
The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 5th annual EWTS will be held October 9-11, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. For more details, please visit the conference website.