Innovation doesn’t always mean creating new things. Using existing things in new ways is also innovation. Innovation does not have to be big-bang, it can also be soft and silent steps which make an impact. Innovative application of current, boring and existing technologies could itself make the most trivial jobs better! A small example follows.
I noticed a service-person last week working on the water filter in our office. He was speaking on the phone and explaining something animatedly to the person at other end of the connection. The water filter was open showing its innards and he was fiddling with wires of many colors. Some eavesdropping revealed that he was explaining something about the wires – presumably to a person with more expertise – their layout, condition, color and so on. There was some heat and argument as our man was getting impatient with the expert – because the expert couldn’t get the exact status as he was explaining it.
He was on a mobile, they spent 15 minutes trying to get each other to understand the physical status as it was and should be – using mobile phones. Tele-repair? Yes. Could this be improved? You bet – a picture is worth a thousand words 😉
The visual aspect was the biggest missing piece. Without getting into 3G and live-video-enabled phones, a still-photo mechanism using the ancient MMS would also do the job while being economically viable. The guy at the other end just needed to see the damn pieces once!
Ideally, I would visualize a flex-cord (one of those twisty things that retain shape after you twist them) connected camera mounted on the mobile phone, which you can twist and point at areas of interest. With a speakerphone and the camera streaming visuals of the situation, field service personnel can “show and tell”, and effectively carry out instructions relayed by the expert at the other end.
This wouldn’t be big to do nor would it cost much. However, what is also important is the linkage among these. You may have the tools individually but not the mind unless someone has told you. You may have a mobile, a camera in it, MMS capability in it or GPRS/3G email capability in it, even dedicated software and flex-cord dedicated camera hardware – but can every service mechanic put these pieces together?
So what we are looking at for field service using mobile phones as enablers is a combination of equipment (hardware/software) and training to achieve the end result. And bang! – you have the ability to distribute deep knowledge and abilities of a limited number of experts over a large number of field service personnel and customer incidents – the ability to scale up your service abilities without corresponding rise in expert manpower. And it is not restricted to something as mundane as economics – having experts help on more repair incidents thereby reducing cost-per-repair. It is simply that you can create only so many experts in so much time.
This ability to distribute expertise over distance and scale up efficiency is the premise of tele-medicine, and can be equally well translated to tele-repair. Tele-repair of high-end and delicate equipment would still justify bringing in the experts, but for equipment like household goods or white goods repair, sundry electronics repair such as on TV sets, on-site repair can be tremendously enhanced using new technology. Happier people, faster and more accurate repair activities, happier customers – it is happiness all around.
Much of above is possible with existing technologies today. Making a customized system might make it more usable and beneficial, but the core pieces already exist!
How much would it cost to set up a mobile phone with dedicated flex-cord camera and a software application that integrates streaming videos into an “environment” that is easy to use? Perhaps the next thing to chew on for our embedded and mobile-computing guys 😉
Author – Chinmoy Panda