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Augmented Reality: A New Reality for Utilities

April 13, 2017 - 4 Comments

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.

Augmented Reality is truly a new reality for utility field work and you can find out more about all of Cisco’s Digital Grid products here.


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  1. OK… this is cool… but imagine a field AR platform integrated into Spark. The ability to not only see overlays of information on top of the equipment and retrieve substation specific files (drawings, documentation, logs) but giving the substation tech the ability to pin a virtual Spark board to a wall in the substation control house or a fence (if there is no control house) and interact with an Engineer or a another substation tech remotely.

    Create a room for each substation and you have automatic logging of all activity with date, time, and user stamps. Write a bot to collect information to determine chronic problems with specific equipment in a specific substations. Using the camera on the AR headset, write a bot to have Spark automatically pull information from asset databases based on equipment serial number (make and model of equipment, warranty status, when was it installed, repair history, etc.)

    Discovered problem was bigger than originally thought? Need another substation tech to help? Using GIS integration with Spark to find the nearest available, qualified tech and route them to the substation. Spark can show the location of that new tech, and estimate how long until that tech arrives at the troubled substation.

    Endless possibilities with Spark integration.

    • Ken, I like it! Definitely lots of potential to be creative…

      …and Cisco certainly has the breadth of portfolio to really enable this technology to its fullest.

  2. What a great leap from Sci Fi to reality. Augmented Reality. I can see this incorporated in the next James Bond. When disarming a nuclear device and being undecided about which wire to cut don the goggles.

    • Peter, it definitely would have helped Bud cut the right wire in the Abyss, or MacGruber when he was faced with a web of wires and said: “Look at all these. I’m more of a three-wire kind of guy”!