Electrification, artificial intelligence and virtual reality. At the outset of 2020, these are just a few of the biggest issues that appear poised to impact the collision repair realm. How will such evolving forms of technology change the face of the industry?
If you ever need a reminder of technology’s evolution, just look at your Fit-bit. A form of AI is sitting on your wrist, it tracks your heart, blood pressure, blood oxygen, sleep, water intake and general fitness. It knows everything about you, from how many hours you sleep to how many steps you walk in a day. It also reminds you to get up and walk, or drink water, or will communicate with your Smart phone to answer calls and messages.
Iantorno, the vice-president of IoT (the Internet of Things) with VeriFacts Automotive has worked in the information technology, field for 37 years and he has never been so certain of one thing, technology is growing at a virtually unprecedented rate, and it is very apparent in the collision repair industry. “People used to call these things ‘emerging technologies,’ Iantorno said. “Well, they are not emerging anymore. They are here today, and they are all around us.”
“As the Fit-bit suggests, AI, especially, is creeping into virtually every facet of our society. Our smart phones are fuelled by it. And, to a growing extent, AI is fuelling vehicles nearly as much as unleaded or diesel. AI is already impacting body shops in the form of photo estimating, for example.
“AI is the engine that drives that, “Iantorno says of photo estimating. “Whether it originates from the vehicle itself or your smart phone, intelligent first notice of loss, FNOL, is another AI function. So, AI is around us today.
Collision repairers needn’t fear this brave new world. Iantorno feels that shop operators don’t necessarily need a thorough working knowledge of AI to benefit from it. They simply need to be aware of how it’s starting to drive change within the industry. Technology like AI is undoubtedly growing exponentially, as much in the last five years as the previous 50, Iantorno contends. And, that presents opportunities to improve shop floor efficiency, through elements such as quick photo estimates.
“AI will accompany every disruptive technology implemented going forward,” Iantorno says. “Even though we might not want to, we’ve got to embrace this change. Because, if you don’t embrace the change, it will run over you. Because there’s no way to stop this. If you embrace it, it’s fun. It can be fun.”
The P3 Group is a global consulting and engineering firm with nearly 650 automotive consultants and engineers at its disposal in North America alone. And, right now, many of them are focused largely on electrification.
Newer automakers, like Tesla, have a clear agenda moving forward, Iantorno says, focusing on electric vehicles. Meanwhile, legacy OEMs all have different timelines, driven by the markets they operate in, for example regulations demand that automakers dedicate a certain percentage of their fleet to EVs in China. “Overall, everybody is going that way.”
Multiple industry insiders that were spoken to for this report had similar bold predictions regarding the future of EVs. A key factor pointing the auto industry toward an electrified future is the increased range EVs are starting to provide. “We’ll see a lot of ‘skateboard technology’, where manufacturers put the battery on the floor of the vehicle, Iantorno explained. “What’s more important, though is the capability of the vehicle in terms of acceleration and performance, battery technology will become better and translate into more range. “ And that is likely to reduce “range anxiety” that many consumers currently have, in which they’re nervous about taking EVs on extended road trips, the P3 CEO contents.
The shift towards increased electrification means those working at automotive repair facilities will thorough training on how to avoid safety concerns. “The safety piece is probably the biggest threat,” Iantorno notes. “With electrification, there’s safety concerns and there’s proper training needed to operate batteries with high voltage.”
Iantorno has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering, and even he isn’t certain just how widespread the adoption of EVs will be five years from now. But he is certain that EV use will increase from where it’s at right now. And repairing those evolving vehicle types will require shops to make an adjustment. “It’s just a different world,” Iantorno notes, “Rather than having just a couple of wrenches like it was.”
Virtual Reality/ Augmented Reality
As the global solutions design manager with Bosch, Shawn Dupuie focuses on training repair professionals like technicians. And, these, days, that training is greatly aided by virtual reality.
Last year, at a trade convention in Las Vegas, Bosch launched its virtual reality project in earnest. The experience left the gathered crowd as intrigued at VR as Dupuie. Bosch began helping repair facilities utilise VR training as a method to help shore up the automotive industry’s technician shortage. “The average technician age in the U.S. is 50 years old,” Dupuie says. “Most of our customers are coming to us saying, “We’re having a really tough time recruiting the new generation to be a technician. In what way can you help us?” In an attempt to appeal to a younger generation that grew up on video games, Bosch began offering virtual reality training in earnest.
Virtual reality training, over the long term, is far more cost-effective than traditional methods that often require paying employees to travel, Dupuie said.
While VR set-ups cost around $4 000 not long ago, the price is dropping fast. Dupuie says the price entry point is now $600 for stand-alone VR hardware and an accompanying headset.
“The distance learning element of VR is powerful,” Dupuie says. “The instructor can be anywhere in the world. At the independent shops, they’re often limited in space to conduct training, so they end up going to hotels, or they end up going to a training centre. With the virtual reality, you can do it in a very small space, with VR you don’t have to have a 20 x 20 room.”
Retention of information, hand-on learning typically resonates with auto industry professionals like technicians, who are used to working with their hands.
“What we’ve found with virtual reality is, it seems technicians retain knowledge better than with web-based training,” Dupuie says. “We did research and found that most technicians retain about 10% of what they read, about 50% of what they see and hear, and almost 90% of what they do. Technicians have had a high success rate of retention with VR.”
Increased safety, considering the industry is slowly but steadily becoming more mobile and electric, Bosch officials appreciate the fact that VR training offers a safe environment in which to train.