A Waikato IT company is fast-forwarding the region further into the 21st century with technology that allows the installation and set-up of engineering machinery in the United States using hands-free, voice-activated, head-mounted tablet computers.
The global Covid-19 pandemic spurred clients to approach Company-X and ask for head-mounted tablet computers for their businesses to support workers in the field.
"Company-X became the first Australasian reseller of RealWear head-mounted tablets in 2019 because of some really exciting productivity opportunities," said Company-X co-founder and director David Hallett.
"Even more so now with the global Covid-19 pandemic. That has been a huge catalyst.
"We have clients buying RealWear head-mounted tablets from us who sent millions of dollars' worth of engineering machinery off to the United States and who would normally send technicians over to set it up," Hallett said.
"The United States, like many other countries, didn't fully lockdown during the pandemic, and their businesses still had a need for essential equipment.
"They have sent RealWear head-mounted tablets to the United States and have an expert here in New Zealand using software and a web browser to see what the person in the United States is seeing on the other end."
The New Zealand technicians are using Microsoft Teams to communicate with their state-side counterparts.
"Voila. Your system is now working, which is really cool."
Another Company-X client had imported equipment from Europe but the technicians were not allowed to enter New Zealand to install it.
"Because they're not essential workers, currently they're unable to enter New Zealand,' Hallett said.
"So we are running head-mounted tablets here in New Zealand, and from Germany, they can tell the remote technician what piece needs to go where."
While such work was driven by the Covid-19 pandemic, Company-X clients are planning on a permanent switch to this remote expert-on-demand solution.
"It's amazing," Hallett said,
"There might be a little bit of reduced efficiency with remote hands and an expert on-demand but you've just saved thousands on airfares and hotels for the experts, so even if it takes an extra hour or two to set up it's a fraction of the price to fly there.
"Some of our clients are considering how they can use head-mounted tablets for all of their future overseas appointments so they won't need to have a person on-site, just expert information."
RealWear head-mounted tablets were deployed in Wuhan, China, to allow doctors in the Covid-19 red zone to transmit live telemetry back to colleagues in the green zone.
Paired with thermal imaging cameras, Hallett said, head-mounted tablets have been used globally for thermography.
"That's using these headsets with the real-time temperature readouts so you can see in real-time who have high temperatures."
Car manufacturer BMW was using head-mounted tablets for servicing in the United States market before the lockdown.
"They follow through checklists and standard procedures," Hallett said.
"They take photos and videos as they go, documenting things in real-time and annotating it, so that they can automatically generate a report for a customer, an entire auditable report. We're talking about significant savings from using these systems."
Closer to home, another Company-X client is using an intrinsically safe version of the RealWear head-mounted tablet in its natural gas transmission and distribution network.
"You can take it into highly explosive environments and be absolutely sure there's going to be no sparks or ignition to worry about," added fellow Company-X co-founder and director Jeremy Hughes.
"They can use head-mounted tablet computers completely hands-free with gloves on," Hallett added. "Because they are working in a gas environment with pipes and machinery they can be wearing one of these head-mounted tablets and talking to the computer to control it, taking photographs, annotating notes, working through checklists, and doing it with no fear of anything going wrong.
"In the past, it has been a case of having to scribble things down by hand and going back to the vehicle a safe distance away."
The world learned the value of video-conferencing technology during the Covid-19 pandemic.
"This now widely accepted culture around virtual meetings, the 'Zoom culture', makes sense," Hallett said.
"So why wouldn't we extend the same concepts for remote working and remote support?"