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Audi drives repairs with telepresence robots' help

Sharon Gaudin | Jan. 4, 2016
Lets mechanics around the globe consult with factory technicians.

VGo 
A VGo robot used in the medical field. Credit: VGo

A VGo robot was even sent to a medical unit in Liberia in the fall of 2014 so it could be used to help treat patients fighting the deadly outbreak of Ebola .

The telepresence robot was used to enable doctors and nurses working outside of quarantine areas to observe and communicate with patients inside the quarantine areas. It increased patient care, while keeping caregivers safely away from contaminated areas.

Jeff Kagan, an independent industry analyst, said it's a great idea that will probably spread to other companies and other industries.

"You would think that if doctors can heal patients from a distance, mechanics should be able to fix cars that way even easier," he told Computerworld. "Technology empowers every industry to use telepresence to solve problems better and more affordably than ever. This is a very innovative idea. It is a very exciting idea. The only thing now is to watch how well it works."

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, says he's glad companies are starting to put telepresence to work.

"Telepresence robots were created around a decade ago but it has taken folks a long time both to get the technology to a point where it was reliable and cheap, and to figure out how to use it properly," said Enderle. "This is kind of what telepresence robots were created for."

He also thinks this technology will only increase in use and usefulness.

"These things are pretty rudimentary right now, but expect them to evolve quickly now that they have found a better purpose and eventually be far more capable and often far more human-looking in the near-term future," said Enderle.

Some tech bumps

Despite the positive prognosis for telepresence robots, there have been bumps in the road with Audi's robotic telepresence project.

Ludolph noted that they had to work out some kinks with their dealership network to get the VGo system working well there.

"We had some issues in the beginning with the Wi-Fi system in our store," he explained. "Our IT guys had to straighten it out. They had to update their Wi-Fi to a 5.0 spec. Before it was 2-point something. They had to open up some ports. After they did that, it worked flawlessly."

Each of Audi's dealerships has its own network, with often different Wi-Fi and security settings, along with heavy security.

However, there also has been a human side to adjusting to the new robots.

People issues

Ludolph noted that it has been tough for some of the technicians to get used to being around and working with a robot.

 

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