A boardroom in downtown Edmonton is hardly the place one might expect to be found practising car maintenance or learning how to replace broken circuit breakers. But in the offices of Edmonton-based Scope AR, virtually anything is possible. Using augmented reality, the company designs smart instructions that provide workers with step-by-step guidance for manual tasks.
“With this technology, we’re giving people the ability to be an expert, whether they were trained on something five years ago, or never trained on it,” says David Nedohin, president and co-founder of Scope AR.
Holding a tablet to a circuitbox, Nedohin makes the maintenance process look easy. The screen of the tablet shows a computer-aided design model overlaying the real-life box, with animated instructions showing the steps that need to be taken to replace a broken breaker. He places the tablet down and performs the actions as outlined on the screen, picking it up again to get further instructions. Along the way, he pauses to take photos and verify the work has been done correctly. If something isn’t going well, he also has the option of video calling an expert for real-time troubleshooting.
“It’s sort of like FaceTime. You can call a senior, expert worker at home or in their office, and using this technology they can see what the employee on-site can see,” he says. “And they now have the ability to annotate or draw on it, showing someone exactly what needs to be done.”
The value of Remote AR, notes Nedohin, is both time saving and expertise. Older generations of workers, who may have done the same job for decades, are now reaching retirement, leading to a knowledge gap.
“We’re also seeing that younger workers are moving more than ever before. So they never get the depth of knowledge like previous generations had,” he says. “With AR, we can help those workers tap into an extensive bank of knowledge whenever they need. There’s no drawings to interpret, no manuals to check, just a screen showing them exactly what needs to be done.”
There are a number of ways for users to access the training, through handheld devices or AR glasses — plus, videos can be recorded of the trainees to be reviewed later.
Founded in 2011, Scope AR began with a simple conversation at Startup Edmonton between Nedohin and co-founders Scott Montgomerie and Graham Melley. In March, the company secured $9.7 million US in funding from investors.
“We thought there was probably better applications for augmented reality than games, so we started to talk about what else we could do,” Nedohin says. “At the time, BMW had created a completely fictional video where a car drives into a service bay, and this ‘technician of the future’ puts on these glasses, opens up the hood of the car, and then the glasses start showing him what to do. So that became our inspiration and our motivation.”
By 2015, technology had caught up to that initial vision. In June of that year, Scope AR launched its Remote AR program at the Augmented World Expo in California, earning recognition as the best new product demo. Since then, Scope has continued to grow quickly, operating a larger office in Edmonton and a second location in San Francisco. It specializes in high-security settings and has created programs for industry giants such as Lockheed Martin, NASA, Unilever and Toyota. Its growth has largely been in the aerospace, defence, automotive and utility industries across North America and Europe, but Nedohin sees more opportunity ahead, closer to home.
“With the drop in oil prices, there was all of a sudden no money to spend on innovation. But, now that things have kind of settled, we’re starting to see the desire to invest in innovation in order to become more efficient and more profitable,” he says. “So we’re definitely starting to get some traction in the more local energy industry as well.”