CompanyWeek: Front-line deskless workers benefit from technological innovations

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Chief Customer Officer Kelly Malone says the tech company’s augmented reality platform is a force multiplier, helping manufacturers reduce errors and improve technician performance.

Technology is hard. Yes, it makes life easier for its end users (i.e., us) but we’re just the passive recipients of incredibly complex, dense systems that require ongoing maintenance and updating. And that’s worrisome because the demand for accomplished technicians has long outstripped availability with no sign the situation will improve anytime soon.

The main problem is training. It takes a lot of time, money, and effort to familiarize a technician with a modern jet engine or water purification system, and the means used for instruction tend to be antiquated. Typically, training involves following step-by-step instructions displayed on a tablet, mobile phone, or even printed as hard copy. Junior or journeymen technicians follow the instructions as assiduously as possible, learning from their mistakes.

And there can be a lot of mistakes.

There is an irony here: relying on creaky, ineffective, and relatively low-tech methods to teach high-tech concepts. Better approaches are warranted. So Taqtile, a software company headquartered in Seattle with staff based in California and elsewhere, responded with Manifest. It’s a teaching platform that puts augmented reality (AR) overlays on real-world objects or their digital equivalents, guiding technicians through the necessary work rather than telling them what needs to be done.

Taqtile’s founders, John Tomizuka and Dirck Schou, spun off Taqtile from an earlier company where they both worked, Spring Wireless, in 2011. At Taqtile, the partners initially built applications for smartphones and a few other mobile devices including Microsoft’s “mixed reality” smart glasses, HoloLens. The HoloLens technology made a deep impression on the two men, and they pivoted from focusing primarily on smartphone apps to mixed reality solutions. Taqtile was emerged as a software company, and Manifest was launched in 2017 as the company’s flagship product.

“Manifest can run on either head-mounted sets or AR enabled mobile devices,” says Malone. “A technician can look at the digital overlay Manifest puts up on any piece of equipment needing work and follow displayed step-by-step instructions while simultaneously viewing supplemental materials — videos, photographs, and documents — and communicating with a senior technician who’s monitoring the progress on his own screen.”

Perhaps Manifest’s most impressive feature is its power as a force multiplier.

“It allows you to incorporate the skills, experience, and knowledge of your senior technical people — even those who were retired or semi-retired,” says Malone. “They can work remotely, connecting with large numbers of operators on the job who refer to them when needed. It allows apprentice operators to work at expert or near expert levels, and it lets your true experts extend their careers at a pace that suits them.”