As countries struggle to contain COVID-19, the coronavirus pandemic that has infected more than 200,000 people globally, companies have increasingly been enforcing a home work policy, a move that could signal the beginning of a major remote-working movement. However, not all jobs can be easily managed remotely, a problem when social distancing is regarded as the most effective weapon in the fight against COVID-19.

Field service work is one such role, often requiring engineers and technicians to visit multiple sites and locations to service and fix equipment. Not only can this be an expensive, resource-intensive endeavor, it usually requires people to interact with others, whether in someone’s home or a company office. But remote video assistance and augmented reality (AR) could shine at a time when businesses and consumers alike are looking to maintain productivity while observing social distancing guidelines.

With that in mind, TechSee, an Israeli startup with big-name backers such as Salesforce, has announced that it’s making its virtual assistance platform available for free to a broad array of vital public bodies in Italy, France, and Spain — where the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly rampant — among other European countries. This will include emergency response teams, medical institutions, public health bodies, and nonprofit organizations, in addition to private enterprises seeking to embrace social distancing. For example, medical technicians in high-risk areas could lean on remote experts to fix a piece of hospital equipment.

“At times like this, people everywhere have a chance to come together and make a real impact on a global scale,” TechSee CEO Eitan Cohen said.

TechSee’s technology enables companies to virtually enter a space instead of sending a physical field service technician. Leveraging the camera on the customer’s smartphone, the agent sends the end user a link that, when clicked, opens a web app and then broadcasts video back to the remote technician. Moreover, the technician can draw, point, and write on top of the video from their workstation, providing direct visible guidance to the customer.

Of course, meshing remote video with augmented reality isn’t exactly a new concept — Microsoft already offers the Remote Assist app for its Hololens mixed reality headset. But the COVID-19 outbreak will likely force companies to explore new ways of working, in the near-term and likely far into the future. Moreover, as 5G gets ready to explode into the mainstream, its higher-bandwidth connectivity will enable more applications of AR in the enterprise.

TechSee’s offer could be seen as a cynical publicity ploy, but sending field service personnel out to fix hardware runs contrary to current health advice and can take time, so any remote help will likely be welcomed. Moreover, TechSee’s technology normally costs up to $90 per user per month, so in an organization with hundreds of virtual support staff, such costs could mount.

“A wide range of remote video technologies are already enabling organizations to rise to the challenge of containing the coronavirus, and we’re more than willing to contribute in any way we can,” Cohen added.

The TechSee platform will be made available for free for 90 days, and the company said it is open to extending the coverage to more markets as the crisis escalates. However, TechSee noted that the service will be limited to areas where the company has the “ability and bandwidth to operate,” which currently rules out regions such as Asia Pacific (APAC) and Iran.



Bild: TechSee: Guiding a user to fix their Nest thermostat

How AR and remote video could assist technical support teams during the coronavirus outbreak