The teams at Penske Truck Leasing and Design Interactive have collaborated to bring better, more engaging training to a tech-focused generation.  - Photo: Penske Truck Leasing

The teams at Penske Truck Leasing and Design Interactive have collaborated to bring better, more engaging training to a tech-focused generation. 

Photo: Penske Truck Leasing

Augmented reality (AR) isn’t just for video games anymore. Fleet managers are now using the technology to help train incoming technicians in a safer, more controlled way. Holly Gerke, vice president of technical training and development for Penske Truck Leasing, and Matt Johnston, commercial solutions director for Design Interactive, have teamed up to craft am AR program that will help update and invigorate the technician training process for the 21st century.

Seeing Training Through New Eyes

During a Design Interactive demo of the XRMentor training program a couple years ago at a trade show, Gerke was instantly intrigued by the technology and its capabilities. For the last few years, the teams at Penske and Design Interactive have collaborated to build out some solid use cases and help Penske form its vision on how it wants to use the technology to boost technical training for technicians.

The hardware Penske uses is the Microsoft HoloLens 2, the device its trainers wear. The software it uses is XRMentor and ClassroomXR, another product that delivers technical training classes.

“We support the 'see one, do one, teach one' method of training," Johnston says. "We use an instructor-led feature that allows an expert to livestream from the Microsoft HoloLens 2 as they perform a live, first-person view. We also support self-guided procedures on the same device as well as mobile and remote collaboration. The focus of our partnership here is to create a more efficient process of delivering knowledge and technical training to the workforce."

Gerke plans to use XR training as a way to show the career of the technician in a new light as a tool for recruiting new talent to the industry. Many people are unfamiliar with the new tools and technology used by this profession.

“We want to demonstrate that the career of a technician is possible and fulfilling,” she explains.

With a new generation entering the workforce, it makes sense to attract its attention with a tool many may already be  familiar with through gaming experiences.

“I've been at Penske for 20 years, and it’s only been in the last several years that there's been a major effort to increase awareness that the career of a technician is not something that’s as messy as it used to be," Gerke says. "We've tried to change that narrative and show people they are using computers and advanced, state-of-the-art tooling technology."

Focusing on Brake Safety First

The preliminary focus of the program has been on brake maintenance because Penske is hiring a lot of entry-level technicians. Gerke believes brake maintenance is a vital focal point, because you don’t want bad habits to form early on in a technician’s career.

“There are a lot of compliance and safety regulations, and then obviously, just taking care of customers the best we can," she explains. "We're able to reach a much broader audience in a shorter timeframe if we focus on brakes first. With XRMentor, there's a total connection with all those who are participating and seeing the components, the tools and the accurate use of those tools, and how to properly take measurements. During each session, there are activities where trainees have to do the exact same thing they saw the trainer do. It’s a nice, dynamic experience that enables us to reach people more quickly."

As for other types of training that will eventually become available, the list is endless. Penske plans to develop different classes on various components for entry level, but also for more experienced technicians on newer technology or to help improve their diagnostic skills.

Penske uses an instructor-led feature that allows an expert to livestream from the Microsoft HoloLens 2 as they perform a live, first-person view. - Photo: Penske Truck Leasing

Penske uses an instructor-led feature that allows an expert to livestream from the Microsoft HoloLens 2 as they perform a live, first-person view.

Photo: Penske Truck Leasing

Training the Trainers

The next step for Penske will be onboarding more technical trainers. With 37 technical trainers on staff, the process to onboard them must be taken seriously, because they must be prepared to deliver training through this new technology and ensure technicians have the best experience possible.

“Our future is putting this in the hands of all of our trainers and then developing additional classes that can be used constantly. We'll continue to challenge ourselves to figure out next steps on content development,” Gerke says.

Johnston explains that Design Interactive’s immediate plans go beyond just the technology. Many of these AR systems  do not come with ready-made content. One of the challenges in the fleet industry is a lack of experts using this technology.

“We're first and foremost going to start addressing that this year with some of our partners. We want to lower the barrier to entry so other companies, no matter their size, can get started,” he says.

On the technology side, Design Interactive wants to build features that support better interaction between an instructor and a technician while they're within a remote class. Points of focus include how to make the instructor better, how to make the experience more interesting and foster better engagement, and how to assign activities to remote technicians and have them share their work.

Gerke is focused on helping others in the industry understand how this type of technology solution is a viable tool.

“The way we are using the technology is different than has been marketed to date," she says. "Instead of the technician wearing the device, we have it on the head of the expert. The trainer is literally taking what would have been a classroom event into the shop, and having remote technicians come into the classroom virtually. All of the elements a trainer needs in order to run a successful session are now within the XRMentor space, including procedures, videos, and documents – it’s a fascinating experience that hits on all senses,” she said.

Improving Accessibility

Johnston noted many OEMs have been investing in their own versions of AR software programs. However, the larger, and even some of the smaller, fleets, make use of a diverse set of vehicles from multiple manufacturers.

“If you have 200 technicians, the capital investment is kind of crazy if you have to equip them all with headsets and different software for each OEM. The team at Penske has completely flipped that script by putting it on one person, the trainer, and having the others learn through them,” he says.

This also helps when working in areas that might be impossible for large groups of technicians to access. For example, Design Interactive has a partner that is delivering high-voltage safety training in the transit sector. The batteries they inspect are on top of a bus, so naturally, an entire class can’t get up to see what’s going on.

“With AR," Johnston says, "they can educate everyone on the theory behind it, how things work, and show specific procedures so when they do show up for in-person training, they're ready to get some hands-on instruction."

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