How remote assistance technology can transform manufacturing

Manufacturing Digital speaks with Niclas Elvgren, Head of Imint’s Professional Solutions Business Unit on the role of remote assistance in manufacturing

In this interview with Manufacturing Digital, Niclas Elvgren, Head of the Professional Solutions Business Unit at Swedish software company Imint, speaks about his career journey, the company’s offerings and the role of remote assistance devices in the manufacturing sector.

Please introduce yourself and your role.

“My name is Niclas Elvgren and I am the head of the professional solutions business unit at Imint, which includes our remote assistance technologies unit. I have been with the company for seven years, taking part in our journey of introducing new products, leading our entrance into the remote assistance category and expanding our offerings into new applications and markets.”

What led you to this industry?

“When I started at Imint seven years ago, we were targeting the top smartphone vendors of the world. After establishing strong relationships with most of the big Android-based brands, we started broadening our perspective. It was then natural to expand our focus to the remote assistance market, since it was rapidly growing and we saw great potential in leveraging our expertise and fine-tuning our products to fit this segment. My background running our customer service team and managing all presales at the time gave me the experience needed to help Vidhance evolve and address new areas of video usage.”

What is Imint? 

“Founded in 2007, Imint is a listed Swedish software company with world-leading expertise in real-time video stabilisation and enhancement based on motion sensor data analysis. Imint’s Vidhance suite of video enhancement solutions is the culmination of 15 years of R&D and has to date been integrated into more than 850 million camera devices, across consumer and industrial markets.”

What is Vidhance for Remote Assistance? 

“Vidhance for Remote Assistance is a new suite of tools designed to transform the quality of video content captured by remote assistance devices used in the manufacturing industry. It consists of the Vidhance Premium Video Stabilization feature and Vidhance Click & Lock feature.

“The Vidhance Premium Video Stabilization feature efficiently eliminates shakiness by keeping the frame stable and the horizon level for video captured on handheld, head-mounted or body-worn cameras, while also correcting for lens distortions. 

“In addition to stabilising and levelling the video stream, the Vidhance for Remote Assistance solution also provides remote viewers direct control over the video’s focus point through the all-new Vidhance Click & Lock feature. With a simple click, remote viewers can select an object on the live feed to lock onto it as the camera’s focus point, using automatic tracking and zooming to centre the object regardless of how it or the camera wearer moves.

“Vidhance for Remote Assistance is offered through a subscription model where solution providers that integrate the software suite can provide a free trial period for users, then offer a monthly or annual subscription for full-time adoption.”

How has COVID-19 impacted the manufacturing sector?

“Clearly, the pandemic fueled a major increase in the use of remote assistance technology, simply because it became a necessity in order to maintain operations when travelling was not possible. The ability to support manufacturing plants remotely significantly reduced the impact of COVID-19 in those environments. Had the pandemic come 10 years earlier, when remote assistance technology was not readily available, the situation could have been very different.

“The onset of the pandemic sped up the adoption and development of remote assistance solutions, but the trend has flattened out since. In order to continue the growth of remote assistance adoption, we must address one of its biggest challenges, which is to make it easier and more natural to use. This is a challenge we are certain the Vidhance for Remote Assistance suite will help solve.”

Why have remote assistance devices struggled to gain widespread adoption in manufacturing? 

“Remote assistance is still in the early phase of its evolution within the complex manufacturing ecosystem. To successfully deploy a remote assistance solution,  manufacturers need a camera device, a video communication platform and video monitoring software, often provided by different suppliers. All three have an impact on the video quality, and the inherent challenge of maintaining stable video feeds from cameras constantly in motion is rarely addressed. In fast-paced manufacturing scenarios, particularly ones involving equipment troubleshooting and complex repairs, on-site workers are constantly making head movements unconsciously. 

“This isn’t a problem for on-site workers – as their eyes can quickly adjust to see exactly what they want to see. That said, the video quality for remote manufacturing experts viewing the feeds has, to date, been far from a real life experience. Feeds from body-worn cameras can appear shaky or dark to remote viewers, greatly reducing their effectiveness and even causing viewers to experience motion sickness. 

“Some organisations and remote assistance solutions have attempted to integrate stabilised hand-held smartphone or tablet cameras as the primary video input device, but they have a major inherent flaw – they require the on-site user to hold the device the entire time, leaving them with only one free hand.

“While video stabilisation is a common feature in smartphones, it can't safely be mounted for hands-free use in challenging environments, and it's typically limited to the device maker's camera app, making it unavailable for third-party apps used to stream live video for remote assistance like Teams and Zoom.

“Head-worn cameras and smart glass device manufacturers are now beginning to implement video stabilisation that is always active – even in live video scenarios. The tuning differs from that of smartphones, as the primary goal is not artistic video creation, but rather ensuring a clear and steady video stream for remote experts.”

How can imminent technology breakthroughs change that? 

“Breakthroughs like Vidhance for Remote Assistance eliminate shaky video in real time, thus offering the remote viewer improved working conditions and better chances to provide accurate support.

“The software achieves this feat by leveraging data from the camera’s motion sensors to calculate the optimal stabilisation frame-by-frame – a robust and efficient method that has been battle-proven in millions of smartphones powered by Imint to date. 

“In addition, the Vidhance Click & Lock feature gives the remote viewer control of the video and the ability to zoom, focus and lock the video on an object of interest with a simple click.”

Does the future of manufacturing rely on remote assistance? 

“As manufacturing continues to evolve, remote assistance will serve as an invaluable link connecting on-site workers with off-site experts as it enables instant communication in demanding and high-stress manufacturing environments. We believe that remote assistance devices are indispensable for real-time collaboration among field workers and experts in the manufacturing industry and anticipate that deployment of these technologies will be widespread in the coming years.”

Why is now the time for manufacturers to invest in these devices? 

“As we witness the growing adoption of remote assistance devices in manufacturing and other industries, fostering a collaborative ecosystem becomes increasingly important. By providing access to advanced technologies and embracing flexible subscription models, manufacturers and developers can ensure that these devices stay current and remain equipped with the latest features, driving further improvements in manufacturing efficiency and safety.”

What do the next 12 months hold for you and the company?

“Over the next year, we expect to see a much wider adoption of technology like our video stabilisation and Click & Lock features, which we believe to be “sanity features” for any camera in motion. We are continuing to engage with our customers and gather feedback regarding more features that can be leveraged to significantly enhance the video experience. With customer input in mind, we have a lot more in the pipeline for this exciting market, which we’ll introduce in the coming year. Stay tuned!”

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