The chassis of the Taycan, Porsche’s first fully electric vehicle, houses a large black box containing a 93.4-kWh battery connected to the car’s motors with bright orange cables—a warning sign for any technician servicing the vehicle. “As many a mechanic, professional and amateur knows, fiddling with the 12V system of a typical internal-combustion engine (ICE) can give you a nasty electrical jolt,” according to The Economist. “But this battery delivers 800V. Though it is fitted with safety systems, that is enough for a knockout punch that could kill you.” That’s no longer an occasional problem for the automotive industry. With a surge in adoption of electric and hybrid vehicles—sales of which are projected to nearly double in 2022 to reach 1.2 million—increasing EV battery demand is compelling the industry to find smarter ways to handle, recycle and dispose off batteries. Millions of tons of EV batteries are expected to be decommissioned over the coming decades. Extracting the valuable materials from an EV battery is difficult, labor-intensive and often dangerous, but recycled materials could theoretically supply more than half of the cobalt, lithium, and nickel in new batteries by 2040. Many of the processes in place today involve workers standing over a conveyor belt of dying batteries that are fed into a shredding machine, but researchers and entrepreneurs are already coming up with innovative, cost-effective ways to reuse most of the waste.
How Assisted Reality is Lending a HandAmong the tools available to make EV battery handling and recycling safer and more efficient is assisted reality. Unlike augmented reality and virtual reality, which aren’t always practical when used as manufacturing or frontline tools, assisted reality is a reality-first, digital-second extended reality (XR) experience. It allows workers to have full situational awareness while viewing a screen within their immediate field of vision, hands-free and provides access to the right information right when it’s needed. In the cut-throat automotive industry, assisted reality wearables offer tremendous potential:
- In de-powering, repairing and replacing EV batteries: Hands-free wearables provide easy access in the field to step-by-step instructions that help ensure workers handling EV batteries follow the manufacturer’s instructions for testing, storage, use, charging and maintenance. Wearables can also be used for onsite training; for instance, to train service technicians on the hazards and risks associated with the batteries—and how to avoid them.
- On the factory line: Assisted reality can also be leveraged to use computer vision object recognition to highlight the battery parts to be picked from a conveyor or identify potentially dangerous items that could cause a fire. Again, wearables can also play an instrumental role in upskilling line workers, for example training a mobile worker on an engine manufacturing line to make EV batteries. A great example would be the IBM Inspector Wearable running on RealWear Navigator® 500 head-mounted display.
- To introduce automation to the recycling or measurement process or to rapidly reconfigure a recycling line: A wave of investments is driving growth in recycling centers purpose-built to address the challenges associated with EV batteries, and the industry is still driving toward greater efficiency.
Three Simple Steps for Getting Started with Assisted Reality
- Consider a global systems integrator (GSI) partner: Working with a systems integrator can help simplify the challenges associated with equipping a large number of workers with wearables connected to other IoT devices. As physical and digital interfaces become intertwined, it stresses IT infrastructure and introduces new concerns around security and privacy. Look for a partner that can set strategy, offer counsel and also provide the skilled resources needed to turn plans into reality.
- Include change management to simplify the path forward: Whether you choose a partner focused solely on organizational change management or use your GSI’s resources, it’s critical to lay the groundwork for success adoption.
- Begin by asking yourself, “Where are we likely to meet resistance or even a “blocker”?” Identifying these areas in advance can help you proactively address challenges and pinpoint where you might need to spend extra attention.
- Then, identify the people who are most likely to support new technology and center your messaging on the value the wearables will provide to the user as well as to the organization as a whole.
- Above all, understand that change management is never a one-size-fits-all solution; offer a variety of options to help teams adapt to change, whether hands-on experience, one-on-one meetings or town-hall-style communications.
- Start small to build confidence in wearables before scaling: Consider implementing wearables in just one segment of the organization or for a single-use case. Then, once you’ve ironed out any issues and realized a quick win or two, enlist the support of existing users to help train other users and advocate for the wearables as you scale.