The electric car manufacturer looks to increase assembly line productivity using a Google Glass-type experience.
2018 has been an interesting year for filed patents based on AR and VR ideas. Google’s recent omnidirectional VR shoe and Walmart’s patents for both a virtual showroom and a VR headset are just a few of the many examples.
Another patent that was filed back in May, but is just now getting some attention, is Tesla’s patent for an AR application titled ‘Augmented Reality Feature Detection’ that would bring efficiency and performance to Tesla employees on the assembly line.
From Tesla’s perspective, the process to design and construct technology, such as their self-driving electric car, takes entirely too long. Using AR would speed up this process by improving quality control in order to reduce human error and increase consistency across the board for overall quality assurance.
This would mean the company would use AR to create ‘reference markers,’ such as a 3D marker, sticker, QR code, or a radio-frequency ID tag, to launch digital content over what operators see on the assembly line; assisting them in navigating through the assembly process.
For example, an operator could create an AR map that would guide them during a process known as Electrophoretic Painting (E-Coating), which requires a precise thickness of 12.5 microns. The software could even help in identifying specific problem areas that might be very difficult to coat.
AR would also be used to inspect the quality of the assembly for a vehicle, such as whether the locations of welds are correct, whether the interfaces between parts such as body panels are within tolerances, if holes are drilled or punched at the correct locations, if the fit and finish of assembly are correct, and hits every checkbox that meets quality assurance.
From Tesla’s filed patent, “The time required to perform the steps is extensive and increases the time and cost to build a new vehicle. For example, a current practice for marking joints and/or inspecting dimensional accuracy of the joints involves overlaying paper or plastic molds over a sheet metal object in order to mark the part. Similarly, joints may be inspected by manually referencing adjacent features, molds, or using coordinate measuring machine (CMM) inspection. Therefore, there exists a need for a process and tools for increasing the efficiency and decreasing the cost of automotive manufacturing tasks. Applying computer vision and augmented reality tools to the manufacturing process can significantly increase the speed and efficiency related to manufacturing and in particular to the manufacturing of automobile parts and vehicles.”
Other details from the patent show the company using their AR application to map out the factory floor, so they can identify the precise location and orientation an assembly robot should be installed on the floor. Because of the number of assembly robots needed in a factory and the precision necessary to build one of Tesla’s self-driving electric cars, AR could help set up machines so they don’t interfere with each other or be a general obstruction in the environment.
In 2016, Tesla was rumored to be giving Google Glass a trial run in one of its factories and it appears that the data the company collected from that period is now being utilized to launch their own type of AR application that would meet Tesla’s needs specifically.
It seems that AR and VR technology has really found its place within all layers of the automotive industry.
Earlier in the year Volkswagen announced that they would be training 10,000 employees in VR through a hub that employees worldwide could access, giving Volkswagen a single training portal for every employee. “Once organizations make the investment in creating the systems and infrastructure – they can easily connect their entire workforce, no matter where they are. As a result, VR/AR favors very large, global businesses like Volkswagen,” said Gregor Wynnyczuk in an interview with VRScout back in March.
Nissan took advantage of the Star Wars fan base to debut two Star Wars VR experiences in their showrooms. Not only did it pull fans into the Nissan dealership to check out a unique Star Wars VR experience, but it also opened up the possibility of putting you into a new car. It also happened to be how some people experienced VR for the first time.
Other big automakers such as Volvo, Honda, Ford Audi, and Toyota are also using VR and AR as a way to design, manufacture, and connect with the car buyer.
According to Tesla’s second quarter earnings release, the company looks to position themselves to produce 10,000 Model 3 cars per week during 2019. That is a lot of cars, and if they are going to ramp up production to hit those numbers and ensure the quality that is expected from owning a Tesla – the company will definitely need a tool like AR to meet those needs.
Image Credit: U.S. Patent Office / electrek.co / Tesla / Volvo