Google Glass has had some bad press of late, with users called some very unkind names and some industry analysts calling it this decade's Segway, but BMW has some love for the wearable head-mounted display. At its plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, BMW is running a pilot program to see how Google Glass can improve the quality control of its pre-series vehicles as they make the transition from prototype to full production.
Pre-series cars are a vital link in modern car manufacturing. Cars that begin life as eye-catching concepts and then go on to become working prototypes still have a major hurdle before they're ready to be sold to the public. That's where pre-series cars come in. These are essentially production prototypes that are put together in a production-like setting to see if the design is capable of being reliably and economically mass produced instead of handmade in a machine shop.
It's a vital step because building the pre-series cars can uncover all manner of flaws that wouldn't have been apparent until the car went into production. The problem is, evaluating the pre-series cars requires a lot of communication between the quality testers and the design engineers to determine how the cars are deviating from plan. This is especially tricky because the problems are often vague and difficult to explain. As a result, BMW says written reports and photographs are less than adequate in roughly one out of four cases.
What BMW hopes is that by using a wearable technology like Google Glass, it will be possible to show rather than tell what is wrong. The idea is that the device will use a background video mode to record video feeds in two-minute segments, which can be permanently stored at the press of a button for later reference and discussion between the quality testers and design engineers instead of relying on handwritten notes or similar methods. In addition, the technology allows testers to remain with the vehicle and to sign off on a test using voice control.
The pilot program is part of BMW's 4.0 campaign to introduce new technologies to support planning and production. The company says that so far the trial, which can involve between 10 and 25 individual tests for each car depending on its equipment package, have proven so promising that it is considering using the system in the final assembly of series vehicles.