Why Audi of America is hiring robotic repair advisors; with video

vgo-audi3The auto industry has long relied on robots to rivet, paint, and weld. But Audi of America is bringing on a new kind of robot that can offer guidance on vehicle repairs.

Last month, Audi of America’s Michigan-based technical support team introduced Audi Robotic Telepresence (ART), a customized version of a mobile robot made by VGo Communications, at 18 of its dealerships.

ART is a remote-controlled, wifi-connected telepresence tool that allows Audi’s expert technicians at headquarters, officially known as Technical Field Managers (TFMs), to inspect and help service vehicles as if they were standing alongside local dealer technicians. Unique to ART’s design (and exclusive to Audi for a two-year window), the robot includes an attached handheld camera and borescope, which allows the remote operator to peer into difficult-to-reach parts of the vehicle like the engine. ART also has a small display screen “face,” so that the dealer technician sees the TFM’s visage on screen, instead of just hearing a disembodied, HAL-like voice. (An off-the-shelf version of the VGo bot costs $6,000-7,000, and a subscription package for service and support is $1,200 per year. But a VGo exec tells us the two additional cameras increase the price.)

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