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Monday, January 17, 2022
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A DARPA-Funded PARC Project Could Be the Future of Remote Assistance

Remote assistance connects technicians with remote experts. Who needs experts?

 

Remote assistance has been a hero of the pandemic as not needing an expert on-site to help technicians has been huge for enterprise. And, thanks to a lot of hard work, a few million dollars, and a couple of acronyms, we may not need the expert at all before too long.

Getting the Band Together

There are a couple of players in this one and it’ll be easier to talk about the actual remote assistance project if we spell out the acronyms upfront. So, let’s meet the team.

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DARPA

DARPA is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Think of them as the military’s future-forward research and development department. Their job is to identify and fund projects that use emerging technologies in ways that could be beneficial to America’s national security.

Everyone should be happy to hear that DARPA is funding a project because, if the project is successful, we all get to sleep a little better at night. If you already sleep fine you should still be excited because most DARPA projects eventually see consumer use once they’ve trickled through education and enterprise markets.

In fact, DARPA was one of the first funders of early head-mounted VR.

PARC

PARC is the Palo Alto Research Center, a research and development outfit owned by Xerox. Like DARPA, PARC is dedicated to emerging technologies including immersive environments and the Internet of Things.

Founded in 1970, PARC has been behind arguably most of the major advances in computing as we know it. That goes for advances in the personal computer, user interface, programming, industry standards, and connection cables. In 2017, PARC also launched Metawave, a spin-off company focused on technologies like 5G and artificial intelligence.

UCSB

UCSB is the University of California at Santa Barbara. The campus has officially been part of the University of California since the 1930s but has roots dating back to the mid-1800s. More recently, the school has become one of the country’s major tech hubs.

This isn’t the first time that UCSB has worked with DARPA either – the university was one of the first four nodes in ARPANET, a forerunner of the modern internet. The university has since continued advancing computing and displays.

Patched Reality and the University of Rostock

Also involved in the project are Patched Reality and the University of Rostock. Patched reality is an augmented reality design studio focused on user experience and user interface design.

The University of Rostock is a German university that was founded when North America was just a story told by Vikings, forget about “California.” But, the university’s motto is “tradition and innovation.”

Toward AI Remote Assistance

The $5.8M project is called “Autonomous Multimodal Ingestion for Goal-Oriented Support” or “AMIGOS.” Its goal: “to develop an Artificial Intelligence system that will guide users in complex physical tasks beyond their abilities” by converting text and audio procedural manuals into augmented reality guided workflows in a form of automated remote assistance.

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“Augmented reality, computer vision, language processing, dialogue processing, and reasoning are all AI technologies that have disrupted a variety of industries individually but never in such a coordinated and synergistic fashion,”  principal investigator Dr. Charles Ortiz, said in a release. “By leveraging existing instructional materials to create new AR guidance, the AMIGOS project stands to accelerate this movement, making real-time task guidance and feedback available on-demand.”

The project will take place in two steps: the procedure for understanding and reformatting manuals, and the procedure for relaying that information to the end-user. Essentially, the project is a futuristic take on modern remote assistance.

Remote assistance has been around for a while. It involves a technician using a smart device incorporating a live camera feed to get in-the-field guidance from a remotely-located expert. It saves experts from needing to make a trip and allows technicians to get a team’s worth of expertise in areas too small for multiple people, like a crawlspace or the top of a cell tower.

This project would essentially remove the need to have a remote expert from remote assistance applications by making the software itself the expert. It’s not necessarily a completely new idea. Companies like Jigspace are already doing this. But, where Jigspace might help you fix a leaky sink, AMIGOS might help a surgeon, a vehicle technician, a bomb defuser – you get it.

Where You Might See AMIGOS

As we opened with, tech that starts at DARPA usually makes its way to everyone eventually. In the meantime, as one of the developers, Xerox will be one of the first private enterprise companies to benefit.

Specifically, Xerox hopes to use the expertise gained from working on AMIGOS to improve the CareAR platform that is already using AR to help technicians in the field through remote assistance.

Jon Jaehnig
the authorJon Jaehnig
Jon Jaehnig is a freelance journalist with special interest in emerging technologies. Jon has a degree in Scientific and Technical Communication from Michigan Technological University and lives in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. If you have a story suggestion for Jon, you may contact him here.