Augmented-reality cable technicians are here to fix your internet

Picture this: You’re at home with your family (because that’s pretty much where we all are these days) when suddenly your cable TV signal dies. Normally, this would be a mere inconvenience, but these aren’t normal times.

The loss of cable connectivity could mean no more TV — or, far worse — no more internet. But how is the cable technician going to enter your home for a repair? Staying home and keeping a healthy social distance is pointless if an outsider has to come in. You can also bet the technician isn’t thrilled at the idea either.

But what if there were a way for that technician to come to your home and guide you through the diagnostics and repair in real time without once stepping inside? That’s what Cox Cable‘s On-site with Virtual Assist service does, using an augmented reality (AR) platform created by Birmingham, Alabama-based Help Lightning.

“On-site virtual assist has been a priority of ours for quite some time,” Len Barlik, Cox’s executive vice president and chief operating officer told Digital Trends, “but the rapid escalation of COVID-19 accelerated our push to make this available to our customers now. Knowing our responsibility to keep our customers and employees safe, our team readied this offering in just 10 days.”

As long as you have a phone or tablet with a rear-facing camera and a working Wi-Fi or mobile data connection, a tech support representative can see what you’re seeing and insert their hands, tools, parts, or diagrams onto your screen so you can see exactly what needs to be done.

The Help Lightning app effectively merges two video feeds: The one captured by your device’s camera and a second video shot by the technician of their hands. The result is a combined video that lets the technician virtually point to the different devices and connections in your home while they talk you through the fix.

The technology allows technicians to telestrate (illustrate on-screen), freeze images, use hand gestures, and add real objects into the merged reality environment.

Cox Cable has the on-site virtual assist option in all of its markets right now, but the company isn’t alone. Siemens Healthineers, Otis Elevator, Ricoh, Bunn, and Johnson Controls are among Help Lightning’s other clients, and they too can offer virtual assistance if needed.

Needless to say, the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, has had a big impact on Help Lightning’s business.

“Our usage by existing and new customers drove increased usage by 417% in March alone due to the shelter in place orders and travel bans,” said CEO Gary York.

Help Lightning’s system needs no special hardware — its app runs on iOS, Android, or the web — which means tech support workers can use from anywhere, even right outside a customer’s premises. The service has been used for non-commercial purposes too: Parents can get a virtual expert to help them ensure that their children’s car seat is correctly installed.

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