Face it, our industry is fast heading for a cliff with the increase in demand for skilled labor, the higher level of technical skills required and the fact that a lot of the best older service techs are either retiring or finding other work because their knees are giving out. This shortage has not only put a strain on most contracting businesses, it has forced contractors to engage in a never-ending bidding war to go after the existing techs who are out there.

A technician wearing telepresence eyewear (a fancy name for industrial grade safety glasses with built-in camera and audio communication capabilities).

With this current situation as a backdrop, I came across a new technology at ASHRAE this year that looks like it may offer a large part of the solution. The technology is called telepresence eyewear. This is a fancy name for industrial grade safety glasses with built-in camera and audio communication capabilities. With telepresence eyewear, a remote person can see and hear the same thing as the person on a job site wearing the glasses, while communicating with them in real time. Better yet, not only does it provide a live video feed, it can record everything for future review. Please note that the company I encountered at ASHRAE is XOEye Technologies, www.xoeye.com, out of Nashville, Tennessee. I would like to thank Chris Weir from the Lee Company for the time he spent with me going over his company's experiences with the product.

Now, this may sound like the “jet-pack” we all thought we'd be using by now when we were kids, but this is completely affordable and deployable today. This technology has the potential to have more of an impact on our industry than any other thing I've seen in the last five years – that is if we, as an industry, implement it correctly.

Think about it…with this type of technology:

  • A qualified tech could potentially manage three to four service trainees/ apprentices remotely with complete supervision. This would allow you to multiply the senior technician's skill and experience to three to four jobs simultaneously, while helping train the next generation of techs. Not only would a senior tech be able to verify each diagnosis, but it would be even better training than having the senior tech on site. How many times do we send out a trainee with a tech where the tech ends up using the trainee only to fetch tools? Using telepresence eyewear, the senior tech is forced to work through the trainee's hands and body, requiring him to teach and coach the trainee on how to think in order to troubleshoot the equipment.

Telepresence eyewear gives the technician the ability to show the condition of the equipment remotely to all the decision makers needed in real-time – even if they are not present at the job site.

  • With telepresence eyewear, anyone can see exactly what the tech saw, or is seeing. This gives you the ability to show the condition of the equipment remotely to all the decision makers needed in real-time – even if they are not present at the job site.
  • Should a technician sell a replacement while on a job, he can easily record the entire job site layout, so there are no surprises for the installation crew when they arrive.
  • The equipment would also take technician sales training up a notch because your sales team could also “plug-in” to the tech's presence on a job and give suggestions or pointers on communicating upgrades to the customer. Better yet, record the interaction and use it for training with all the techs.

So far, I've only covered the benefits of this technology when it comes to training our own techs – but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Let's look at its potential across our entire industry:

  • Forget the long waits on those problem jobs where you need to schedule the factory rep to meet you at the job site. If manufacturers realize the cost savings and instant feedback this technology offers them, and they get on board with it, you could simply call their factory support and offer to share the live feed with them to get help.
  • Because everything can be recorded, training videos become easier to produce and to publish, helping get techs up to speed quickly on equipment and technology changes.
  • Manufacturers can check and certify proper installation of specialized equipment remotely without having to be physically present at the site.

With telepresence eyewear, the barriers that distance and location can create when more information or knowledge is needed simply go away. Because the technology is new, our industry also has an opportunity to maximize the benefit of this technology by making sure each provider's output is in a format that can be easily shared and streamed regardless of the provider.

The goal is to make sure the live feed of these new platforms can be accessed by others through a simple invite or shared link. Even if, as it stands, the technology makes sense for an individual company, the ability to seamlessly escalate and conference in the wholesaler or the manufacturer makes the concept invaluable to the entire industry. If you're not currently exploring this new technology, you really should.

David Squires has been in the industry for over 40 years and is president of Online-Access, an industry-based Internet marketing company. David also is an HVAC contractor and part owner of Vincent's Heating & Plumbing of Port Huron, Michigan.