The maker of a wearable computer for auto mechanics is making inroads with dealerships seeking greater service productivity.
The designer of the computer, Microvision Inc. of Bothell, Wash., also is marketing its technology to automakers and suppliers as a cheaper and better way to project head-up displays for vehicle cockpits.
Microvision launched its Nomad product in January at the National Automobile Dealers Association's annual convention.
Nomad is a wireless computer with a display worn on the head that projects directly onto the user's retina, creating a free-floating image in the field of vision.
The computer is linked to an Internet connection that allows it to access everything in a parts catalog,
e-mail and other information.
Nomad's advantage, Microvision says, is that it saves a worker's time, and that boosts productivity.
After tests with Honda and Acura, Microvision has broadened its sales efforts to include most other automakers in Japan and those in North America and Europe, says Tom Sanko, vice president of marketing.
Automotive technicians use Nomad chiefly for repair work. But at JM Lexus in Margate, Fla., the device has found its way to the body shop.
"Where we found the home run with this thing is the estimators," says General Manager Dave Mullen.
Writing up a collision repair estimate often requires looking up dozens of parts. But workers who use Nomad don't have to run for a catalog to look up every bracket and fastener.
Mullen's next goal is to test the Nomad for service advisers so they can write an order as a car pulls into the service area.
JM Lexus services 250 vehicles daily, so potential productivity gains are significant. It's too early to put a number on it, but, Mullen says, "For us, the benefits have definitely outweighed the expense."
C.A.R. Group, which operates dealerships in Cerritos, Calif., just took delivery of 10 Nomads to be used by mechanics, says Chris Barthel, corporate parts and service director.
The intriguing aspect of the device is that it allows technicians to handle "just about anything we want to do on the Internet," he says.
The company's Honda store in Cerritos handles about 250 service requests a day. C.A.R. Group hopes to build a paperless service information system for all its dealerships, Barthel says.
Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, Texas, which has 72 service bays and 34 technicians, saw productivity increase about 20 percent with Nomad, says Service Director Mike Zorn. He bases that on vehicle turnover.
Zorn says Nomad has been received best by young technicians who tend to be comfortable with computer technology.
The device also may help with the retention of skilled technicians who want to use the latest tools.
The dealers interviewed for this story and Microvision's Sanko declined to discuss Nomad's pricing.
Published reports put the retail price of a unit at $3,995.
Microvision also is keenly interested in marketing its image-scanning technology as an alternative to the systems used now in cockpit head-up displays.
Sanko says Microvision is taking around a demonstration module to automakers and suppliers that shows how the technology could be used to project information on to a windshield.
The advantages, he says, would include a smaller overall package for the device.
It also would require a cooler operating temperature; sharper and more visible images in day and night; and the flexibility to project the image in such a way that it appears to be flat, rather than conforming to the contours of the windshield.