Every year, hundreds of students start in an automotive or automobile technology course. With their sleeves rolled up they start working with spark plugs, engines, oil and tires. Thanks to the evolution of the automotive sector in recent years, a lot of technology is involved. Technology that makes the maintenance and repair of a car a lot more challenging, and therefore also drastically changes the training. Moreover, electric cars are expensive and our secondary education does not exactly have a surplus budget. Fortunately, Diagnose Car and the Hololens came to the rescue. Students from all across Flanders may experiment with electric automobiles in a safe, accessible, and enjoyable manner thanks to the AR application developed by RMDY.
Inspiration and enthusiasm
“It all started with a keynote by Rik Vera from Nexxworks around The Mobility Revolution and the three zero’s: zero emissions, zero accidents and zero ownership. A fresh look at mobility’s future,” Charline Van Osselaer, project manager at Diagnose Car, agrees. “We were enormously intrigued – moreover, augmented and virtual reality had just made their appearance in education. Yet all of that still felt limited, this is where we wanted to change. We are already pioneers in what we do, so why not pioneer on a digital level as well?”
Diagnose Car provides schools with access to a selection of contemporary automobiles that are networked and equipped with diagnostic equipment and technical data. Schools borrow the vehicles and equipment for a number of months so students can practice to their heart’s content. Annually, they reach more than 2000 pupils and students in 80 schools, including Syntra, colleges and VDAB competence centers.
“So it wasn’t so much a demand from schools, but the need was there. Belgian schools do not have the resources to purchase electric vehicles and everything that goes with them or even borrow them from garages. The vehicles are simply too expensive. What’s more, with all the electronics, they are also more complicated and more dangerous; a power surge with serious consequences happens quickly. And so we coupled our eagerness to be innovative with the need of schools.”Charline Van Osselaer, project manager at Diagnose Car
Starting small, dreaming big
Diagnosis Car chose an AR application using the HoloLens rather than virtual reality. “Virtual reality offers a clear advantage, but it is less visible in the classroom. The teacher loses all touch with the children as soon as he puts on the VR glasses. It goes without saying that this can quickly derail a secondary education environment”, jokes Charline.
The choice for RMDY was quickly made, they have known our AR/VR evangelist Bart Van Hecke for several years and knew that their project was in good hands.
The idea was there, so was the partner. All that remained was the means. Charline: “As a non-profit organization, we rely heavily on grants from the Ministry of Education and Febiac. Because an AR application is not part of our core business, it was a challenge to find financial resources for our project. After a long search, we decided to start with funds from InnoVET (Innovative Training in Vocational Education and Training). Starting small, dreaming big. Fortunately, RMDY was happy to go along with that.”
Key to success: practice, learn, test
The augmented reality application was named EV’nAR and consists of three major aspects: teaching, learning and testing. The electric vehicle on duty: a Nissan Leaf. The emphasis is placed on everything electric, considering other procedures can be tested on the non-electric vehicles that schools have available, think of changing a wheel or spark plug. A voice-over provides more explanation of all parts, there are accompanying short videos, animations, multiple-choice questions and practice sections.
- Course module
The teacher can teach in two ways: with an automatic walkthrough or a manual one. The automatic walkthrough guides you through all the parts thanks to a predefined story, but the teacher also has the choice to determine the order of the lessons himself. Because we work with a HoloLens, he can simultaneously give the demo and interact with the class.
- Learning module
Then it’s up to the students. While wearing the Hololens, they are guided through various procedures. After the explanation, they practice themselves: putting on gloves, loosening the carpet, removing the plug, replacing the plug, … The student moves around in the car as he would in a real vehicle. They alternate between answering multiple choice questions and taking effective actions.
- Test module
The test environment is completely the same as the learning mode, but without the additional aids such as voiceover or videos. It is up to the learner to perform all procedures correctly. “One of those procedures is to de-energize a vehicle according to a calibrated process. This is a very important action, because if you do it wrong in a real car, you won’t be able to reproduce it. This is where we immediately show the added value of our AR app: safety!”, Charline explains.
Diagnostic Car determined which procedures were needed and how they would be done, our developers were responsible for the 3D design and development of animations (with Blender), and made sure that the procedures were programmed clearly and correctly in Unity 3D. We also took care of the user interface and usability, which is ofcourse in our RMDY DNA.
The UX is not only important for the (sometimes older) teacher, but also for the tech savvy youngsters: they are used to the quality and speed of modern games, so the tool must be easy to use. We were fortunate to get positive reactions during the test moments.
The test audience and conditions were unfortunately not optimal due to the COVID-19 crisis, but there are still some students who could already test the AR app. “The reactions were very positive. Teenagers find it absolutely wonderful to learn in this way, the tool ffits right into their world. This way they feel more like studying, instead of learning everything from a book. How much fun the students will still have when they have to take a test with it, we’ll have to wait and see”, says Charline.
Soon the application will be made available to all secondary schools that offer an automotive engineering course. Through an online tool, they can reserve and pick up a HoloLens at a satellite point near them.
And the future?
If it is up to Diagnose Car, the future has a lot more promise! The sky is the limit as far as they are concerned.
Concretely, an evaluation tool will be developed in the next sub-project. The results (of both exercises and tests) of the students will be sent to the Diagnose Car website, where teachers can follow up on how their class is doing. This way they will get a clear picture of pace, accuracy, progress evolution, … and they can adjust students individually where needed. In addition, at the end of each unit a project report will be available that clearly states which curriculum objectives have been achieved. This is important for the teacher and the school, but also for the inspection. “So with this application we go much further than merely ‘teaching in a cool way’. We are effectively contributing something valuable to the development of the students”, says Charline proudly.
Diagnose Car also wants to deepen its knowledge on the technical level: “On the technical level, EV’nAR is not deep yet, but we would like to develop it further so that the tool can also be used in colleges and specialized evening schools, or even in car brand training centers themselves! So in an even further stage we also want to make the tool brand-independent and add other vehicles than a Nissan Leaf.
Diagnose Car also wants to expand into the Netherlands, where automotive e-learning giant Electude showed a lot of interest. “They were very enthusiastic – a very nice compliment of course, that such a large company sees the value of our tool. Moreover, Dutch education has more resources; many schools already have a HoloLens lying around, for example, only the application is still missing. That’s where we would facilitate,” said Charline.
Meanwhile, Diagnose Car was also contacted by an American school interested in using the tool. This proves once again how unique and useful our tool is.
“We are very happy with the end result – but obviously wish to quickly find the financial resources to further expand our tool. So hopefully we’ll be knocking on your door again soon,” says a satisfied Charline. “We feel that this can become something very big, and together we can strengthen each other in this.”
In the meantime, RMDY has developed a mobile version of the AR application, including a manual they also provided. And RMDY’s Digital Marketing team supported with video marketing in the light of the yearly Autosalon where Diagnose Car was present in 2023.