DETROIT - General Motors' Service Technology Group is testing a portable learning system that is designed to help dealership service technicians make repairs faster and more reliably.
'Smart Mentor' is a small, wearable computer that recognizes voice commands. It guides a technician through diagnostics and repairs with text, video and audio instruction.
James Roach, senior project engineer in service research at the Service Technology Group, said the knowledge needed to service vehicles has become so vast that technicians cannot be expected to retain it all. For instance, GM service manuals total about 120,000 pages; that is expected to expand to 200,000 pages by 2000.
Smart Mentor was developed by a consortium that includes the Service Technology Group; Raytheon Co. (which bought the defense business of GM's Hughes Electronics Corp.); Interactive Solutions Inc., a Florida hardware and software company; the National Guard; and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Smart Mentor uses the GM Service Technology Group's methodology and Interactive Solutions' hardware and software. The other members of the consortium are developing applications of Smart Mentor to repair other equipment such as tanks and medical equipment.
Roach said the Service Technology Group will refine Smart Mentor based on feedback from the pilot program.
The final product will probably be pocket-sized, and the monitor could be incorporated into headgear or eyeglasses worn by the technician.
A technician using the system wears a headset with a microphone and a waist-mounted pouch that holds the 1.8kg computer. There is no need to type because the system recognizes spoken instructions. Roach said it takes about 10 minutes to learn to use Smart Mentor.
The command 'Wake up' gets the response 'What do you want to do?'
Upon hearing the command '97 Seville charging,' the system shows a video of the charging system while a voice explains the system.
Three US Cadillac dealerships are testing Smart Mentor. The pilot program runs through December.
Larrie Mellott, a service technician at Suburban Cadillac in Troy, Michigan, who is using Smart Mentor, said the system is user-friendly. 'Whenever I get a chance,' he said, 'I take it home and play around with it.'