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Making New Technology a (Virtual) Reality

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Aug. 8, 2022Virtual reality has become much more commonplace in recent years, especially in the context of video games and social media. 

But the concept of virtual reality, as well as other innovative technological advancements, could develop a role that goes beyond our personal computer screens. It could also change how the automotive industry approaches repair procedures. 

Mike Mertes is a Learning Innovation and Technology Manager at I-CAR, and this is the kind of technology ideation that he works with daily. 

“My role and purpose is to essentially take innovative technologies such as augmented reality, virtual reality, interactive videos, 360 videos…really any sort of innovative technology that’s out there right now, and help deliver this stuff to the collision repair industry so they can experience next-level training methods pretty much unlike anything they’ve ever experience before,” Mertes says. 

As important as it is to keep shops informed on technology, Mertes says that it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is no one-size-fits-all educational approach to learning more about these topics. 

“As technology has really advanced, and all of the technology in vehicles has advanced, we’ve learned that a singular education experience can be different for everyone,” Mertes says. 

What this means is that someone could read a procedure and perform it correctly on the first try, while others need a little something more. That’s where hands-on training with innovative technology comes in. 

“One of the sayings that I use a lot in my role, and really in life, is: ‘I do, therefore I learn.’ That’s what this role is all about,” Mertes says. “We’re going to take that … experience, and make that available to the industry.” 


Mertes explains that giving technicians access to tools that can help them conduct a hands-on learning experience will encourage better information retention, and a better understanding of the procedures overall. 

“This is where we want to use something like virtual reality to create that hands-on instance without actually being there,” Mertes says. “You don’t have to have the vehicle, the tools, or the teacher physically there.”

Using virtual or augmented reality would also save technicians from having to go back and forth from the vehicles to access repair procedures while simultaneously conducting the repairs. This disruption could result in them having to remove PPE or interrupt steps in the repair process in order to look up information on how to do something correctly. 

Technology that coexists with the technician while they are conducting a repair would cut down on this phenomenon, meaning more efficient repairs while having access to the same helpful instruction and information. 

“Regardless of space, they can now pull that service information anywhere and have it essentially floating in front of them,” Mertes says. “Things like this are becoming increasingly possible, but the industry needs to be aware that possibility exists.”

Mertes is excited about what the future holds with this technology, and he has seen some of it start to unfold firsthand. He helped develop I-CAR’s Chicago Technical Center, which is a technical and training facility for automotive collision repair technological advancements. 

Mertes foresees a lot of the technology being worked on at the Chicago Technical Center and beyond becoming a huge draw for the technicians of tomorrow.

“Having that type of technology available, especially in the virtual reality world and the augmented reality world … is really going to attract a younger audience and maybe even folks from different fields to become an electric vehicle technician,” Mertes says. 

The conversations surrounding technology are only going to become more complex in the coming years as the industry continues to add new developments, and industry events such as the upcoming ADAPT: Automotive Technology Summit this fall in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, will provide a starting point to enter those discussions. 

Mertes will be on the “Shop Solutions” panel at the Summit, which will run from Sept. 24 to Sept. 25, and will help break down exactly what some of this technology is and how it can be best used by shops.

“As vehicle technology improves and changes at the speed of light, so does the service information,” Mertes says. 

Mertes also understands that some shops may have reservations about this technology. After all, making adjustments to the way that business has been done for generations can be intimidating. But it’s far from impossible. 

“You fear what you don’t know, and rightfully so. Everyone wants to go home at the end of the day,” Mertes says. “The only way to conquer that fear is to be able to learn about it, and to really have those tools that can help you learn about it in a safe way.”

Ensuring the safety of technicians and the customers that they serve are always top-of-mind in this industry, and Mertes believes that innovative technology can take these insurances to an entirely new level. 

“At the end of the day, we work in the collision repair industry to save people’s lives and their livelihoods by repairing the vehicles that they use everyday,” Mertes says. “If relevant tools were available to make sure that goal always happens, why wouldn’t you want to use it?” 

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