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August 16. 2014 8:40PM

Robot 'consultants' play role in auto repair in dealerships, including Nashua location

When mechanics at some Audi dealerships get stumped, they can call in the robot for a second opinion.

About 65 Audi dealerships around the country, including one in Nashua, are using robots to connect via video hookup with expert technicians at Audi's U.S. headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich.

"Instead of waiting a couple of days to see when a (regional) technician can get there..., I can get someone there in a matter of seconds," said Brian Stockton, general manager for technical support in Auburn Hills. "It will save days."

The customized 4-foot robot on wheels, made by VGo Communications in Nashua and dubbed the "Art unit" by Audi, costs dealerships $6,880 to purchase, Stockton said.

"They are using it to have their remote experts be able to diagnose cars right next to the local mechanic," said Thomas Ryden, co-founder and chief operating officer at VGo Communications.

There is a handheld camera and a borescope, a wire with an optical device that can reach tight places, that connect to the robot by USB. There also is a wide-angle camera with two microphones attached to the unit that can capture sound from a vehicle or a person, according to Brad Stertz, Audi's corporate communications manager.

"What's nice about it is the display on Art will show whatever you're viewing at the end of the camera," Stockton said.

The robots aren't aimed at eliminating local technicians but making them smarter, Stockton said.

"Our objective is to make them as good as they possibly can and be as fast as possible without causing them a lot of stress," he said.

Stertz said a key reason the carmaker is using the robots is to make customers happier when they get their vehicles back sooner. The robots should help increase revenue in service departments by processing cars quicker and working on more cars per day, he said.

"So far, so good," Stertz said. "The customer satisfaction and the repairs taking less time is a huge win."

Audi said Nashua is the only New Hampshire dealer to use the robots, which started being rolled out around the country in June.

Asked if the robots would start selling cars anytime soon, Stertz said: "No automated salespersons yet."



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