Alabama is now in its sixth week of the forced economic shutdown ordered to combat the spread of the novel strain of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has forced companies to implement social distancing, telework, and keep operating despite bans on travel and of groups over ten. One Birmingham firm is helping businesses operating in this challenging online environment.
Help Lightning has a high-tech solution allowing technicians to remotely guide on-site equipment repairs and perform other mission-critical tasks for customers in manufacturing, health care and other industries. The company has seen demand for its services soar since the coronavirus crisis began.
“In the last month alone, the number of calls made using Help Lightning increased over 400 percent as existing and new customers ramped up to deliver expertise remotely,” Help Lightning CEO Gary York said.
Help Lightning’s solution uses mobile augmented reality technology.
Earlier this month, Atlanta-based Cox Communications, the nation’s largest private telecom company, announced a partnership with Help Lightning to launch its “On-site with Virtual Assist” service.
Help Lightning’s technology allows Cox technicians to handle service requests from outside a customer’s home, without the need to go inside to troubleshoot a repair. This protects both the customer and the technician.
“One customer had a critical piece of equipment go down in Milan right when Italy started their lockdown,” Yor said. “Using Help Lightning, they were able to get it back up without sending someone – even faster than if they had dispatched a technician. They avoided exposure of their employee to the virus and resolved the problem.”
Greg Canfield is the Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
Canfield said that Help Lightning is a prime example of an innovative Alabama technology firm providing real-world solutions to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Help Lightning and its cutting-edge technology are helping many businesses overcome difficult conditions in today’s challenging times, while demonstrating to the world that a high level of innovation is taking place in our state,” Secretary Canfield said.
Help Lightning actually got its start through the work of Dr. Bart Guthrie, a neurosurgeon at UAB Medical Center and prolific inventor. Dr. Guthrie wanted to share life-saving surgical techniques with doctors in other parts of the world. He knew that simple video wouldn’t do the trick given the complexity of the surgical procedures.
To properly guide the other surgeons Guthrie would need to be there “virtually,” with his hands and instruments in the field of view.
York said Help Lightning’s patented Virtual Interactive Presence technology was the outcome of Guthrie’s work. Guthrie is still at UAB and serves on the company’s board.
The technology developed by Dr. Guthrie has applications in other fields, as well as the brain surgery it was designed for. The company launched in 2016 and found a market in companies conducting field service and customer service activities.
“Anywhere that an organization had to send out a technician to repair a piece of equipment, Help Lightning could be used to virtually bring an expert on-site and guide a technician or customer through the repair,” York said.
Help Lightning serves Fortune 1000 companies with a presence in over 90 countries around the world.
York said the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating adoption of its remote expertise platforms.
“I absolutely believe that business is being changed forever. Many of these changes were being adopted by more forward-thinking companies over the past four years,” he said. “This crisis has become the catalyst for adoption and use of remote expertise solutions. The pandemic has been an inflection point.”
The technology allows companies to shift their workers to provide remote service. Help Lightning is being used in hospitals to perform virtual pre-surgical patient visits, reducing the risk of spreading infection and the need for scarce personal protective equipment.
Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “The technology provided by Help Lighting is an example of innovative solutions created by Alabamians that are especially useful amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Industries utilizing Help Lightning’s services are now able to assist in customer and patient care in a safe manner. The virtual assistance seems to be the next best alternative to in-person service (in a non-pandemic environment.”
“Help Lightning serves many major medical device companies that are ramping up now to support more testing and to deliver critical medical equipment,” York said. “A few of our customers have declared Help Lightning as an ‘Essential Business’ in their supply chain. We are glad to do our part to bend the curve on the impact of the virus and to blunt the impact of the economic downturn.”
The Birmingham company has 30 employees with most of them located in Birmingham.
“Birmingham is home for me,” York said. “We have received tremendous support from our community as we have raised funds, sought top talent, and grown to support companies all over the world. Innovation Depot is a treasure for our city. And our community always seems to come together to make Birmingham a better place to live.”