A startup created by former Apple engineers has created a system that could well prove helpful to current Apple engineers during the coronavirus crisis.

One of the early steps Apple took in response to the virus was to ban its US engineers from flying to China. It’s widely expected that this sensible precaution is likely to lead to a delay in launching the iPhone 12

Apple reportedly stopped sending iPhone engineers to China back in February.

In February, Digitimes reported that Apple had stopped sending iPhone engineers to China and that had stalled the prototype testing for the iPhone 12. It again reiterated that today with Apple engineer travel restrictions now extended until April.

Although the iPhone 12 mass production would not start until around July, Apple uses the spring to finalize prototypes and sign off on production processes for its devices. The iPhone 12 is apparently still stuck in Engineering Validation Test stage; it must pass through Design Validation Test and Production Validation Test stages before mass production can begin.

The most recent reports suggest that delays to these tests will result in this year’s flagship iPhone launch being pushed back from September to October.

But Reuters reports on a startup that might be able to eliminate the need for production validation engineers to travel to factories.

A startup founded by former Apple Inc engineers, however, has come up with a system that would help engineers troubleshoot remotely.

California-based Instrumental Inc, co-founded by Anna-Katrina Shedletsky and Sam Weiss, has created a system that relies on outfitting manufacturing lines with cameras and then analyzing the images using artificial intelligence software.

To spot a problem, an engineer needs to just log on to the software rather than board a plane.

In the early days of a product, hundreds of issues can crop up and, to fix these, firms “send big groups of people 6,000 miles around the world to go stand on the line in random spots and hope that they catch the problems, by getting lucky being in the right place in the right time,” Shedletsky said.

Cameras and artificial intelligence, by contrast, can spot missing screw, a bent spring or a damaged battery in real time and with high accuracy, she added.

The system has been used by Motorola and thermal camera maker Flir, but difficulties traveling to and from China have created heightened interest.

“While certain parts of the world can be open and functioning, travel is unlikely to be open and free for a while,” Shedletsky said.

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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