Wearable technologies, including body-worn sensors, Augmented Reality glasses, Virtual Reality headsets, and even exoskeletons, are going to play a key role in the connected workplace of the future. That future is near: The global mobile workforce is set to reach nearly 2 billion by 2022—that’s 2 billion workers who need their hands free to work better and in tandem (not competition) with machines. Moreover, IoT-derived business insights won’t be truly transformational without human agents to act upon them in real time on the factory floor and in the field; and that information is best delivered heads-up and hands-free.
Ever since enterprises took control of the fate of Google Glass in 2014, use cases of wearables in the workplace have fallen under six distinct categories. The following are the most promising applications for wearable technology – especially head-worn devices – in business and industry:
- Heads-up, hands-free information: Easy access to information from an ERP system using gesture, touch or voice; step-by-step instructions for assembling, fixing or inspecting; safety alerts; and hands-free documentation of information
Paper work orders, tablets, and stationary PCs are not ideal for workers who need their eyes and hands on the job. Instructions and visual cues for everything from wiring the wing of an airplane to servicing an elevator can be displayed via smart glasses, overlaid on top of the user’s real-world view. Glasses can also be used to record work issues and progress, and smartwatches for short checklist items and haptic feedback.
- Remote guidance, collaboration and troubleshooting: Using the embedded camera and microphone in smart glasses to share a live, first-person view of a situation with an off-site expert or colleague
Machine downtime costs businesses in terms of profit and customer satisfaction. Rather than travel to the worksite (at the company’s expense) to resolve an issue, an SME or seasoned worker could diagnose the problem through an on-site operator’s smart glasses, guiding her through the fix verbally or annotating her field of view. For an inexperienced worker, having a second pair of eyes reduces errors. Other possibilities include collaborating in a 3D world through immersive technologies.
- Design and asset visualization: Using Augmented and Virtual Reality for design development, collaboration and review; for workspace, financial or operations planning
Building projects are notoriously uncoordinated and slow: The process of conceiving a building idea in 3D, translating it into 2D and then executing in the real environment makes it difficult for all stakeholders to work off the same design. Using one platform like AR or VR from design to construction can help everyone from the client to the drywall contractor visualize the final product, thereby preventing expensive mistakes and rework. Non-AEC professionals can use the same technology to digest complex information, understand complex situations, and plan with moving parts.
- Training: Just-in-time, on-the-job training via step-by-step instructions, AR content or remote teacher; having experienced workers record first-person videos of best practices; and AR/VR training simulations
The workforce is changing: Baby boomers are retiring at a faster rate than they can be replaced, creating a skilled labor shortage in many industries. At the same time, automation and robotics are taking over manual labor and repetitive tasks, forcing workers to develop higher skills. AR and VR offer new paradigms for learning and capturing knowledge that have proven quicker and more effective than traditional training methods like lectures and demonstrations.
- Safety: Making sure workers follow proper procedure via remote guidance or in-FOV instruction; wearable sensors for tracking safety-impacting metrics; safety warnings and behavior modification using a wearable; and exoskeletons to augment physical ability and reduce injuries
Half the job of keeping employees safe is knowing where they are and making sure they do things correctly. Advanced biometric, ergonomic, GPS and environmental sensors can be embedded in a wide variety of wearable form factors, alerting workers to risks in real time and training them to use proper form. Insight gleaned from wearable sensor data can also lead to safety-improving changes to the workplace itself.
- Sales: Improving customer service by enabling remote shopping, virtual product and service experiences, and contactless payments; allowing employees to view customer information at the point of sale to provide faster, more personalized service; and using AR/VR as a sales and marketing tool
Wearable tech allows for new, convenient and highly persuasive shopping opportunities. A car buyer using AR glasses to view hundreds of different vehicle options and an architect creating a VR tour of a client’s new home design are two examples. Wearables can also create consumer trust, for instance by allowing workers to stream video from a job to the customer as proof of service.
Wearable technologies can be applied in the above six ways in nearly every industry. Despite consumer misgivings about wearables, tomorrow’s workers will wear their technology, from glasses to discreet sensors, making them safer and more productive.
About the Author
Emily Friedman is a New York-based enterprise emerging technology advocate, journalist and facilitator. She currently serves as the Head of Content and Lead Writer at BrainXchange, the Manager, Lead Journalist and Senior Editor of EnterpriseWear Blog; the leading resource for new realities and all things wearable in business and industry.