This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.
Falling sensor and chip prices, longer battery lives, lower connectivity costs and miniaturization of components have paved the way for greater mainstream adoption of wearables. Driven by the need to provide real-time data and insights to workers in the field, and the promise of superior return on investment for wearable workplace applications, wearables look set to enter the workplace. For instance, the likes of Google Glass, Vuzix and Epson augmented reality (AR) glasses, and Daqri's smart helmet can enable engineers and technicians to access information from mobile devices and the cloud, perform hands-free operations in the field as well as establish real-time bi-directional communication between the technician and supervisor or SME back-office. When such products are complemented by industrial data-exchange protocols, machine monitoring and management information can be available in real time and on demand.
Why bring wearables into the workplace?
Wearable technologies can deliver real value in the workplace when they are introduced in business processes to:
- Improve worker safety:An engineer working with high-tension utility cables can access information on a heads-up display, thus allowing for safe, hands-free operations.
- Enhance operational efficiency:A forklift operator can access routing information to navigate through a warehouse without having to scan the barcodes on pallets and other packages.
- Enable access to information in hazardous environments:For example, carrying an additional mobile or hand-held device can be difficult and dangerous for an employee working on a windmill.
- Gain deeper, better informed insights:With increased real-time information flowing in, we can record observations around conditions as they unfold, and slice and store them as references for future use, resulting in more accurate understanding and quicker resolution of problems.
- Spot defects and associated decay early on:Using high-resolution cameras and other sensors available (and these are getting cheaper, better, smaller), we can now spot flaws much before they become 'visible'. Thus, a worker with a wearable belt fitted with sensors and cameras will be able to see a lot more without actually having to see it.
Recognizing the road bumps
Introducing wearables into the workplace brings multiple advantages, including greater employee satisfaction and productivity. Yet, some basic challenges remain.
- Safety: How safe is it for employees to walk around with something in their line of sight, especially in hazardous environments such as an oil rig? Will wearables cause more distraction?
- Usability: Interactive capabilities such as capacitive touch and speed commands can be impacted by the external environment. For example, noisy workspaces such as the factory floor may render the voice controls function ineffective for smart watches and AR glasses. A worker wearing industrial gloves cannot make use of touch controls on Google Glass.
- Privacy: Do companies want to record everything their employees see with their AR glasses without security controls? How comfortable will employees be with this?
- Security: Highly confidential and, in some cases, classified data pertaining to installations and processes will now need to be protected and controlled.
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