Many workplace scenarios require use of both hands to manipulate physical world objects. Having a display on the wrist or head (or both) with a variety of sensors and optional cloud services, offers attractive alternatives to tablets for supporting access to real time or contextual information.
According to a Gartner Group report shared at the Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS), sales of head-mounted displays will be greater in enterprise than consumers until at least 2020.
Unfortunately, the interest in enterprise wearable computing is not currently being addressed by consumer technology providers.
Connecting Those with Questions to Those with Experience
What are current enterprise customer requirements? What have enterprise wearable pioneers learned? What are enterprise customers’ best options today? These were among the questions that the EWTS organizer, BrainXchange, set out to answer.
BrainXchange chose Houston for its inaugural event on October 20-21, 2015. The city is a business center for the oil and gas industry and is reachable from an international airport as well as from both coasts of the US.
Over 150 delegates from at least six countries gathered to hear from 60 speakers, including many veterans of the Google Glass Explorer program and vendors looking for new customers. The format offered plenty of networking in a convivial and relaxed atmosphere.
AREA Members at EWTS
|Delegate in attendance|
|Delegate in attendance|
Criteria for Enterprise Wearable Success
There is wide agreement with the simple guidance that Joe White, VP and GM Enterprise Mobile Computing at Zebra Technologies offered during his opening remarks. White recommends that enterprises focus on systems that are:
- Technically sound
- Socially acceptable
- Solve a problem
These criteria sound simple, but adhering to them requires careful research and planning. Many delegates at the summit who are shopping for wearable technologies don’t feel that the current commercial technology options are sufficiently mature for most of their use cases. One person confided that everything his team has evaluated to date “feels like a science project.”
Weight, balance and resolution remain significant technical obstacles but short battery life as a result of high power consumption continues to be high on the list of technology barriers.
One test of wearable display technology reliability is how well it performs in a live demo on stage. There were more videos than live demos, but Rafael Grossman, a highly promoted surgeon in the Google Glass Explorer program successfully demonstrated Atheer Labs’ AiR platform for the audience.
Another criteria added to White’s list over the course of the first day was cost. If devices are expensive to purchase and to operate or maintain, adoption and use will remain limited.
Regardless of the criteria and how firmly an organization wants to adhere to them, customers remain divided about what’s truly going to solve their problems. Some feel that their use cases require true Augmented Reality in enterprise. Others are, at least for the present, finding the “simple” delivery of live information or images to a wearable display (as currently done by Google Glass or Vuzix M-100) sufficient. In the opinion of those who use information “snacking” devices, real time registration and tracking of data in the real world are still expensive and technically difficult.
Connecting Remote Experts with those in the Field
Real time consultation between a remote expert and a person wearing a camera and display while performing difficult tasks is a highly compelling use case for most of the EWTS speakers. Although a few speakers mentioned their experience with AR-assisted remote assistance, the majority shared numerous and immediate benefits of having another “set of eyes” focused on a particular procedure.
For example, emergency medical technicians working on MedEx ambulances as part of the Google Glass Explorer program can transmit more information about injuries or patient conditions to emergency room staff ahead of their arrival at the hospital.
In another case study, a tradesperson working on a Rogers-O’Brien Construction job site can see and transmit the details of the job site and get guidance or feedback from an architect or supervisor in real time.
Some Industries Are Further Along
While the medical and construction industries were highly represented among the Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit speakers in Houston, some case studies and presentations highlighted the promise of wearable technology in the logistics industry. DHL and Ubimax described how they are working together to put their warehouse picking solution into production and conducting research on their next generation systems for pallet packing.
Energy production and distribution were also frequently mentioned. John Simmins of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an AREA member, spoke of projects underway in some power generating facilities. Speakers from CenterPoint Energy and Sullivan Solar Power also attested they are actively exploring the use of wearables in their businesses.
Many Challenges Remain
An entire event could focus exclusively on expected and promised technology improvements. For example, uneven network coverage and issues preventing secure access to off-device content came up frequently. But, EWTS did not limit its scope to technology barriers.
Getting wearables into production requires companies in highly regulated industries such as healthcare and construction to educate decision makers and executives and to negotiate creation of many new policies. Those are both very lengthy and costly processes.
Complex regulatory environments are but one item in the list of business challenges.
Lack of trust is another significant obstacle to adoption. Large enterprises are looking for vendors that are on the one hand nimble and responsive to special requirements while on the other endowed with the financial resources to quickly ramp up production for large orders.
Despite these and other challenges, wearables continue to hold enormous promise and will increasingly demand the attention of enterprise technology buyers and users. We can expect these to be on the agenda at future BrainXchange summits. The company announced that it will produce its next event in June 2016 on the East Coast, although details were not provided.
Are there events you plan to attend to learn about enterprise wearable technologies?