Toyota use of HoloLens on Factory Floor

An article by Jake Swearingen for The Intelligencer, makes the case that smart glasses are more likely to be found on the factory floor than on the streets.  Consumer prices are still high, short on battery life and there are few reasons for people to wear them.  The author looks as Toyota as a case study.

But that changes if you look to the factory or the shop-room floor. In such settings, augmented-reality smart glasses are already being deployed across a wide swath of industries. The high price of smart glasses looks much less imposing when it’s seen as a capital expense to help make a workforce more capable. More importantly, some companies are finding that equipping workers with augmented-reality smart glasses is providing immediate and obvious returns on investment in both time and safety.

It seems possible that the adoption of smart glasses by consumers may resemble that of computers: The mainframes used in the early days of computing were extremely expensive, and were strictly owned by companies. But as technology improved, computers became increasingly ubiquitous at workers’ desks. The PC revolution completed the process, leading to computers being found in the vast majority of American homes.

Augmented-reality smart glasses are likely to retain their foothold as something owned and used by businesses in the industrial sphere, where high prices aren’t a deterrent, ROI is easy to measure, and narrowly defined use cases are a benefit, not a disadvantage. But the work being done now in the industrial world will all be put to use as tech companies try to figure out how to build augmented-reality smart glasses meant to be worn to the coffee shop and not strictly on the shop floor.

How Toyota Stopped Using Paper to Paint Cars

At Toyota’s car manufacturing plants, painting is a matter of precision, which is where AR can be extremely useful.  The case at Toyota is walked through in detail in the article including the original problems and how these were resolved with the use of Microsoft HoloLens.

“This improvement — this kaizen — meant we were able to eliminate the time to place the piece of paper on the car,” says Kayano. A process that used to require one day and two employees now takes just four hours for one employee to complete.

Kayano sees augmented reality being used throughout the Toyota manufacturing process, but it also represents something he’s spent decades thinking about. “I have been working on using digital data for engineering for 20 years,” he says. “It was my dream to be able to see in the real world what I had seen on the computer screen. Hololens was actually a dream come true for me.”

A host of other companies beyond Microsoft and Alphabet have developed niches for augmented-reality smart glasses within the industrial world. Epson has built smart glasses designed for use by professional drone operators which allow them to keep an eye on the drone and also see what the drone itself is “seeing” in a single glance. Vuzix smart glasses are designed to help keep supply-chain information in front of workers’ eyes while they’re in the warehouse. The DAQRI Smart Helmet helps architects and designers visualize their work in 3-D space.

Who knows when the futuristic world of consumer smart glasses promised by the first Google Glass ads will come? Major innovations in hardware, connectivity speed, style, and comfort will all be required before you can pick up a pair of shades that will give you Terminator vision. But in order for those innovations to be achieved, there has to be a context in which smart glasses are both useful and economical. And for right now, that’s the factory.

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